Why It’s Worth Ditching Your Schedule for a Routine
Routines and schedules are often mistaken for one another, but the distinction is crucial
It’s 9:00 A.M. on a frigid Tuesday in January, the promising optimism and naiveté of a new year still hovering around me like a stratus cloud, infiltrating my workspace, my home, my state of mind.
As a mother of a 10-month-old baby girl, I am intimately familiar with the balancing act required to create flexible routines that allow me to not only accomplish a myriad of diverse tasks on a daily basis, but to do so flexibly and with ample space for modification.
Parenting is one such scenario, but there are numerous responsibilities, commitments, and lifestyles that demand a good, flexible routine. The key here is understanding the distinction between a routine and a schedule.
Schedules are at the mercy of the clock, while routines thrive on their own
Many people, at first glance, don’t realize there is a difference between a schedule and a routine. Unfortunately, the two words are often wrongly used synonymously, when in fact, routines are distinctly unique from schedules in one essential way. Routines omit the rigid reliance on the clock that is so characteristic of schedules. It’s not that time is irrelevant to routines, but rather it is flexible. Routines thrive independently of time. For their successful execution, schedules depend entirely on time.
To illustrate the distinction, here’s an example of Jamal’s morning routine:
- Wake up & meditate
- Cardio workout
- Make coffee and breakfast
- Begin morning meeting
While the following is a more rigid, schedule-version of Jamal’s morning:
5:30 A.M. Wake up & meditate
5:45 A.M. Cardio workout
6:30 A.M. Shower
6:50 A.M. Coffee & breakfast
7:30 A.M. Begin morning meeting
The former provides Jamal with a solid framework upon which to plan his morning, giving precisely enough structure to prevent him from being unproductive and wasteful with his time. This helps Jamal start his day off right!
The latter, complete with rigid timestamps, demands that he adhere strictly to the assigned time frames at all times, or risk deviating from the plan he committed to. Due to its inflexibility, each activity — meditation, showering, eating breakfast, workout out — must precisely fill its time slot. If Jamal takes too long, his next activity is robbed of its finite temporal resources. If he finishes early, he now has an awkward gap that he isn’t sure what to do with, further undermining his productivity.
Focus on your routine, Jamal. Ignore the schedule.
Routines offer flexibility, which leaves space for the unexpected
Even the most well-researched, meticulously crafted schedules don’t stand a chance against the inevitable unpredictability of life’s twists and turns. Schedules change, people get sick, accidents happen, new commitments emerge, and old ones dissipate.
Routines are inherently flexible, but not noncommittal. They specify which activities to do, without demanding they be completed in a specific time frame. In other words, a good routine helps you commit to completing certain tasks, like working out, without setting you up for failure at the hands of the clock.
Strong, effective routines are consistent and predictable, while allowing for the inevitable unpredictability of life. Truthfully, nobody knows how things will go tomorrow morning. Life never offers complete and utter certainty, it simply doesn’t work that way. You have to be able to adapt.
Routines allow you to do that. Schedules, on the other hand, often set you up for failure. Interfere with one task, and your entire schedule is disrupted. Do so while employing a good routine, and you can simply pick up where you left off, maintaining your routine without the negative pressures of time. No psychological setback because you failed to accomplish your tasks ‘on time’.
Commit to behaviors, not deadlines
Ultimately, the purpose of a strong routine is to foster desirable habits, often in support of a long-term goal. Perhaps you want to start working out to build endurance. Or, maybe you need to find a way to balance the various, ever-changing demands of caring for a newborn.
Whatever the purpose of your routine, it is unlikely that it lives or dies by the secondhand of the clock. Chances are, you’ve been mulling over making a lifestyle change for quite some time. Or maybe you’ve only recently acquired new responsibilities that require you to establish a new routine. Regardless of your situation, routines effect change in a cyclical pattern, meaning they function gradually, over time. Whether your routine repeats itself every few hours, daily, weekly, or utilizing another time interval, the rewards are seen in the holistic result, not the minutiae of the timing.
Commit to the actions, the behaviors, of which the routine is comprised. Commit to showing up every day. Commit to repetition. Commit to perseverance. Be flexible. Don’t worry about times. Remember, routines trump schedules, every time.