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Routines, our different Operating Systems

juanfrank77 profile image Juan F Gonzalez ・9 min read

Hello people!

In this post, we're going to talk about the different types of routines we all have and the importance that is having a defined routine for the day-to-day, whether is a morning or evening one.

Without much intro, let's get to it!

Let's go

What are routines?

First, let's revisit some definitions of routine:

  • A routine is a sequence of actions that have become automatic and are done repeatedly
  • A usual set of activities or way of doing things
  • An unvarying and constantly repeated formula, as of speech or action

It can be as simple as brushing your teeth after you had breakfast or taking a walk after you had lunch. But it can also be as complex as a morning routine where you have laid of all of the things you are going to do for the next 2 hours after waking up.

Routines can be both intentional or not, heading to a Starbucks before going to work or having dinner while watching Netflix is also a routine.

The important thing to note is that routines can work in our favor as they can hinder our performance if left unchecked.

Why are routines important?

The importance of a routine is that it allow us to be more efficient and consistent in the long run and avoids wasting time by deciding every day what are going to do next.

Imagine for a moment that you wouldn't have to go to workand would have the freedom to choose your own schedules and do things at whatever time you wanted to.

If you do different things at different times on all the days for a week, how many times you would be doing a certain thing at the same time in more than one day?

You would eventually gravitate towards a certain way of doing things (not to mention that not having some sort of structure in your daily activities for like a month would be totally maddening IMO).

Craziness

And if you still think that putting so much structure in your weekly schedule will "inhibit" your creativity because you're not being "spontaneous" enough.

Turns out, that creativity in any endeavor is actually fostered by structure not hindered by it. As Scott Kauffman already wrote about it

Since a routine is a sequence of actions we have been doing repeatedly over and over, you could say that a routine is a string of specific habits that we now perform automatically without consciously thinking about it.

But let's take a look at why that process happens in the first place, why some routines makes us more effective than others and how does that part of our Operating System work.

A small peek into the brain OS

Let's look at what the research shows about building routines and habits.

Why you may ask?

Well... because Science of course.

Yeah science

When we encounter a situation in which everything is new and we don't have any previous experiences, the brain has to make decisions on how to face the situation.

The internal machinery is actively working taking in the information around and analyzing all sorts of possible situations before making a choice.

Then, after that previous analysis, the brain gives a response. In some cases, it is the appropriate response to the situation. In others, it is not and so the brain takes note and tries an alternative response the next time.

It continues this process of trying something, possibly failing, taking notes and try another option on and on.

Eventually, the results of the analysis and the notes taken allows the brain to learn which actions to repeat and which ones to remove from memory, enabling it to reduce cognitive load processing situations that have been encountered before.

The brain saves energy by automating these decisions of providing a particular resolution to an already encountered problem and that's how the process of habit formation works.

As these habits get created, the brain no longer needs to spend resources to analyze the situation, it already knows where to look for and what to do.

It essentially controls the resources of the system and allocates space in memory to respond to the different stimuli that come to it.

It also creates cognitive "scripts" to handle the load of all the known situations and the new ones that can appear. Like

if [ -f known_situation ]
then 
    runBehavior()
else 
    echo "This is something new!"
fi

That's why we usually do several things without consciously thinking about them, like brushing our teeth or tying our shoes, or driving a car, etc...

You could say it also acts as an intermediary between the resources of the system (i.e. body) and the other people and things outside in the world.😉

Going from here

Knowing this, we can start modifying the scripts and make changes according to what will best serve us. We can put different habits into our routine that will help take our careers to the next level.

  • Want to become a frontend/backend developer? Make learning the language part of your routine.

  • Want to get a job at a company? Make applying and following up a part of your routine.

  • Want to get promoted and take care of bigger projects? Make exercise and good sleep a part of your routine to have more energy.

And so on and so forth.

Forming new habits takes some time however, establishing a following routine does not. The routine can stay while the things that change are the habits done in the routine.

According to this research, lifestyle change requires to maintain a routine with some habits that are geared towards the goal we want to accomplish. Adherence to the routine over the long-term is what makes the changes actually occur.

Interestingly, not following the full routine for a day don't have lasting negative effects. Nonadherence to the routine ocassionally does not derail the progress made and perfectly sticking to a specific routine is not a goal to be pursued.

That being said, how can we implement routines that will help us be better at what we already do or help us level up our careers?

Here are some ideas you can try to add to your routine and change the different things you already do daily.

