How Routines Help You Get Better Faster


image“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” — Mike Murdock

I know that for many people, the idea of a routine seems like the death of innovation and creativity.

It’s actually quite the opposite.

Use Routines to Move Up the Stack

Having routines means you can stop wasting your precious time and energy on the basics.  Instead, you can use routines to move up the stack and unleash your best.

More precisely, it puts your thinking where it counts.

While reading the book, Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Peter Weill, I came across a few pieces of perfect prose that make the points way better than I have in the past.

From Deliberate Task to Second Nature

The more we can turn common tasks into routines, the less we have to think about them.  The less we have to think about the basics, the more we can spend on the more advanced things.

Via Enterprise Architecture As Strategy:

“Every human being performs a variety of critical, fairly complex tasks without actually thinking about them.  These tasks include breathing, hearing, swallowing, and seeing.  With experience, humans can take on more-deliberate tasks like walking, riding a bike, driving a car, and making coffee.  At first, these more-deliberate tasks require some concentration and adaption, but they quickly become second nature.”

Easy for the Expert, Tough for the Novice

The expert can perform the basics without thinking.  The novice needs to spend a lot of time thinking through the basics, to understand the nature of the tasks and how to sequence their actions.

Additionally, the expert builds distinguishing capabilities by specializing in more advanced skills.  The difference between a novice and expert can be exponential.

Via Enterprise Architecture As Strategy:

“Over time, different humans develop distinguishing capabilities.  A talented musician learns how to play piano; a great athlete plays basketball; a famous chef prepares extraordinary meals.  Each of these distinctive capabilities has repeatable, routine activities that would be hard for a novice but that the expert can perform without thinking.”

Concentrate on Achieving Greatness

By turning the basics into routines or habits, you can focus on developing your greatness.

Via Enterprise Architecture As Strategy:

“Because experts need not focus on the routine activities in their field, they can concentrate on achieving greatness.”

Now, while routines are a good thing in concept and in practice, there is another important rule of thumb.  Don’t let your routines stifle or limit you.  The last thing you want is a routine that becomes a burden or works against you.

A simple way to prevent this, or fix this, is to innovate in your routines.  Periodically sweep your routines.  Throw out the ones that aren’t working, tune and prune the ones that do, and keep testing what works.

Model from the best, and tailor to work for you.


  1. I loved crisp distinction between noobs and experts. I use something similar massively when making a point for what content should be created for one and what for another.

    Good ONE!

  2. very true. What we think, say, do, act, believe and spend out time doing. we become. So if your not woring on your goal daily, focusing in feeling good and prosperous and having a cheerful attitude. You will become opposite of this in a few a years.

  3. JD, I agree on so many levels. I have had ADD for most of my life and didn’t realize it until I was an adult. I wasn’t hyperactive or anything, but I had a hard time focusing on things. I would have big ideas but had trouble finishing them out. I started a lot of things and finished few. For me, writing things down and developing routines is HUGE. Much like a recovering drug addict needs a routine, so do all of us who really want to focus on success. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi J.D. – I’m a routine based person. Routines give me the “feel” of control. They create a level of comfort. I find that I operate better under these types of settings because my confidence sits at a higher level.
    Thanks for pointing out the rule of thumb: “Don’t let your routines stifle or limit you. The last thing you want is a routine that becomes a burden or works against you.” This has happened TOO many times to me in the past. Thanks for raising my awareness.

  5. hello jd
    how are you?
    thanks for sharing this; considering the fact that my wife and i have spent a few hours today coming up with routines for my 4 year old with reference to writing, identifying a few words & coloring lol!!!.
    what stood out for me was by turning the basics into routines or habits, one can focus on developing greatness.
    that is so true.
    thanks again.
    take care of yourself and enjoy the rest of the day

  6. I’m with you on routines JD

    Of all the people who join gyms, the ones who establish a routine are the ones who stay at it.

    Same with most things – if you get into a routine, you’ll stick at it.

    You can get back to your weekend now. LOL

  7. So, what does one do when they work in an industry where the stuff that should be “routine” changes every year. Software development is like that. Every year, a new toolset, new language, and new language feature comes out. And it just builds and builds and builds, but you are expected to have mastered it immediately. It doesn’t seem reasonable or possible to me. A great pianist doesn’t have to relearn new basic scales every year, or try to figure out a new piano every other month.

