Practical Productivity Tips: Use Routines To Get More Done

Routines get a bad rap. Whenever I hear the word routine, my first thought is that it's like you’re in a rut, and you aren’t exciting or spontaneous. That’s just not true though— routines are actually really great life hacks, and can open you up to being more spontaneous and interesting. If you're interested in maximizing your productivity, then learning about the power of routines is one simple way to get the most out of your day.

Routines, at least in the context of a daily schedule, can free your mind up to think on other things. Your brain gets used to routines and starts processing them using the more primitive, and automatic part of our brain. That means that you higher functioning brain (the neocortex) can focus on way more interesting things. As an example, this is basically the process that occurs when you finally learn how to drive (or ride a bike, or do any new task).

When you first start driving, it’s pretty hard: You have to manage your hands on the wheel, your eyes have to move between the road and your mirrors (and hopefully not your phone), and your feet have to move between the gas and brake (and possibly clutch) pedals. It’s actually quite a bit to handle. Over time though it becomes easier and easier: You think less about which pedal is which, and you get used to braking and speeding up gradually, and you know where all the buttons and knobs are in your car. Eventually driving can become so automatic that you suffer from highway hypnosis: driving from point A to B without even realizing you did it.

That’s your primitive brain taking over and freeing up your higher brain to get lost in thoughts. It’s also what enables you to have conversations with people in the car, listen to music, read road signs, and so on.

Routines can unlock this same super power. You can take things that you do every day, and build them into an automatic routine. That way you just automatically do them, and you can ‘free up’ that time to think on other interesting things. It’s a great life hack: you’re getting 2-3x the value from the same amount of time, while still getting done all the things that you need to do.

For example, I have had the same morning routine for the past year. I wake up around the same time every day without an alarm (7am-ish). I almost immediately take a cold shower (instant wake up + tons of other health benefits), wear roughly the same clothes every day (t-shirt, jeans), make coffee, eat the same breakfast (toast/vegan cream cheese), make an iced coffee for later in the day, and head out the door with my laptop.

Since every day is 99% the same start, I can use that time to think about what I’m doing that day, or listen to cool new music, or just have a quiet meditative start to my day.

The other benefit is that it signals to my brain that my day is starting. It goes from asleep mode to awake & ready mode in that time period. Since this is a super generic start to any day, my weekends follow the same routine-- further increasing its sticking power. (Usually the only difference is the wake up time :) ) If you're not a morning person at all, don't fret-- you can setup and use routines at any part of your day!

Routines like that can be super helpful. You can also "hack" them to integrate in new habits that you want to foster—like adding in a 7 minute exercise, or going for a run. Just put it somewhere in your routine, do it for a couple of weeks, and before you know it you’ll be doing it automatically!

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