After one particularly painful round of law school final exams, my good friend Chris made a hilarious (and painfully accurate) observation:
“Why is it that some days I can study for 16 hours straight, and other days I have trouble getting off the couch to microwave a Hot Pocket?”
Most of us laugh nervously at this observation because we know it’s true!
There’s certainly a time and place for relaxation, but it’s amazing how easily laziness gains momentum. Despite my capacity for discipline and focus, I seem to have a pesky, horizontal default… at least until about 10 am.
That’s when I move from the bed to the couch!
“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”
– Ellen Glasgow
Learning to love routine!
The answer to microwaving more Hot Pockets – and accomplishment in general – is routine. Routine is potentially the most powerful progressive force in your life! Last week, we examined the most significant reasons why this is true.
I hope I’ve convinced you.
But you may still be wondering, why then do some people have routines that feel like ruts? Why do the routines of some people lead to success, while the routines of others lead to failure and stagnation?
Frankly, it’s because routines that lead to stagnation are, in fact, ruts. It’s not possible to be in a rut without a routine. A rut is simply a routine that produces no progress. Ruts often result when people take the ‘path of least resistance’ and just end up somewhere by default.
In other words, ruts are routines sans intentionality.
This gives us a major clue about where to begin if we want to develop the kind of routine that actually adds vitality to life, the kind you can actually start to love. Rest assured, you can forge a powerful ‘routine’ without a ‘rut.’
Start by understanding the elements of routine.
In reality it’s possible for anyone, in any life situation, to have a powerful routine without the rut. The key is understanding the elements of routine. This allows us to be more intentional with how we use our time and develop vital routines instead of stagnant ruts.
Routine is simply a combination of habits and schedule.
Entire books are written on both of these topics, but here is a brief look at some of the more pertinent portions of each relative to ‘routine.’
We all have a daily timetable and limited energy to commit to our plans and activities. Accordingly, there are several important questions to ask related to your schedule.
First, what are your priorities? Frankly, I find that I can only do about three things really well. I just don’t have time for any more. My marriage and my job occupy two of those positions, and my community (i.e., church, ‘Personal Board of Directors,’ and armor bearers) occupies the third. I can do a few other things fairly decently, though these sometimes have to yield to my major priorities. At present, NexTwelve.com and regular exercise occupy these two positions. They are essentially my hobbies.
Second, are you doing your most important work in your most productive hours? As I’ve described before, I’m a morning person. I fly out of bed ready to philosophize, scrub the kitchen floor, or arm wrestle! My wife is not. She has a 35-minute wake up process. But while my focus quickly wanes in the evening hours, Rachelle’s increases.
How about you? Are you a morning person or a night person?
No matter your answer, it’s critical that you adjust your schedule so that you commit your best hours to your most important work.
For example, I used to love to get up at 5:30 a.m. to hit the gym before the day started. However, I was giving my best few hours to something that didn’t really require much focus. Instead, working out is better suited for my evenings, when I can’t think as well anyway. Now I head into the office instead, and spend an hour working on material for NexTwelve.com or some other writing project and then get a jump start on my work day. Physically, I’m not in as good of shape as I used to be, but those priorities that require my best focus are getting it, and those priorities that don’t necessarily require it are still getting the requisite attention.
Your schedule is also characterized by the regular tendencies you’ve cultivated over time. What do you tend to do when what you’re doing is not being determined by your schedule? In other words, what do you do in your spare moments?
We have more distractions competing for our attention today than ever before. Perhaps some of them steal your spare time?
The list goes on… I don’t consider any of these things intrinsically bad, but each one remains a black hole of spare time. Sometimes I start poking around on Facebook and look up a short time later only to realize more than 30 minutes has passed. I know I’m not alone.
“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Being more intentional about our habits allows us to harness some of these spare moments and focus them on more important activities. Here’s a question I once found disturbingly challenging: Are you taking action on your dreams in some small way each day?
During the season of my life in which this question was first presented to me, the answer was undeniably ‘no.’ However, I was playing Xbox for at least 45 minutes almost every evening. And when I wasn’t doing that, I spent that time on Facebook or YouTube.
Happily, that has changed.
I deactivated Facebook for a while and broke that habit, and did some soul searching to bring clearer definition to my dreams. I recommitted my spare time to journaling to keep track of my thoughts and started NexTwelve.com.
It’s not that I have given up Xbox completely or refuse to let myself relax. Instead, I have simply checked my habits so that I no longer burn precious time on unproductive activities. Now, my habits are better coordinated with my schedule, which includes days that lack definition and leaves room for relaxation.
Now, evaluate your routine.
Routine is simply the combination of your schedule and your habits. Over time, these things combine to bestow productivity and vitality – or conspire to prevent accomplishment and waste time.
I hope these thoughts allow you to start to evaluate your own routine. Remember, anyone, in any life situation, can develop a powerful routine without the rut by learning to be more intentional with time.
It’s never too late to begin!
I also hope these thoughts help you appreciate the external constraints that impose structure on your time. It’s tempting to label such things as major problems preventing our accomplishment (i.e., “If I didn’t have to work as a _______ all day, every day, I could spend time learning to _______.”).
However, in reality, even if you’re not currently employed in your dream job, it still imposes structure on your time, which makes you more productive. It’s the lack of such structure that actually poses a much bigger obstacle to focus and discipline. Thus, external constraints are generally helpful and can be leveraged in favor of your routine.
Don’t let your light go out!
Have you ever noticed that there is a kind of light in children’s eyes that seems to disappear between the ages of 15 and 25? It fades even earlier in people who are exposed to significant trauma and tragedy.
Frankly, I think it’s because ruts are established. Ruts extinguish that vitality.
It doesn’t matter whether they form quickly or gradually over time – the future loses its luster as dreams fade and hope dissipates. Consequently, passion subsides.
“Most men die at 27. We just bury them at 72.”
– Mark Twain
This is the power of ruts to waste and destroy as described in the Henri de Lubac quote in last week’s post.
Don’t let this be you! It doesn’t have to be, and that light can be rekindled.
Consider your life. Cultivate greater definition in your dreams. And then forge a powerful routine to work toward them! This is what I hope NexTwelve.com is all about.
You can do it, and there are many people waiting in the wings who are anxious to help!
Leave a Comment: How are you currently benefiting from your routine? What aspects of your routine do you want to change?