The Importance of Routine

'Routine' is a word that's often associated with bad descriptors such as 'boring', 'unexciting', and 'uncreative'.


A familiar term might be "stuck following the same routine", where someone describes their daily life as something akin to a factory line where everything is pre-defined and highly predictable, with no room for anything new or stimulating.


It gives us an impression that if we've found ourselves following the same schedule day in and day out, then our life may not be going anywhere interesting. We imagine ourselves looking back one day and wishing we had injected a little spice into one of our days, possibly knocking us off our well trodden path but on course towards something far more exhilarating.


Think Neo from the Matrix taking the red pill.


But this bad impression of routine is a misconception that should be avoided. Yes, routine can indeed be an indicator of a life that's uninteresting if used incorrectly, but when utilised well it can be the indicator that suggests a life has been well lived.



Why a daily routine isn't an indicator of a boring life, but a great one. And how that leads to achieving true financial independence.


Sorry, I'll be asleep


One of my favourite stories about sticking to a routine is Sheryl Sandberg's.


She is the COO of Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) yet despite her high profile job which we can all assume to be insanely demanding, she always makes sure to leave work every day at 5.30pm no matter what. This routine ensures she has time to get home to have dinner and spend time with her family. She then goes to bed at 9.30pm and once even rejected a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg in favour of going to sleep on time.


Obviously, leaving work on time and going to sleep early is something we can all do easily so we might wonder what's so special about this.


For Sheryl Sandberg, following this strict routine keeps her on track with the rest of her routine such as getting up at 5.30am and being in the office by 7am, being extremely efficient at the important work she does and staying highly productive throughout all her days.


She could have easily made trade offs like taking the really late meeting instead of going to sleep, which is what many of us would've done considering who was asking for the meeting, but she likely knew that such a compromise would not have led to the long term success that she envisioned for herself.


For me, this is a fantastic example of how sticking to a routine can lead to great results.



A Bad Routine: One that does not serve our passions


If you're following a routine that does not align to something you are passionate about in life, then that routine can be nothing but terrible for you.


Here's an example:


It's Monday and you wake up at 7am, still really tired and with a bit of a headache. You reluctantly get up and it takes you about 45 minutes to get ready to leave your home. It should've taken half an hour but you spent 10 minutes looking for your keys, and another 5 minutes rechecking that all the power switches were off.


The commute takes an hour and 15 minutes due to slow traffic and congestion, but you're ok with that because it's a chance for you to zone out and be in a state of quasi-sleep. You're trying to make up for the lack of good quality sleep last night.


You arrive at the office for 9am and need another 15 minutes to figure out what you need to do today. You're part of a team that's working on a project, but nobody seems to know what this project is actually supposed to achieve for the business.


Everybody on the team basically just pretends to be busy but you're all just trying to get through the day without being noticed, especially by the egotistical manager. The minutes tick by slowly as you fight to stay awake.


Finally, it's 5.30pm and time to finish work. But you stay an extra 15 minutes, a routine you've fallen into in order to avoid people gossiping about you being lazy.


You intended to hit the gym after work but once you left the office you were simply too drained, plus you convinced yourself it would be too late for dinner once you finally got home.


The commute home is again an hour and 15 minutes, meaning it's something like 7pm before you walk through the door of your own home. You make dinner while watching an episode of the series you're currently following.


It's 9pm. At some point you migrated yourself to the living room while eating dinner and watching that series. You got through two episodes and the now-cold remains of your dinner are on the couch next to you. You'll do the dishes another time.


Time for a bath or shower to wind down and get ready for bed. You do a lot of thinking while bathing... often you imagine yourself living the life you wish you had and how you would be able to do so many different things since you'd no longer be overburdened with the many tasks of your daily routine.


10pm. It's too late to start anything productive, but a bit too early to go to sleep. Guess you'll browse the internet while laying in bed.


Midnight. You ended up going down a YouTube rabbit hole and also spent a bunch of time aimlessly scrolling on your phone, as usual. It takes another 15 minutes before you finally put it down and shut your eyes.


You wake up at 7am, still really tired and with a bit of a headache.


It's a Tuesday morning in February. Wasn't this the year where you would get yourself back into shape and start learning Spanish so that you could start to see more of the world by going on that month long adventure hike through the mountains of Patagonia?


"I'll start on Monday" you hear yourself say.



