The Surprising Link Between Productivity and Routines

Routine. I know, even the word sounds boring. But there’s a big link between productivity and effective, set-in-stone routines. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like a montage in a movie. You know the ones—the star has to train for some kind of athletic event, or it’s a scientist doing research, or it’s a couple going on dates. Some inspiring song like Eye of the Tiger plays for a minute or two, and all of the sudden, bang! Whatever the person was doing is now all finished up and they’re stronger/smarter/better than they were before the song started.

Here in real life, things move a lot slower. We have to wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, take a shower, and drive to work. But those are all good things because they’re routines. If you didn’t brush your teeth every day (you do, right?) you’d be more likely to develop dental issues. If you didn’t take a shower, you’d feel gross and that cute girl or guy at work definitely wouldn’t talk to you. These are all things we do without even thinking about it.

prodAnd that’s the thing about routines and habits. At first they’re hard to get “into,” and maybe they’re even annoying. If you decide to go to the gym twice a week, those first few weeks are going to be tough. But would it be just as hard in six months? A year? Of course not. It would be come routine.

Twice a week over one year would be 104 trips to the gym. Trip number 5 might be tough, but what about trip 76? Trip 112? Furthermore, after that year passes, would you rather have gone to the gym twice a week, or have stayed at home for 104 extra hours eating an entire can of Pringles while watching something mind numbing on television? You’d look better and you’d feel better, all because you made it a routine.

The same concept applies to most things that are worthwhile, not just fitness and personal hygiene. In fact, routines are helpful or even required for a lot of the things that make doing creative or focus-intensive work easier or more effective. If you develop a routine of always keeping your calendar up to date, writing things down, or only checking your email 3 times a day, you’ll find that once the habit is formed, it’ll be easy to do and you’ll reap the benefits. You might even wonder how you managed to get along without your new routine.

3 Quick Tips to Help Form a New Positive Habit

Right, so now we know why routines are good and how they can help you. But how do you develop a new routine and turn it into a habit? Let’s take a look at three quick tips to set your new routine in stone:

#1: In the beginning, never skip a day. I’d say for something to become a good, habitual routine, you’re going to need to do it at least once per day for at least a month (assuming it’s something small—if it’s something like the twice-per-week gym example we discussed above, make that two months). If you’re tempted to skip a session of your new routine, remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place. You might have to “force” yourself a little the first few times.

#2: If possible, track your progress. Keep notes on how things are coming along—how much weight you’ve lost, how many new words you understand in a foreign language, or how much extra stuff you got done because you had a clean and organized calendar. Seeing real progress—often pretty early on—can give you the motivation to keep up the routine.

#3: Use the buddy system. If it’s a particularly challenging routine you’re trying to set, find someone who wants to develop the same habit and check in with one another daily. Just a simple text message or email will suffice: “Hey buddy, did you remember to do 25 situps this morning? I did!”