Could Routine be a Replacement for Motivation?

People often say that they don’t want to work a 9-5 job or that they hate routine. As much as we hear this over and over, we still see the majority of people doing exactly that. Humans are creatures of habit, we tend to eat the same thing for breakfast at the same time, in the same place, get our coffee from the same Starbucks, do the same activities each week, etc.

I’m going to propose something that occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, and it might be a bit counter-intuitive. Usually, we imagine motivation and drive (in business, in relationships, in life) as actively thinking about how to do better or how to do more. But maybe, just maybe, routine can act as a replacement for long-term motivation.

2017-01-23 Routine

What I mean by this is that if you can ingrain certain things into your daily routine and make them habit, you won’t need active thought to try to get such things done. For example, going to the gym every morning before work (which I don’t do but I should) is something that can become so second-nature that people will feel worse if they miss it. Even if you hate the gym, doing it enough times at the same time will make it become part of the routine and you won’t think about it more than you’d think of eating breakfast or brushing your teeth.

When you see people who are “super motivated” because they’re going to the gym every morning, you might be overestimating their motivation; they might have only needed motivation for the first two months. I won’t argue that you can slip into a good routine or healthy practices without any motivation at all, but that down the line, establishing good routines can help lead toward the same results as “being motivated all the time”, as some people seem.

Routine is something that should be avoided if the routine leads to bad habits: eating right before bed (though I believe the science on this is questionable), smoking when you drink, forgetting to put the toilet seat down when traveling with a female, etc. BUT, in some cases, you can probably develop some great habits that can come to the rescue when you say “I should go to the gym, but I’m feeling kinda lazy and I’m hungry and tired”.

Fun fact, that was my excuse and now I’m here writing this. But don’t follow my example!

2017-01-23 Healthy

Another decent example is eating healthy. I already mentioned the idea of not eating before bed as a good habit to get into, but it can even extend to buying food. If you’re lacking the motivation to eat healthy, getting into the habit of buying healthier food will break that. Of course the first time avoiding the soda and chips aisle might be painful, but eventually it becomes second nature.

This might seem obvious, but the key point I’d like to make here is that finding motivation to do healthy things and make good choices can be hard, but baking it into routine (with a bit of initial motivation) will save you from constantly needing to find (and feel bad about not finding) it later.

The Art of To-Do Lists

I was going to name this article “The Joy of Checking off Little Check Boxes”, but I figured this was more appropriate. Checking off little check boxes is only joyful if the list on which you’re checking them is well-made, and if the boxes actually mean something.

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Making a to-do list isn’t difficult. Simply write all the things you need to get done on a paper or on your notes app on your phone. Right? Welllll… sorta. Have you ever had the feeling where one day you’ve worked a ton but you got nothing done? You know you did a lot, but you have nothing to show for it and your to-do list certainly doesn’t look like it’s getting any shorter. That’s probably because your list wasn’t well made.

A good to-do list needs to have two things.

First, the tasks on it need to take more than a minute. If the tasks take less than a minute (or a few minutes), you can probably lump them into one bigger task. For example, “confirm lunch with the marketing person” and “thank Maria for sending over the shipment” can both fall into one task called “Answer immediately relevant emails” or something similar.

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Second, the tasks have to be short enough that you don’t feel like you’re working on them for more than half a day. The reason it feels like you’ve “been working all day but didn’t get anything done” is because the tasks you’re working on are just too big. For example, “research different artificial sweeteners” can be broken into

  • “determine which artificial sweeteners to research”
  • “find some sources on sucralose”
  • “find some sources on aspartame”
  • “find some sources on Acesulfame K”

and so on.

If the tasks on your list are not too long and not too short, and are actually meaningful toward reaching your goal, you’ll feel more productive when you accomplish those tasks.

I think that while it’s really important to know what your goals and tasks are, it’s equally important to feel like you’re actually reaching something when you work. It’s taken me a little while to get to the point where I feel that most days, my lists are well made and my work is productive, but now I feel confident about it and I’m going to go check off “write an article about to-do lists” from my to-do list.  ?

Sometimes, You Can Just Move a Little Faster

I’m assuming you’re expecting some long elaboration on the title of this article… maybe I’m talking about work, production processes, maybe fitness? Nope.

This is something I realized, not sure how, not sure why, and I’m not really sure when I actually implement it. But sometimes, just sometimes, I realize that I’m just not moving as quickly as I could be. Emptying the dishwasher, for example. Going down the stairs to put the garbage out, or even just getting ready in the morning. Sometimes if you just take a second to realize the speed at which you’re doing stuff, you’ll realize that you could be going a hell of a lot quicker, and there’s simply no loss. It’s not even more difficult most of the time!

2016-08-09-speedy

 

I get the feeling that a lot of people will read this and think “uhhh, yeah no sh** dude” but I find that it occurs to me at random times, and when I do speed up, things go impressively quickly. Then I imagine what life would be like if I just did all of my monotonous tasks quicker than usual, and I think about how much time I would save. Anyone who knows me knows I’m huge on efficiency and doing things the right / logical way, and this is just an example of my realization that we simply don’t move as quickly as we could.

Counter-argument, you say? I’m tired! I’m lazy! Yes, those are valid arguments. But the biggest thing that I’ve noticed, is that it actually doesn’t feel like it takes more energy to speed up just a little bit. Just enough to give you those extra five minutes in the morning, enough to let you take an extra minute at the coffee machine (do people have watercoolers anymore?), enough to get you to bed just before that time where you look at your clock and you say “Damn! Past ___ o’clock again! I really need to go to sleep earlier.”

So, my friends, my message is simple. Think about it a couple of times when you’re doing simple, generally monotonous things, and just speed up. Juuust a lil bit. Try it sometime… either I’m a bit OCD and a productivity-freak or maybe it actually makes sense.