Routines are a normal part of life for most successful people – even for those who consider themselves spontaneous. And speaking as someone who considers himself spontaneous, let me just say this: Thank goodness, we can rule over our routines rather than allowing them to rule over us.
Routines don’t have to be rigid. They don’t have to become boring. They don’t have to create ruts that get us stuck like an old West chuckwagon in a storm. They can, in fact, inspire us and release us to experience higher levels of spontaneous creativity and success.
I start my workdays with a regular routine (watch this video to learn what it is and why it works for me). If you check with a thousand successful leaders, you’ll likely find a thousand different routines. But within the details, you’ll see some common points. Based on my observations and interactions in leadership development, here are four areas where I’ve noticed routines are particularly important:
In some form or fashion, make a regular point of acknowledging the good things in your life. For some, that comes in the form of prayer. For others, it’s a time to simply make a mental list. However you go about it, make it intentional – something you do each morning before getting out of bed or while you’re brushing your teeth or in the evenings just before turning off the lights.
Rest and exercise are the most common activities around which people create routines that impact their health. I would add mental health activities to that list. Read, write, do the crossword puzzle, learn at least one new fact each day … put something (or things) into your daily routine that helps sharpen your mental focus.
What distracts you at work? Perhaps you need a routine to avoid those distractions. When I’m writing (see the aforementioned video), for instance, I turnoff my email. On the other hand, what inspires your most productive outbursts? How can routines trigger and support those times? Some people can’t function without a to-do list. Maybe you think most clearly with soft music playing in the background. Or it might be that retyping the notes from every meeting helps reinforce key points.
Great leaders cultivate strong relationships, and that takes intentionality. Find ways to routinely invest in relationships. When you have a conversation with someone, make it a point to say at least one word of encouragement. Or make a routine of hand-writing thank-you notes after meetings. Or never allow an important conversation to end without asking at least one meaningful question about the other person’s life.
These types of routines don’t have to become obsessions. If fact, that’s when they can become counter-productive. If they are good habits that work for you, that you enjoy and that you control, however, they will add value to every aspect of your life and your work.