  8. @ Evan — Thank you. I think it’s a reminder that success is a process, and we can move up the stack.

    @ Alik — Thank you. There is definitely a big difference in terms of mental models between a beginner and expert in a given domain. The mental model is also the short-cut. But baking something into a routine has to move from intellectual, to emotional, to physical, and that takes time, practice, and experience.

    @ Jonathan — Think, say, do, act, and believe is a useful and pithy map for scanning what’s working for or against us, and what can we automate. For example, principles and guidelines are a way to automate some thinking.

    @ Bryan — Thank you. Shipping an idea from cradle to grave is tough, especially when it’s spread over time, and there are competing ideas, priorities, etc. Project management skills have been my friend, and really helped me learn to turn mush in the mind, to maps on paper. Now that I have routines for bringing ideas to market, it’s a lot easier than my ad-hoc days.

    @ Jk — I think sports early on taught me to value routines. If I practiced someting regularly, I got better. I didn’t have to fumble with the basics, and I could move on to more advanced things. I think having this frame of reference helped me easily see the value of routines.

    @ Ayo — Thank you. It sounds like you’re setting your 4 year old up for success. Beautiful!

    @ Keith — You are so right — ad-hoc gym going, just doesn’t work. Whether we forget, or simply lose momentum, or the resistance wears us down, or competing priorities win out, it stacks the deck against us.

    Routines flip it around and stack the deck in our favor.

    @ Tim — I’ve been in software for years, so I know the pain. The trick is to uplevel what the routines are:
    – learning changes in the industry
    – learning from mentors
    – learning principles
    – learning patterns (design, implementation, etc.)
    – learning proven practices
    – learning your strengths and weaknesses

    While there are some changes in paradigms, technologies, features, APIs, languages, etc., there is a lot of inertia and stability in principles, patterns, practices, algorithms, etc. In fact, that’s largely why I’ve focused more on patterns and architecture and design, to uplevel from a lot of the churn.

    One of the things I do each year is I map out trends (see Trends for 2011). This helps me see the forest from the trees and bet on the right technologies and where to invest my time and energy.

  9. I kind of agree with this but not entirely.
    I have a routine for my daily life.
    But when i embark on a project everything takes a side step.
    But then i suppose with my projects its hard to remain consistent when putting say an hour here and an hour tomorrow.
    Point is – routines are important but when you are doing something you consider important you really have to give it your all.
    Everything else becomes invalid.
    Or at least from my side, we all work differently

  10. @ Richard — I too am a fan of “to each his own” and avoiding “one-size fits all” and “use the right tool for the job.”

    It sounds like when you set your eyes on the prize, you dive in whole heartedly. I think that’s a good way to go, and, I know for myself, that when I want to make something happen, I give it my all. When I don’t, I let myself down, and I learned in life, the last person to let down is yourself.

  11. I find routines work for thinking in the same way muscle memory works for the athlete. Familiar issues are dealt with quickly and proficiently – while difficult, new tasks are addressed by a rather large toolbox that can unleash expertly improvised solutions.

  12. Hi JD – following on from the previous post .. and bringing in your points above ..

    Normal activity – breathing
    Second nature – walking, driving
    Repeatable, routines performed without thinking – daily (office and home) chores or tasks
    Frees us up for brain space to think and dream .. (plan ideas)
    Don’t tie yourself down to having to do something on a Saturday .. if it’s better or solves a problem to do it on a Sunday or later on Saturday, for example
    Don’t get overwhelmed, be flexible, finish, tidy up and plan for tomorrow

    Following your rule of three principle .. thanks – glad I’m on the way back to a clearer head and getting on with life .. Hilary

  13. @ Fred — I know what you mean. I’m a fan of filling up the toolbox with proven pattern and practices.

    @ Hilary — It sounds like clear skies ahead.

    Even just knowing your routines is a good thing. Periodically I cycle through mine and sweep them — out with the old, and in with the new. Sometimes I just need to give an old routine a tune up, and then it’s as good as new.

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