The Benefits (and Downfalls) of Routines
Routines are something that many sites discuss as a way to help you be more productive. "Professionals" have habits like preparing for work the next day every night, deciding what to wear in advance, etc. in a whole list that probably makes most people cringe. Part of that is the thought of how troubling routines can be--and they can be!--but also a result of not understanding how useful they potentially are. Here, I want to break down routines: the good, the bad, and the reasonable!
As I've mentioned previously, our bodies have a lot of different biological systems that they try to keep in balance at all times, and part of this balancing act involves daily ups and downs for certain things. Blood pressure, cortisol, pulse, and many other things can change throughout the day as part of circadian (daily) rhythms. Even our sleep is related to circadian rhythms!
By following routines, we can help to make our circadian rhythms more normal and consistent. This can be done by sleeping at the same time, eating at the same time, and in general having a consistent schedule that our bodies can "predict" (so to speak). Doing so completely may not be realistic, but anything you can do to help make your circadian rhythms more normal (especially by sleeping regularly) can help your body to function better, and that means you'll feel better!
One of the biggest hits to productivity, and really our general stress levels, is the build-up of small cognitive demands that we have throughout the day. These include things like remembering what you need to be working on, trying to make small decisions like what to wear, what to make for dinner, when you should sleep, etc. Potentially the most problematic are the pieces of information you're trying to remember, because they need to keep re-entering your mind to stay in short-term memory (which is also why todo lists are amazingly helpful!).
By having a routine, you can remove a lot of those small cognitive loads from your day. Dinner will be at a set time, you may have a schedule of meals decided already, you know when to stop working and go to bed, and so forth. Obviously you won't be able to routinize everything, but when you can, the reduced cognitive load can be very relieving!
Something not talked about as frequently, but certainly beneficial for routines is the ability to increase your efficiency. If you do things consistently, you'll become faster at doing them, and as a result they'll take up less time! It doesn't necessarily apply to every type of routine, but it can be helpful.
Most of us can probably think of someone who is "stuck in his/her ways," that could be doing something in a much better way but prefers to keep doing them the same way they always have. (I'm sure there are still people out there who print out emails and file them in a cabinet). If you get too carried away with routinizing, then you can put yourself at risk of the same fate.
Sure, chances are pretty small that you will let yourself get stuck on something major like printing emails, but even small things can make a difference. Consider a task that takes you 30 minutes to complete. Maybe there is a slight change you could make to your routine that would reduce the time to 25 minutes. Not too significant of a time saver on any given day, but over a long time those 5 minutes add up!
This, I expect, is one of the main reasons people tend to avoid routinizing aspects of their lives. If our lives are one big routine, then there isn't much room for unexpected excitement or new experiences! Similar to getting stuck, this is mainly a problem if the routines become pretty intense. But, some people get tired of having anything too consistent for very long in their life!
Inflexibility is another major roadblock that I imagine has stopped many people from being as consistent as they want to be. If our lives are too routined, then it's difficult to be flexible and handle unexpected, urgent situations! For example, if your child is sick but you're set on getting to bed at a certain time, you're either going to have to break your routine or have a child who is very upset.
So, in summary, the bad part of routines is that they are often unrealistic to implement in day-to-day life...at least perfectly. Which brings me to my last section.
Routines with experimentation and flexibility
When considering the good and bad of routines, the answer to them seems pretty obvious, and yet many people don't consider it as an option. If routines are problematic when extreme, but beneficial when possible, then the best option is to have a routine when you can but be flexible with interruptions to that routine!
Alright, I admit that is easier said than done. Routines can easily fall apart if you're constantly being flexible to accommodate situations (but how can you go to sleep now when that movie you've seen five times is starting?!). The key is to actually think about your day-to-day tasks and identify what things will be good to make more consistent. Start small, and try one or two things at a time. Maybe you read your emails at a certain time in the morning, or you read a book for thirty minutes before going to sleep. If the routine doesn't work, figure out why not and try to adjust. If it's tempting to give up on the routine, practice your self discipline and keep at it! Routines can become very...well...routine after a short time.
So, you found some ways to make your tasks more routine...now what? The next step is to not get stuck. From time-to-time, re-evaluate your routines. Are there more things you can make routine? Are there routines you no longer need? Are there ways you can improve on your routines? Try doing things differently on occasion, just to see if another way works better.
In other words, have routines, but be flexible and remember to experiment!
Have you had luck (or failures) when trying to make some parts of your life more routine? What tactics have you found to work for you? Let me know in the comments!