[Note from Pat Sweet: Today’s post is a guest post from David Yung – an engineer with a passion for professional development. You can read more from David here.]
We all have heard about routine before. We are taught to set routines at a very young age (remember keeping a student diary in grade school?) However, as adults with growing responsibilities, we forget how to create new routines, which is key to breaking our boring and mundane work-life schedules for better alternatives.
Successful people have vision
Last month, I published an article on LinkedIn about how to master your productivity. A common theme appeared after I consumed a combination of books, blogs, podcasts, and inspiring videos on the topic of productivity. The successful individuals featured in these media always have stories of failures and poor results before coming to a pivot point – an “Aha!” moment. This moment is invariably the discovery of their calling and purpose as a result of persevering through those desperate times.
One of the biggest takeaways from these individuals is that they establish visions for themselves. Very early in life, they determine what they want their future selves to look like. These visions always require hard work and labor to fulfill. Hence, a system of consistency is needed to keep them on track and moving forward. They set incremental goals that lead them towards their visions. These individuals create their own specific routines by repeating the tasks they need to on a daily basis (see Rory Vaden’s book Procrastinate on Purpose).
Creating my own vision and routine
Having seen what successful people do, and being at a pivot point myself at the moment, I’ve decided to create my own vision for myself and a routine for success.
As an engineer looking to accelerate my personal and professional development, I have dedicated a significant amount of time to reading materials on topics of interest. One key lesson that stands out to me is the importance of taking action on your commitments after identifying them. While I have done a good job of immersing myself with the inputs of knowledge, I have failed at delivering the tangible results necessary to achieve success. This has driven my initiative to create my own routine that I believe is the best tool to win my battle against procrastination.
“Routine is what you practice so often that you do without thinking. – Robert Jordon
The artist’s routine
In order to create a new routine that will address my shortcomings, I began by taking a look at creative people’s routines. Why creatives? Successful routines require a certain creativity that is lacking in most technical professions. Before I embedded myself in engineering, I was a classical pianist. While it might be a commonly held stereotype about Asian kids, the idea that we are “encouraged” to pick up a musical instrument and to become “performers” was a reality for me and my childhood. Inspired by renowned international superstars such as Lang Lang and their success from competing on stage, parents really do pressure their kids to learn an instrument and excel. Please note this is not some propaganda message about Asians smarter than anyone else, but there is absolutely a cultural importance placed on hard work and effort being the ingredients for achieving the unthinkable amidst growing competition in the world. With that said, we also struggle to be creative and come up with our own unique visions for ourselves and to determine what success might look like for each of us as individuals.
One creative person that I studied in particular was a composer whose masterpieces I play on the piano, and one of my favorites, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As a child, I could relate to his genius and passion in music from growing up among elite musicians in his time since both of my parents teach music (except I am not a prodigy). If you haven’t watched the movie Amadeus, it depicts Mozart’s life from a third person’s perspective. In the opening scene where Antonio Salieri (acted by F. Murray Abraham) narrated his relationship with Mozart, he was disgruntled by the fame and popularity of this childish, petulant composer, indulging himself in high society lifestyle. In contrast (and based on historical facts), Salieri grew up fatherless and poor at a young age while pursuing a career in music. While his contempt towards Mozart’s taken-for-granted musical talent was driven by this unfair situation, Salieri failed to look deeper into Mozart’s routine as a composer.
So what really makes Mozart so brilliant that his compositions are still well known after two centuries? Historians argue that his father, Leopard Mozart, cultivated a routine of frequent performance on tours after discovering Wolfgang’s musical talents at his age of five. This routine, however, did not stick long once Wolfgang departed for Vienna as a freelance performer and composer in 1781. His new routine (shown above) was described in the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It showed subtle differences compared to the strict routine imposed by his father earlier in life. His most recognized music compositions for a wide array of concerts and operas would surface in the 10 years before his death. While Mozart wasn’t financially successful after leaving the security of his father’s reputation, he was able to deliver his gift of musical genius for generations to enjoy. This is all the result of him having created and stuck to his own version of routine.
A similar pattern begins to emerge for other creative people’s schedules, as you can read about here. The best way to compare these daily routines is using the chart shown below. The chart shows seven activities plotted on a 24 hour clock. While not all seven activities were reflected on the 15 artists included in the book, all of the artists focused on more than one section in a day in addition to sleep. Some artists repeated the same activity twice or more by interlocking them with other daily activities. A majority of those activities require creativity such as composing and writing. At this point you may be wondering why I do not include routines of savvy CEOs, inventors, and billionaires. Well, I believe that the historical figures I studied had already provided the foundation for present day successful individuals to set up their own routines that were consistent and proven to work through the test of time. I wanted to introduce and use this model in creating my own routine, and share it with you so that it might help you along on the same journey.
The three R’s of routine
Building habits is fundamental to cultivate good routines and establish strong work-life integration. (BTW, I do not believe in work-life “balance” but I’ll reserve that for another day.) Habit building is described as the “First and foremost” phase in Asian Efficiency’s habits crash course. While I can’t show you their paid content here, the principle of building habits surround the three R’s. I’ll share the three R’s and how I’m using them to build my own routine. I’ll also share three other resources that inspire me to drive each R’s forward.
#1 – Reminder: This is essentially the trigger to form a habit. Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” details the importance of building trust to provide servant leadership. And the most powerful way is to identify your beliefs behind certain initiatives. Taking my example to write and publish on LinkedIn, my biggest “Why” to create powerful content is instilling my habits of knowledge sharing through creating new connections whom can foster mutual benefits to our personal and professional development. Keeping this “Why” in mind serves as my reminder.
#2 – Routine: These are the actions that we need to take regularly. This is what I am focusing on for myself here. One of my biggest flaws is maintaining consistency. I believe a lot of us struggle with this. Angela Lee Duckworth gave an inspiring TED talk that highlighted GRIT as a predictor for success. She believes one element of grit is perseverance. Developing grit is about habitually doing the things that are not necessarily easy but essential for growth. Going back to my example of writing this article, I may face doubts and hesitations from my audience since I am no productivity coach despite my best researching effort. But I am trusting my gut here in tackling this subject head on to win my battle against procrastination.
#3 – Reward: To help reinforce the first 2 R’s, this incentive-driven approach is crucial so our habits won’t fall apart. Stephen Covey’s “The 7 habits of highly effective people” talks about starting with an end in mind. This end goal needs to be linked with a reward that will motivate you to get there in the first place. Again, my writing habits may not yield instant rewards like generating revenues, but I am getting the satisfaction of increased visibility and credibility many bloggers/writers share before their first best-selling books. There are other incentives like improved writing skills and mastery of different media. My point, though, is to identify your rewards early when you are at the first R, before creating habits.
Tackling the second R
To help me in taking actions on the second R, I have included my own customized routine below. You can use it as a template to create your own, if you like. To make this simple for you to read, I have followed the color coding from the daily rituals of artists mentioned in Mozart’s example. We live in an age of epic information overload and distraction with the advent of Internet (something even Mozart would be envious of). However, it is also difficult for us to set time aside to disconnect and get things done. My first goal is to achieve consistency starting with my morning routine before noon (inspired by “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod). I find it much easier to commit to change like this by taking incremental steps (or baby steps) especially on my MIT (most important tasks).
What is your biggest productivity challenge? Do you create your own routines by visualizing the tasks that you need to do most? Personally, I struggle to hold myself accountable despite the rewards or consequences associated with not fulfilling certain tasks, and I am working through this problem by participating in a mastermind group. I hope you find this article useful if you haven’t created your routine yet. I look forward to hearing your results after creating your own routine!