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.
“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.
“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.
“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.