"The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine." - Mike Murdock
Creating routines is like writing clean code, they should operate as optimally and efficiently as possible without excess. They should make your life BETTER.
Most creatives have a negative grudge towards routines, they claim that routine breeds complacency or stagnation. I am of a different opinion. I believe in optimizing your routines in such a way that allows you to live viscerally and consciously as much as possible, leaving your subconscious routines to deal with the menial and tedium.
Since "menial" and "tedium" can carry a negative connotation please, hear me out. When I say menial and tedium, I typically mean the things that happen night and day, constantly without being of much true meaning in our life consciously. These "menial" things can however make or break us consciously.
If you have a habit or routine of eating unhealthily you will not think about what you order at a restaurant, and order based off of your tastebuds alone. This compounded over 3-6 meals a day, over years of time can cause detrimental harm to how happily you can live in your conscious self. The inverse, if you habitually eat healthily you will not notice it, but after 3-6 meals a day (6 small, protein packed meals if you want actual fitness advice) over the span of a year you will notice that you feel healthier and are more apt to be happy during your conscious engagements.
Routines work in small percentages that compound over time. Always re-think your routines, make sure they work for you and not against you. Routines should be made to automate the menial and tedium, to free your mind for a richer time of conscious engagement.
"Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency, automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency." - Bill Gates
The secret (IMO) is to optimize the routines you automate, make sure they will make you happy, and think radically about what routines are unnecessary or could be routinized more effectively.
Only routinize positivity, cancel out the noise.
examples of routines;
- Sleep. The average american spends 1/3 of their life sleeping which equates to nearly 26 years of sleep. Is your sleep the best it could be? If you are spending 1/3 of your life sleeping I hope you have a comfortable bed, a good sleeping position, and an effective routine of falling asleep and try to minimize the amount of sleep interruptions during the night.
- Work. Do you have an optimized routine around work? Not getting burnt out, keeping engaged and activated, being an effective leader, practicing clear communication and productivity, these are all things that can be routinized subconsciously but should be enacted consciously. Once routinized it is just as easy to practice bad communication as it is good communication, this is why we must be cautious in actively examining our routines to make sure they are as efficient as they could possibly be. Things like hotkeys on my macbook come to mind when talking about automating productivity in my workplace. If I relied on clicking on everything I would easily waste years of time before this is all over with.
- Fitness. I work out.. a lot, I'm a fitness nut and I always have been. The love of working out and staying fit and conditioned has always been engrained in me since I was born. My father is 63 and still plays (and beats) 20 year olds in basketball. I have the genetics of strong-hearted-warriors. My mother has 2 herniated disks in her neck and instead of calling it a life and chilling on the couch she goes to the gym every day. I don't mean to say all of this to gloat, I say it to express how much this specific segment means to me personally. There is a large difference between working out, and working out efficiently. Because working out is one of the most drastic cases of optimizing your input for maximum output. There are 30 minute workouts that if done correctly and with enough heart can get you more lean and ripped in 1 month than a lot of 1 hour workouts will get you in a year. Every single body is different, and this is one reason that paying attention in fitness and optimizing your specific routines to maximize the result you get is so important. If you want a very scientific approach to some things that work incredibly well in regards to fitness, and routines that will genuinely change your life I recommend checking out "The 4-Hour Body" by Timothy Ferris, specifically the "Slow-carb diet" and "Paleo diet" (no affiliation).
side note: Also taking about 30 grams of whey protein first thing when waking up is an incredible thing to routinize, this spikes your metabolism and gives a ton of energy, clarity and focus to your morning. This has also been tested to help burn up to 15 pounds of body-fat a month in some cases.
- Happiness. Believe it or not happiness can be the result of optimizing your routines. This TED talk by Matt Killingsworth really puts into perspective how we can routinize our happiness. The talk is about mind wondering, and I will try to briefly sum it up. Our minds are wondering 47% of the time (on average) which means we are living on auto-pilot 47% of the time as we do things subconsciously. Our habits and routines are typically carried out by our subconscious during this "auto-pilot" time. I believe this is a key to optimizing your happiness. Make sure the routines that you will be subconsciously carrying out for 47% of the day will benefit you in such a way that when you are having your consciously focused "in the moment" time, you will have the greatest chance of being happy.
Interesting side note: apparently our minds are wondering 10% of the time even during sex. I would love to know how tough it was to get that statistic.
- Credit. Not to well known but having good credit can be easily routinized without too much of a change. Most credit card companies don't want you to know this (no I'm not selling something) but it's actually fairly easy to heavily bolster your credit score without having to seriously think about anything consciously (after setting it up properly). How you can do this is to get a secured credit card for say, $250-1000 whatever works for you, obviously this is to scale with your income and expenses. What you really want to do is keep this card at around 1/3 charged, so if you have a $900 credit limit have about $300 of expenses on it. Set your monthly automated expenses (phone, electric, internet, cable, insurance etc.) to charge that card each month, then set an auto-pay on that credit card to completely pay it off each month at the end of the month. Put that card out of sight and out of mind, don't use it for anything other than those routine, fixed expenses. By practicing this method you pay no more money than you would already be paying for these recurring expenses, yet have the constant influx of credit payment that will heavily influence your credit score in just months.
example of a negative routine;
- Smoking. Smoking is a great example of a negative routine, and how routines can compound in weight and gravity over time. Smokers spend up to 3.5 months of time smoking in a year. The average smoker loses ~10 years off of their life span from health complications.
