The Danger Of Routines

First the good news. Routines and habits are a useful and essential part of running a successful business, and indeed a successful life. Routines bring order to chaos. When you are so busy that you don’t know what day it is, so tired that you’re chugging down double short blacks like they’re ice-cold lemonade on a hot day, and so stressed that you’re having five minute conversations with people and then walking away with no idea what it was that they said, it is of some comfort to at least be able to sit at the same desk, drink from the same coffee mug and go to the same place to buy lunch. When you impose structure upon your work day you feel more organised and in control.

But routines are also dangerous. Routines are about repetition, doing the same thing today that you did yesterday. The production line is a great example of a workplace based on routine. Each worker has a specific job to do, and they must do it in a specified way and within a specified time. It is very efficient. But if you work on an assembly line, there is very little opportunity to be innovative. There’s no time to think of better ways of doing things. And just as importantly, because everything about the working environment is geared towards repetition, there is no need to think about innovation. The whole working environment reinforces the idea that continuing to do thing in exactly the same way, over and over, is a good thing.

And for a while it will be a good thing. But not forever, because now everything is changing faster than ever before, which means that we have to continually think of ways of doing things better.

When our work life becomes governed by routines, it’s easy to just keep doing today what we did yesterday, and to stop thinking about how to do things better. It makes it harder for us to step back and question things.

When we are trying to come up with fresh ideas, and work out how to do things better, it can help to break routines and do things a bit differently.

Three Ways Breaking Your Routine Can Help
  • Change your physical environment. When we visit a new city or town, or even if we visit a new part of the city or town we live in, we see things differently. As we walk down a new street we take everything in and look and listen in a far more active and aware way than we normally do. We look with fresh eyes. So if you want to think of something new, it makes sense to go somewhere new. Get away from your desk. Go to a meeting room, go to a vacant desk, go to a café, go to the park.
  • Write with pen and paper. I know, you don’t even know if you remember how to. And you’ll probably get a sore hand. But at least you won’t keep going back to re-edit the first sentence you write again and again to get it exactly, perfectly right so many times that you never actually get to writing the second sentence. Because with pen and paper, you can’t do that. You just have to keep writing. And from that, good ideas may come.
  • Talk to someone you don’t normally talk to, especially someone who has views that are different from your own. If you are trying to think up a way to improve your supply chain, talk to someone within your organisation who knows a lot about the supply chain. Or to someone from outside your organisation who knows a lot about supply chains generally. If you disagree with everything they say, that’s good, because it will help you to galvanise your own ideas.

Everyone has lots of routines. Some we are hardly aware of. Become aware of what yours are and see if breaking them can help you to refresh your mind and see things differently.