These are just some recommendations of things you can start incorporating to your routine and see if it works for you or not.

I don't pretend to be an expert here and tell you that if you don't wake up early or try to be more of a "morning person", or exercise in a fasted state, or drink your coffee exactly at 9 am then you won't be as successful as you could

Routine ideas

Bear in mind that by definition a routine involves more than one activity done together. It's a string of habits chained together to deliver a certain result (like getting you ready in the morning and primed for a great day).

Getting up an hour earlier

With the current forced work from home, we can take advantage of saving the commute time, and instead, we can wake up earlier and have time for things to do before the workday begins.

For most of us, that is typically at 9 am. So if you normally wake up at 8 then put your alarm at 7:40 for a couple of days, then at 7:20 for some other days and so on until you can wake up at 7 am no problem. And the same process if you wake up earlier than 8 am.

This is important because we are usually the most creative and the most primed for learning new things in the first hours of the morning.

That's why most of the advice out there goes towards doing your "MIT" Most Important Task first. It's the time when you can bring your best self forward.

Also because if you normally wake up and start checking emails and messages, you get in a reactive mode and if you screw up the morning, the rest of the day isn't going to go too well.

"Lose an hour in the morning and you will spend all day looking for it."
-- Richard Whately

Tim Ferriss most commonly says that if you "win the morning" you will also "win the day".

Make your bed

This goes as part of the "organizing your space" process, specially if your room is your workspace. You know what they say "clear space, clear mind"

Also, Tim Ferriss, Admiral William H. McCraven, and others advocate for this practice saying that even if a small act, it gives you a sense of control and your first accomplishment of the day than can lead to others like eating a good breakfast and brushing your teeth.

Read a book

Having set aside some time to read is especially important and if you're doing in the morning (when your brain is rested and ready to learn, remember?) it is even better for retaining the knowledge and have it readily available if a situation happens later where you can use it.

Reading non-fiction and something you can learn from and apply in your daily life is like the best option, but then again if you have a story or novel that you've been meaning to finish this is the moment to do so.

Also, this is a time for you and you only so read whatever interests you and have that time to focus on something different than your obligations for a moment on your day.

Set your priorities for the day

One of the main reasons to have a routine for the mornings is to set the tone for the day and have it be your platform for launching you into a productive mode for the tasks you have to accomplish.

I already briefly mentioned what the MIT's are, though you can see them explained in more detail here

Writing them in the first hours means that you know what you'll be doing and have a plan for action going into the workday.

Also, since we are talking about priorities you can follow the "Three Goal Theory" that says you should have 3 and only 3 goals to accomplish on the day. If you get them done you can consider the day to have been successful.

My current routine

As a way of providing an example, I'll tell you what my morning routine looks like. I've been having this one since the first weeks of June and it has been going well so far.

I have in my pc desktop one of those post-it notes, in Windows, they are called "quick notes" detailing the time at which I should start, the activities I should do and an approximate time at which I should finish before going into the workday.

It reads as follows:

Morning routine:

Start time: 6:30 am

  • Go to bathroom
  • Get some lemon water
  • Read current book
  • Breathing exercise
  • Write weekly article
  • Take a shower
  • Precision Nutrition lesson

End time: 9:00 am

This has been the starting routine I had since early June and I've been doing some adjustments here and there and adding extra activities after a couple of weeks when I have a better grasp on things that I'm already doing.

Naturally, don't expect to have a full-packed routine out of the gate. You can start just by doing 2 things together and then adding a third one.

Also, if you want to start making positive changes, review your current routine cuz you don't want to have conflicting habits in the same one.

You can add something at the end (or the beginning) of your current routine if that routine is working for you, or start a new one and replace the things you don't want with better alternatives one by one.

Again don't do everything at once, better to have a routine with just 2 good habits than to have one with 3 bad and 1 good habit.

With that "framework" you can start slowly but surely making changes that with time will undoubtedly make you a better person and will help you take your life and your career to the next level.


So, there you have it. Some science behind how our OS works, how we can start making changes to it, some ideas of things you can try to add to your routine, and a concrete example of how it looks all put together.

That was it for this week's post. Thanks for reading so far, hope it has been useful. I'll be back next week but for now... Stay awesome my friend!


Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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Juan F Gonzalez

@juanfrank77

Systems engineer. Frontend dev. Professional lifelong learner. Doing my best at sharing practical knowledge.

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