• Nina

The power of routine

Our bodies flourish when given regularity

Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

I usually spend a few weeks a year in a monastic setting, in Buddhist monasteries or yoga ashrams. It always takes a day or two to settle in the routine, but after a few days I always find myself much more rested and alert, no matter how early the wake-up bell rings in the morning or how demanding the physical practice can be. Of course, these are holidays periods, but I find my overall energy much higher when compared to other type of vacations, including the I'm-lying-there-and-doing-nothing-all-day type of stay.

What these places have in common is that they impose a rigid schedule that I must follow. Give me regular mealtime, regular exercise, regular bedtime, and my energy fires up. The quantity and quality of sleep and food only comes second.

Our bodies love routine. If you've been around kids, you know how a little shift in their bedtime, nap time or lunch time can ruin your entire day. We adults are not so different. We developed self-control mechanisms that allow us to cope with the unease created by irregularity, so that we can transect in the world and adapt when constraints force us to deviate. But we forgot that these mechanisms compensate when the body is not given what it needs.

It's a secret that has been known for long and has contributed to the achievements of many highly successful people. I find the one of Benjamin Franklin particularly inspiring. It starts early, incorporates fixed times for lunch and dinner, and gives a large share to self-study and reflection.

Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule

You don't have to follow this one, nor to wake-up at 5am and start the day by a 2h cardio workout to reach productivity heaven. Rather, take some time to observe when you perform best. Some people focus more easily in the morning, others at night. For me, late mornings and middle afternoons are the most productive. I also feel better when I eat little at lunch, and physical exercise comes more easily before dinner. Find out what fits you best!

You can then try to incorporate some routine in your day, one item at a time. Start with the easiest one. It may be as simple as setting your alarm at the same time every day or go to bed at the same time after an evening herbal tea. Take it easy, but don't be loose. Once the first habit is settled, incorporate a new one. If you try too hard by wanting to incorporate all at once, you may find yourself abandoning shortly after a few days or weeks. It takes more than 2 months to create a sustainable habit. Aim reasonable, simple, and long-term.

Just like a monastery, an organization can decide to provide a fixed schedule for its members. What about limiting lunchtime at a certain timeframe, by using a meal service limited during the day? Or you can setup daily rituals, like a half-hour for socializing right before lunch, or a fixed collective meditation practice at the end of the afternoon. It doesn't have to be mandatory, but the easier it is to follow, the more people will adopt it.

You won't be able to provide a schedule that works for every individual in your organization, but if you sit down and discuss the case as a group, you can come out with a few principles where everybody adheres. Being collectively engaged in installing landmarks to structure the day can be a great ally to boost team productivity.

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