A Good Routine: Working towards an important personal goal


The dystopian example earlier sounds exaggerated but somehow I feel that many people out there might live it as a reality in some shape or form. It's easy to see why a "routine" is considered with despair under such circumstances.


Let's contrast this to a routine that is aligned to your personal passions and life's goals. I'll purposely keep it related to a work day to avoid a situation that's too far removed from the earlier example.


It's Monday and you wake up at 6am, the usual time. 10 minutes later you've brushed your teeth, made the bed, and the coffee is brewing. Time to learn some Spanish.


This takes you 30 minutes and you're learning 30 new words that you prepared over the weekend. Aside from the new words you also revise 70 words that you've already learnt in previous weeks and months, reinforcing that knowledge.


It's 6.40am and you've got time to do a 40 minute workout. Today it's burpees, kettlebell swings, body squats and pull ups, a full body workout that keeps you in good shape. Once you're done you take a quick shower and put on the clothes you laid out the night before.


7.30am and you're out the door, grabbing all the things you need from the places where you always leave them. The commute to the office takes an hour and 15 minutes due to traffic congestion. The slow rolling traffic is a perfect opportunity to listen to an audio book, or audio Spanish conversations.


This habit has allowed you to get through a book every 2 weeks on average, and you've been able to learn so much about so many different topics thanks to it. Some of these books have even helped you do your job better, despite not being related to your profession.


You get to the office just before 9am and you're straight to work on the tasks that you had listed out for yourself before leaving office last Friday afternoon. You're part of a team that's working on a project that will increase the revenue of the business through its training services, while also reducing the cost of running those services.


This means higher profits which raises the value of the share options that you hold as a long term employee. If the project goes well and the benefits are proven, you can also refer to it in your annual review and claim that a bonus or a raise is well deserved.


Having a clear to-do list for each of your days means you're highly efficient and reliable at getting your work done on time. This has helped you build up a great reputation among your colleagues meaning there are no concerns when you leave the office on time each day at 5.30pm.


Three times a week you attend a hobby class after work, and these end at 8pm. You eat a healthy light snack on the commute over to the class and once class is done you eat the packed dinner that you have with you. The snack and packed dinner were prepared by you on Sunday afternoon, as part of your regular routine.


You get home at 9pm, and immediately clean up your now-empty food container before jumping in the shower or bath. Bathing for the evening is a relatively quick affair as you're aiming to get into bed by 9.30pm.


Once you're in bed you spend about 10 minutes reflecting on your day; you learnt something new, you worked out, you read (listened), you did a good day of work in the office, and you spent time on one of your hobbies.


This little bit of self affirmation is important as it helps you appreciate how you've spent your time for the day, knowing that you've taken a few small steps towards preparing for your trip of hiking through Patagonia. After Patagonia you intend to look for a wine town in Spain where you might be able to spend a week or two helping out and getting involved in the culture.


After this reflection you let yourself relax and wind down. At 10.30pm your alarm goes off, just as it does every day. This is the alarm telling you to go to sleep.


You wake up at 6am, the usual time.


You start the day by revising those 30 new Spanish words.



How does this relate to financial independence?


Even though the second daily routine also involves a full day of work you can easily tell the difference, and I'm willing to bet that you'd far prefer the second routine compared to the first.


Even if all of the tiny details aren't quite right for what you envision as a meaningful life, you know that the second routine is the one that'll get you closer each day.


So how does this even relate to financial independence?


Well, let's think about one of the common reasons that people strive for financial independence. It's so that they have the means to confidently leave the "nine to five" and be able to use all of that freed up time on other things that they care about.


In other words they don't want to be "locked" into a routine that they see no purpose in.


But if we consider the example routines in this article, we might be able to start asking if money is the real problem.


For some, the answer is going to be truthful yes.


But for many others, the answer may indeed lay somewhere else if only they were willing to look a little deeper within themselves.


They need to ask "what is it that I want in life and why".


And when they've discovered what that thing is they can start by taking tiny steps each day towards realising that goal, until each tiny step simply becomes a part of their routine.


We don't need Morpheus to appear, for each and every one of us carries our own red pill.

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Don't wait for some magical number before you start "living". Life is full of surprises and you'll never be able to plan it perfectly. If you're doing sensible things with your money you'll eventually reach your goal. So start living now. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have. Money can be made, but time cannot. You are the barrier to the life you want to live, not a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

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