The power (and peril) of routines

I like my routines. For things that I do regularly, I have a set way of doing them and I do them the same way each time. I know how long it will take me. I know it works. And I don’t need to spend time reinventing the wheel. My wife takes the mickey, of course, especially when my routine is interrupted and I temporarily lose the ability to function. But, by and large, my routines work.

Take my morning routine, for example. My alarm goes off at 6.30am and I leap out of bed. (Yes, I’m one of those annoying ‘morning people’.) The dogs and I head downstairs and I take them around the garden, before we come back in and I prepare their breakfast. It’s now 6.45am, give or take. (It turns out that dogs like routines, too.)

While the dogs eat their breakfast, I warm up and do a thirty-minute workout, followed by a five-minute cool-down. By this time, my wife has had a shower and is on the hunt for a cup of tea. (She’s not a morning person, so we give her a wide berth until she’s had something to eat.) I have a cup of coffee and a bowl of porridge, while listening to the news headlines on the radio.

After I’ve performed my ablutions (I’ll spare you the details), I take the dogs for a walk for an hour or so. We then come home, where I get another cup of coffee and we head upstairs to my office. It’s now 9.20am-ish. I’m ready for work and the dogs are ready for a nap. That’s my morning routine. And it works. But change any one element of it and, I’ll admit readily, I get a bit grumpy. My wife, naturally, finds this hilarious.

There is, however, scientific evidence that routines can help us to be more productive, by helping us to conserve energy to dedicate towards achieving goals during the day. They help us to get things done, by allowing us to focus on the important stuff. The same research also shows, though, that interruptions to our routine can harm productivity and even disrupt the flow of the day.

The answer, suggest the authors of the research, is to try to stick to your routine wherever possible. And if it gets disrupted, ‘rejoin’ the routine at an appropriate juncture, rather than trying to catch up. They also suggest that managers and colleagues should respect peoples’ routines and work with them rather than against them. They don’t explicitly mention spouses.

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