The Importance of Routine

A recent article on the Harvard Business Review got me thinking about the importance of a daily routine to success. In fact, research has shown that, throughout history, the most successful people in their fields, what some might call the geniuses of that field, almost all had daily routines. And interestingly, a number of similarities between these routines show up. So let’s look at those mentioned in the article and see how they might benefit you in your schoolwork and perhaps into your life beyond the university setting.

First up is a workspace with minimal distractions. Distractions keep you from accomplishing what you need to accomplish. They get in the way. So naturally, if you want to be productive, you need to minimize them. Being on a campus with over 11,000 students can pose a problem when you’re trying to minimize distraction, but it is still possible. You begin by finding a place where you can comfortably work. This could be a dorm room or apartment, or a table or study carrel in the library, or table in the Memorial Union, or at a computer in one of the computer clusters on campus. Hopefully it won’t be a place where you’ll be visually distracted. Then, if it’s noisy, you need to block off the sounds. Headphones playing some light music can work well. Just make sure that it’s music that blocks outside noises without distracting you.

The next routine is a daily walk. A daily walk or other exercise is important for multiple reasons. Exercise relieves stress, making you more relaxed and able to focus on the work at hand. It also makes you feel better physically. And, very importantly, it takes your mind off the work you have to do, giving you a mental break. As this New York Times article states, mental concentration is similar to a muscle. Continued mental work causes fatigue and requires a rest, a break from deep thought. And daily exercise is a great way to do that. Your best bet is to set a specific time and place for your exercise. This will create a routine, which is harder to break.

The third routine is an accountability metric. You need to hold yourself accountable to your work. Whether it’s writing a paper or studying for calculus, steady and continuous work is the most effective. And that means you need to put in time regularly, whether daily or every other day or so forth. Create a routine where you set aside a certain amount of time, or pages written, something similar. Once you have accomplished that task, you are free to move on.

Very important is seeing a clear dividing line between important work and busywork. We all have busywork, things like emails or social media postings or phone calls/texts from friends. These may seem important but we know there is a difference between returning that text and studying for that exam or writing that paper. Some people divide the day into times for real work and times for busywork. Others may turn to busywork when real work is going poorly. A good policy is to connect the important work to the previously mentioned workplace with few distractions. When you sit down to work in that good place, put aside the busywork and focus entirely on the important work. Have clear demarcations between the two.

The next routine is somewhat counter-intuitive, to stop when you’re on a roll, not when you’re stuck. We’ve all hit roadblocks in our work and decided to stop at that point. The problem is that the roadblock is often a hindrance to picking up where we left off, and can lead us to procrastinate so that we don’t have to address the difficulty. Conversely, if you stop when you’re on a roll, you will feel energized to pick up where you left off previously, since you know where you are and where you’re going with the work.

Having a supportive partner is less a routine and more an important lifestyle choice. This partner can be a romantic partner or simply a very close friend. But a good and supportive partner can lessen the load on you, help remove stress. They can be an invaluable support, both emotionally and practically. Conversely, a non-supportive partner can hinder your every move, whether by hampering your ability to focus on the important work or accentuating the importance of your busywork, causing you to question your priorities. So, be careful in your partners.

The last routine is to have a limited social life. Perhaps this is important for geniuses, but for the majority of college students, a healthy social life is invaluable. Part of the college experience is learning how to interact socially as an adult, so I strongly urge you not to overly limit your social life. But make it part of your daily routine. It should no more dominate your routine than any other aspect of your day should.

Routines are invaluable in your daily life, as they provide structure and focus to your activities. Always remember, though, that routines should serve you, you shouldn’t be a slave to them. Their purpose is to allow you to accomplish your goals and live a happy, healthy life. Accordingly, learning how to build positive routines in your life today is important for your future life as well.