That's the dream, isn't it? Guaranteed success. Waking up every morning to do work that you love. It sounds like this is an exclusive right held by people who came out of the womb with a trophy case pre-stocked with shiny plaques and medals. But what if I told you that it's not? What if I told you that if you do this one thing, you could be successful at anything and make a living doing work you love? It's true. And it has nothing to do with going back to school and getting another degree. You don't have to start a blog, take up meditation or even work out. No, you don't have to do any of those things. So what's the secret, then? Let's take a look at a case study to answer that question…
How One Thing Turned Goodness into Greatness
Every morning, a man named Michael wakes up at precisely 6:30 AM. He eats breakfast at exactly 7:00 AM, and begins to stretch at 8:00 AM. He doesn't just mindlessly stretch, though. He does the exact same stretches in the exact same sequence. Day in and day out. Arms, back, ankles… He gets into the pool at 8:30 AM exactly, and begins warm up laps, doing the same sequence of warmups every day. 9:15 AM, he climbs out of the pool, gets into his racing outfit, and puts on some music. He doesn't just play any music, though. He plays the exact same songs in the exact same sequence. Day in and day out. That man is Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medalist eighteen times over. This is his morning routine. The morning routine that sets his day up for success. Which primes him for excellence. That one thing you need to do every single day to guarantee success and do work you love? Is nothing new. It's routine.
The Power of Routine and Why It Works
Routine is boring. We use the word “routine” as a indicator of dullness. Of the opposite of excellence. And that's a shame. Because routine works. Routine sets apart successful people from the unwashed masses. And why does it work so well? Well…
- Routine removes decision fatigue: Studies show that the more decisions we have to make, the worse they get as they day wears on. Think of your mind like a gas tank. With each decision you make, you use more fuel. So if you use all of that decision power deciding what to do when you wake up, what to eat, and how to structure your day, the decision-making fuel you have left for the important decisions you must make is nil.
- Routine ignites creativity: Have you ever wondered why you have the best ideas when you're showering, driving, or just before you fall asleep? What do those things have in common that spark creativity? Well, you don't have to think about them. They're routine. They allow your mind to wander. They allow you to daydream.You don't have to think about pushing your foot down on the gas pedal just so – you've done it so often that it's now just a normal routine. Routines remove the thought behind things, so your mind can wander and come to creative solutions.
- Routine makes you more successful in everything you do: Part of my routine is to wake up every morning and write 1,000 words before breakfast.Writing is an important part of my online career – in fact, it hinges on writing. So every morning that I write 1,000 words before breakfast, that's a small win. I've made progress. And humans are far more motivated by progress than by anything else.When I've made progress through my routine in the form of a small win, I'm going to be more successful in everything that I do throughout a day. I'll be more inspired to carry that through to other aspects of my work and my life.
- Routine helps you move forward: If you build productive work into your routine, your routine will help you achieve your objectives – even if you don't feel like doing the work. If my routine is to wake up every morning and write 1,000 words before breakfast, then I do it. Because it's my routine. Even when I don't feel like writing, it's my routine to write, so it gets done.Think about it – you probably have a routine to brush your teeth before bed. Even if you don't feel like doing it, you brush your teeth before bed. It's just part of your routine.
The benefits of having a morning routine are clear. And it wasn't just Michael Phelps who had a killer routine that led him into the kingdom of excellence. Maya Angelou woke up at 5:30 every morning. She would drink coffee with her husband at around 6:00 AM, and at 6:30 AM when her husband went to work, she would, too. Her routine would be to go to a hotel room that she kept just for writing. She would arrive at 7:00 AM, and work until 12:30 or later depending on her creative flow. Her routine continues on into the evening. In case you think that routines should be saved for creatives and athletes, not so fast. In The Surprising History of To-Do Lists and How to Design One that Actually Works, the folks at Buffer share this image of Benjamin Franklin's routine (and to-do list):
There are reports of everybody from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson having rock solid morning routines. And if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me – and should be for you, too.
How to Structure Your Routine To Guarantee Success and Do Work You Love
Some routines aren't going to guarantee success at anything, let alone move you closer to making a living doing what you love. If your routine is to hit the snooze button three times before crawling out of bed, brushing your teeth and grabbing a donut on the way to work, you'll be caught in the cycle of mediocrity forever. To cash in on the power of a routine, you need to build MIMs into your routine. In case you haven't been around here for long, a MIM is a Most Important Mission. You may be familiar with Most Important Tasks, but I choose not to call them Tasks. You don't get ahead by doing task-based work, so we call them Missions here. Once you've figured out what you need to be doing every day to bring you closer to doing work you love, build that into your routine:
- If you're a blogger, make a writing routine. Every morning, sit down in your chair and write. Warm up with some free writing, and write
- If you're a photographer, get up every morning and practice. Spend an hour free shooting
- If you're a graphic designer, design for fun. Spend an hour every morning playing around in your favorite design program.
This MIM should be the first thing that you do above all else. It's important, and your routine needs to reflect this. It's not a priority, it's the priority. After you've done your MIM you can build other elements into your routine. Consider meditation, exercise, and journalling. Think about it. If you're a photographer and you shoot or edit 20 photos every day, you'll have 7,300 photos under your belt by the end of one year. And that's not even counting the photos you shoot or edit during photo shoots and photo walks. If you're a writer and write 1,000 words every day, you'll have written 365,000 words over the course of a year. And that's not counting any words you write aside from your morning routine. And there's not a single person on this planet that wouldn't improve after that much volume.
So Start Falling in Love With Routine.
I know it sounds too simple. Like if this were the answer, everybody would be doing it, right? But everybody is doing it. Everybody who has mastered their craft and makes a boatload of money doing what they love, anyway. You know why more ordinary people aren't doing this? People like you and me, who don't win olympic medals or make a billion dollars each year? Why they aren't following a routine, getting up every morning, doing the exact same set of actions, rinse repeat? Because it's really freaking hard. Because sometimes when the house is cool and the bed is warm and the world is still asleep, the last thing you want to do is get up and do the same thing as you did yesterday, and the day before, and every day before that. Because we get bored or try to take shortcuts or think we have it down pat and we can be released from the drab monotony of routine. That's why most people don't do it. But you're not “most people”, Unsettler. You're different. You know you have what it takes to fall in love with routine. Because you know that routine means you're getting somewhere.