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Routine is good when it comes to developing productive habits and effective workflows.

Routine helps us to set up healthy patterns and an environment that’s focused on getting work done. Well, usually.

As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit. We get comfortable in our daily patterns and a certain inertia can creep in if we’re not careful. Actually, this was how an old physics teacher of mine used to explain inertia; “all of you come in and sit in the exact same seat every class. You stay in a uniform motion unless prompted by an external force.”

Sometimes a push to change what we’re doing is needed, especially if we’re to learn new things, reach new heights of productivity or meet new people (yep, changing seats!). To change our current state, we might need to examine our routines and determine whether it’s time to make changes.

Could your current routine be getting in your own way?

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#1. There’s habit without value

Probably at some point, you developed your routine because it worked for you. You’re getting up around the same time, following the same morning routine then starting your work day the same way you always have because that’s just how it worked out for you when you developed it.

The thing is, as said by Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus; “change is the only constant in life.” Your environment may change, your workload changes and your actual daily tasks change. Can you even remember why you’re doing things the way you are? Or, is it just that you’re being a habitual human with ways that are hard to break?

Ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” If you find that the answer is something like “because that’s how I’ve always done it,” you might be letting your routine create a rutt for yourself. There should be value to doing things the way you do, especially if the aim is to be more productive or to have a more effective workflow.

Analyzing your routine from time to time is a good thing. While the large percentage of people tend to be resistant to change, those who are the most successful tend to be adaptable, ready to pivot and open to new ways of doing things. Look at your routine, including the processes you’ve set up – do they still have value?

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#2. The unexpected knocks you down

Continuing the idea of flexibility here; if life would always follow the same, predictable path, then a rigid routine would be fine (life would also be kind of boring, right?). The thing is, that’s not how life goes – you can always expect that the unexpected will happen, usually when you’re least prepared to handle it.

If a sudden emergency, last minute request or change in what needs to be done sends you for a tailspin every time, your routine has probably become too rigid and is in the way of you performing at your best.

Besides that, some of the best things in life might happen at the last minute. Perhaps you get an opportunity to take on a project that allows you to develop new skills because someone else couldn’t do it at short notice. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to attend an event or meet new people.

Building flexibility into your routine leaves you open to those extra opportunities that show up sometimes, or even just to handle the occasional emergency.

#3. Motivation is an issue

Another consequence of sticking to a rigid routine is that it might not be stimulating enough to keep you motivated. How many times have you reached a point where you think something along the lines of “I know I should be doing X right now, but I’m bored out of my brain”?

Some people are extreme sticklers for habit and don’t need much else going on for them to stick to the task. For others of us, variety is what keeps us going. Sometimes a rigid routine can start to feel like a trap and it’s difficult to muster any kind of enthusiasm to keep going.

Everyone has a different preference for what they need in a routine, but for those who struggle with motivation, building in variety along with flexibility can be essential. It might be as simple as changing locations from time to time – perhaps you work from home but could gain from a co-working space atmosphere. Perhaps you just need to break up your day a bit more to include things like taking a walk and giving yourself space to regroup.

#4. You feel your creativity is stifled

If your work involves some sort of creative element, you need to be able to find the right environment that helps to harness your creativity. Your predictable routine might be good for getting nuts and bolts tasks done, but when it comes to creativity, routine can seem stifling.

There appears to be an odd dichotomy between creativity and routine. A routine helps you stick to getting things done, whereas creativity requires thinking outside of the box. The two aren’t exactly as opposed as they may seem though; some of the most creative minds who have ever been known have had reasonably consistent daily routines (think Picasso, Churchill and Maya Angelou). The key is to find the right balance between a routine and creativity.

It’s not always easy to pick this one – every single person will have different needs and preferences to enhance their creativity. A clue that your routine may need tp be changed could be if you feel that you’re just not able to be as creative as you need.

#5. Mundane tasks take over

Your daily workflow and how productive you are go hand-in-hand. We all have mundane tasks that we have to get done, but it’s bad news for your overall productivity if those small things start to overrun the bigger tasks of your day.

With the many new tools and technological advances made in the last few years, if mundane tasks are taking over your routine, it’s time to look at ways to automate your workflow. How much time can you save by centralizing data and tasks? Tools, such as Rindle, can save you from clicking around different programs or hunting for tasks that need to be done.

There’s a great analogy you may have seen before where the jar represents your day and different sized rocks represent the tasks you need to have done. There are bigger rocks representing the biggest tasks, slightly smaller ones representing those that are important to do, but not as important. Sand represents all of those small or mundane tasks that must be done.

If you try this exercise physically, there’s really only one way all of the rocks will fit in the jar and that’s to put the big ones in first, followed by the next size down, then pour the sand all around the rocks. The exercise is meant to represent priorities in your work routine and not letting the small things take over. You’d find, if you started with the sand, it would take over such a large portion at the bottom of the jar that there would not be enough room for all of the bigger rocks.

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Final Thoughts

We all tend to be creatures of habit and fall into routines that help us get through our work days. This is good for workflow and productivity, until it isn’t…

If you recognize any of the five symptoms outlined here, it might be time to evaluate your current routine and decide whether it is truly serving you well. Don’t let routine get in your way!