If the average smoker loses 10 years off their life span from the average american life expectancy of 78, that would mean they would have an average life span of 68 years. If the average smoker spends 3.5 months out of each year smoking, that would mean that person would spend 23.8 years of their life smoking if they lived to be 68 giving that person 44.2 years of life without habitually smoking. Smokers tend to spend nearly as much time smoking as the average american does sleeping. Is that the kind of unconscious routine you want taking up your life? How does the effect of smoking affect your quality of life for those other 44.2 free years of life? Also the financial cost. An average smoker will spend ~$170,000 on just cigarettes alone in their lifetime, not including surgeries and medical care. I'd take an Aston Martin DBS over smoking, thanks.
optimizing your routines;
Though your routines are carried out subconsciously, it takes a conscious effort to establish routines or to edit existing routines. An established routine is neurologically engrained in your subconscious and the only way to change them is to consciously establish a new routine and focus your effort on it until it creates a stronger neurological pathway than your old habit. This can be done through a process called Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP). This can sound a bit odd but it is basically the practice of programming your brain to create and edit existing routines through establishing strong neuro-pathways in your brain.
Think about your brain as a field of tall grass, each thought is like a rabbit running through the field, carving a path through the grass. If you do the same thing, the same way enough times you create a "game-path" through a certain function. That path will become second nature instead of carving a new path. This does not mean that it is essentially a good path, just one that has been carried out enough times that it becomes habitual to take. That is essentially what a neuro-pathway is.
This is a very powerful practice, and it's extremely meta. It's done wonders for how I establish effective routines, how I deal with hard situations and how I now take a code-like approach to thought. Anthony Robbins is my favorite and the most famous practitioner of NLP, he changes thousands of people's lives through effectively altering their routines. I would actually recommend watching this quick video of Tony's, it's sure to get you inspired.
steps to take;
- pay attention to routines. This takes conscious effort, pay attention to what routines you have throughout the day and write them down on a piece of paper or notepad.
- radically re-think routines. By writing your routines down you will realize you have far more than you thought, and you will start to see the holes of improvement that are waiting to happen.
- define negative routines. By defining what you dislike about yourself or what your inefficiencies are you guide yourself towards change.
- define positive routines. Re-establish if your positive routines are the best they could be (I work out, am I getting the most I could be out of the gym? Could I get what I want in 30 minutes rather than an hour?)
- get a vision for what you would like to have, be like or do. Create a mind-map, make a dream board, seriously visualize and define to the letter what you want. Try to be as least vague as possible. Don't say "I want to be rich" instead say "I want 2,000,000 dollars" don't say I want to be a better leader, say "I wan't to be better at delegating tasks, at clear communication and at defining deadlines for my projects." This gives you direct action points to work towards, once you define where you want to go your mind will create the path to get you there.
- get a role model that aligns with the vision you have for yourself. Model someone who has achieved greatness in the exact area you are working on. If you are working on being better at having passionate opinions and sticking to them as a leader, don't just look at any leader and model them, look at someone like Steve Jobs who was immensely passionate about his opinions and led by them. Again, be as least vague as possible.
- identify the routines that led that person to the success they had . Sketch them out, identify each routine this person had, study them and learn from them. Don't apply routines that may have no bearing over how that person was successful unless they say that action or routine led directly to their success.
- model those routines to establish your own variation. Adapt those routines that seem appropriate to you, make sure they mesh with your lifestyle or change your other routines to make them work.
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.” - Bruce Lee
There are apps and other tools you can use to track and visualize your routines, and the effect they're having on your daily life! Apart from the pen and paper method of jotting down your routines to actively change them that we went through above, these give you the opportunity to see exactly what your routines look like and give you a track record.
- mint. Finances, budgets, financial goals, loans, credit cards, etc. This tool is effective at visualizing expense-based routines. If you have a bad routine of shopping way too much on clothes, set a budget on your monthly shopping expenses and be alerted when you go over that. Keep on track and visualize how much you are saving with your new routine!
- runkeeper. Track your workouts, runs, bikes etc. and see how well you are improving. This can give you motivation to keep that routine alive and gives you another neurological link to that routine!
- quantified self. There are many quantified self tools out there these days, my favorite is the Jawbone UP. You can visualize how much you workout (kind of like runkeeper) but the most attractive portion of this tool (in my opinion) is the sleep monitoring. The UP gives you the ability to visually track your sleep. It tracks when you are in your deepest sleep or lightest sleep, how often you get up at night, how long you were actually asleep vs how long you were laying in bed and gives you the ability to notice patterns in your sleeping behavior. This tool can let you see what nights you got the deepest sleep so you can think about what position you slept in that night, what you ate before bed, how much caffeine you had during the day etc. Also you can set the alarm feature to wake you up within a 30 minute window of your alarm when you are in your lightest sleep, making you feel fresh and blissfully awake when your alarm goes off instead of groggy and annoyed.
The overarching principle of optimizing your routines is to make your routines work for you and not against you.
Optimize your routines in such a way that minimizes the amount of time you spend on routines, and maximizes the real, visceral experiences in life. Like coming up with the next big innovation, or building something that makes you happy, or having experiences that make life worth living.
Optimizing routines is about automating success. Mentally, physically, financially, spiritually and so on.