How Routines Can Increase Productivity and Creativity

By turning a regular task into a routine, you can retain more energy for making decisions that matter.

Close your eyes. Picture Steve Jobs.

Black mock turtleneck? Jeans? Sneakers?

Jobs designed his outfit to convey both his personal brand and the Apple brand of simplicity. But, it also had a second benefit: it simplified his life to focus on tasks that matter.

Paralyzed by Choice

Giving people too many choices can impede their decisions or prevent them from making any decision at all. An overload of choice can lead to paralysis. Making choice after choice throughout the day can slowly lead to the same thing.

People only have a limited amount of daily brain power to make choices. Each decision you make reduces your available brain power for making effective decisions later in the day.

Professor Kathleen Vohs explains: “Using your mind to make decisions is a very taxing enterprise. So when people make decisions, it turns out that it takes energy away from their entire psychological system and that energy would be specifically used for controlling their behaviors, making other good decisions down the line.”

Developing Personal Routines

Throughout the day you make a plethora of choices. But, few of them lead to meaningful productivity.

Something as simple as dressing the same way every day removes several decisions you have to make each day: What shirt should I wear? What pants should I wear? What tie should I wear? Should I even wear a tie? What jacket should I wear? What socks should I wear? What shoes should I wear?

By turning a regular task into a routine, you can retain more energy for making decisions that matter.

You probably already established routines. Think about your morning routine: you wake up around the same time, eat, brush your teeth, take a shower, and get dressed in the same order every day. Imagine how much more effort it would take if that changed every day. In fact, you’ve probably experienced feeling “not yourself” when your routine gets interrupted.

As William James noted, “The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.”1

Developing Organizational Routines

The value in developing routines extends beyond the personal to the way regular practices can be carried out organizationally. This is especially valuable when a meeting requires creative problem-solving.

Most people are afraid of the idea of creative meetings. How is the meeting going to go? What’s expected of me this time?

To make it worse, by the time most people get to the meeting they’re exhausted from other meetings. And, the uncertainty surrounding the meeting exhausts them even more.

Using Routines to Eliminate Uncertainty

Too often creative meetings lack any structure: people constantly switch between offering ideas and evaluating them. Not only is this unproductive, but it makes people uncertain when it’s an appropriate time to suggest an idea.

This uncertainty makes them devote too much mental activity to processes that have no effect on productivity and detract from it.

Rather than making every meeting a free-for-all, come up with a set structure for problem-solving. And, use this structure for every problem-solving meeting.

The following structure should work for any problem:

  1. Present the facts and current solutions.
  2. Rapidly brainstorm new solutions.
  3. See if anyone has strong gut reactions so they don’t cloud the discussion.
  4. Highlight the positive in current and new solutions.
  5. Highlight the negative in current and new solutions.
  6. Make a decision.

Making Creativity a Routine

Creative problem solving often scares people because they rarely get to do it. And when they do, the meeting is often handled differently than the time before.

Turn creative problem solving into a regular routine: create a set time each week to come up with a solution to a problem facing your organization. By creating a routine every week, people will have an easier time getting into the brainstorming mindset. They will also have less uncertainty about the meeting.

It’s like when you first start training for a race: It starts out hard. You make excuse after excuse to delay working out just a little bit longer. You exhaust energy before you even get started.

But, slowly you develop a routine. The excuses diminish and you have more energy to devote to the workout. Eventually, you just stick to your schedule: it becomes automatic. You no longer have to focus on when to start and instead can devote your energy to the work.

Most professional writers operate in the same way. Their writing may not be the best every day, but by creating a routine out of it, they don’t have to think and debate when to start writing. They don’t procrastinate or wonder when inspiration might come. They just write.

As the writing teacher Anne Lamont urges, “You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night.”2

Maximizing Productivity

Developing routines both personally and organizationally allows you and your people to maximize productivity.

What from your personal life can you make into a routine? Think about decisions that you make daily that don’t contribute to your productivity and figure out how to turn them into a daily routine.

What organizational processes can benefit from being automated or turned into a routine?

Answering these questions will enable you to devote your effort to where it really matters.


  1. William James, The Principles of Psychology.
  2. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.
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