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Make Your Routine Productive, Not Destrcutive

By Steven Chaffin, Jr.

Oh no, not another routine blog post.  

With classes starting tomorrow morning, I've been giving a lot of thought to the idea of a routine.  Before packing my bags and and coming to the University of Missouri-Columbia, I had a strong routine.  It wasn't perfect, but I would wake up every morning and work out, and everything else would fall into place throughout the day.  I took advantage of wonderfully useful web applications like Trello and Workflowy to keep myself on course, and micromanaged my every moment.  Nothing was unaccounted for, and I loved it.

The moment I start using those apps I realized that others would begin looking at me like a complete weirdo.  In fact, I had a good friend of mine ready to bust her gut when I showed her my Trello page.  She couldn't understand why someone would be so organized.  Most people take Nike's advice and 'just do it'.  The spontaneous mindset is awesome, and is valuable, but a solid routine is still necessary, and actually enriches your life better.

I've already advocated the undying importance of a routine, but as I made a transition to an entirely new lifestyle my angle began to shift.  I noticed that my routine was very inflexible to change, which kind of put me in free fall for awhile.  If I couldn't adhere to part one of my routine, then I couldn't, or simply would become demotivated, to adhere to part two.  I'm doing an excellent job sticking to my health goals, but aside from that, I've been doing everything pretty spontaneously and have had a great time doing it.

Again: A routine is important.  I've said this time and time again, but as I made the transition to an entirely new way of life my angle began to change.  I quickly noticed that my routine was inflexible to change, putting me in free fall for awhile.  During those days, as I attempted to put myself back on a routine, I started noticing some common criticisms.

:: Characteristics of a Destructive Routine ::

It's inflexible.  If your routine is so rigid that the slightest mistake or misstep will have your routine collapsing unto itself, your routine is more destructive than it is beneficial.  Inflexible routines often occur when we try to manage every waking moment of our lives.  Even if it's a fantastic idea on paper, it's likely to break sooner or later.  Our lives are always changing, so an inflexible routine is a ticking time bomb.

It's complicated.  When you set up a new routine, you have to take everything into consideration.  Leaving out any of your time commitments, obligations, tasks, and pastimes will lead to a faulty routine.  This often leads us to create a routine that includes a massive list of tasks and commitments that seems overwhelming and, as mentioned before, gives you little freedom.

It's impulsive.  I get inspired easily, and when I do, I do crazy things.  I'm the type of guy who is so tempted by the idea of minimalism that I oft consider giving everything away for free.  I haven't yet, and I think I'll keep that impulse at bay and actually get some money for all of my excess stuff, but nonetheless, that's how I am.  When you begin to consider all of the perks to having a routine, it's easy to get excited and create a new routine on impulse that will let you be your best self.  Having such a routine is ultimately the goal, but any impulsive decision will often come back to bite you later.

My previous routine was all of these things, and so my routine died a swift death.  Spontaneity is awesome.  It can be very motivating and make you fitter than ever, but I still strongly believe in the importance of a routine.  A routine lets you forget about things that you would otherwise have to keep track of, and enables you to get things done faster.  A truly good routine should actually increase the amount of time you have completely free.

:: Creating a Routine That Works ::

Now we know what makes a bad routine, so let's list some characteristics of a routine that will make your every moment brighter, clearer, and more productive.

It isn't all-inclusive.  This is huge.  Your routine shouldn't tell you exactly what you're doing from sun rise to sun down, twenty-four hours a day.  A good portion of your days should be planned, even if only vaguely, but managing every moment will only burn you out and become unrealistic. 

It's simple.  Don't make it complicated.  Figure out what's truly important to you, and make those things a part of your routine.  We all have a ton of things we can be doing, but it was proven years ago that multitasking is actually a bad thing.  Don't do it.  Focus on one thing at a time.  To do that, you have to eliminate things that are less important to you.

It's organic.  I'm all for the impulsive creation of a routine, so long as you recognize the likelihood that it'll self-destruct.  The fact of the matter is that no matter where you start, a good routine sprouts up over time, not instantaneously.  If you've never thought about it in the past, you're going to need to sit down and struggle with a routine before it becomes perfect.  I thought I had a pretty great routine, but it didn't last for long.  I think I'm still much better off than most, but I'm far from perfect.  Like you, I will keep working on it.

A good routine varies from person to person.  Everyone's lives are unique, with different demands.  Some people have to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to go to work, whereas others have the luxury of sleeping in until noon and getting their day started then.  These two people could both have a rock-solid routine, but they would look entirely different.  

Don't overdo it, keep it simple, and let it happen naturally, and you'll be on your way to getting your life on track.


I can't describe my excitement starting college work tomorrow.  It seems the opposite of the usual reaction, but I cannot wait to get on track and begin understanding what is ahead of me.  I plan to keep everyone updated on my collegiate experiences on Twitter @runnersravings.

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