If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal. Paulo Coelho

When I first read this quote, my immediate response was “ain’t that the truth”. I’ve never seen myself as a routine type of person. The thought of doing the same thing over and over again ignites my fight or flight response. How about you? Do you also have a fear of routine?

Personal freedom has always been a strong driver for me. It was the reason for starting my own small business. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and the freedom to shape my life in a way that suits me. The idea of being my own boss and running my own show is exciting. Routine has always seemed the antithesis of this freedom.

Increasing Productivity

Over the last 12 months I have taken on a number of new, large projects. The need to get more stuff done each day with the same amount of resources has challenged me. Moreso, as I am loathed to lose any of the flexibility that acts as a strong freedom indicator for me.

I’ve become curious about the role of habits in achieving greater productivity. I’ve asked a gazillion questions of people to unpack how they’ve used habits in their daily lives. I’ve read lots (and lots) of ideas of how to make habits stick.

I’ve had to remind myself that new habits are simply a form of change and every small action we take builds to bigger change. For change to happen it requires momentum; beginning is the most important step.

Building Habits

I started by looking at what work I needed to do to achieve my new projects. Then I considered what techniques I needed to build new habits for how I do my work, and live life, every single day. These are the 3 new habits I have built:

  1. Habit stacking is to make sure I stick with my exercise and meditation practice each day. Habit stacking is where you build a new habit by ‘stacking’ it on top of another habit or behaviour you do every day. For example, just before I make breakfast, I will do my 5 minute meditation. You can find out more here.
  2. Time blocking is as simple as it sounds. Blocking out time in your calendar to work on certain things. Each evening I set my following day’s calendar with time blocks for working on different projects. I like to build in some flex blocks each day which allow me to respond to unforeseen events or for those inevitable longer than anticipated tasks or meetings. If you want more, read this article.
  3. The Pomodoro technique is one I use for focusing on projects, like writing a blog post or revising my pricing strategy. The Pomodoro technique is where you remove all distractions and set a timer (usually 25 minutes) to work solidly on a project or task. You will find some more information and some useful apps here.

The result? I’m progressing my big projects. I’m juggling client facing work, workshops and preparing new products and services. I’m even keeping on top of life admin. Best of all, I’ve still got the flexibility in my calendar to respond to adventure — a client emergency or lunch with a friend. Hallelujah, these habits are working for me.

Daily Routine

Then I heard myself say out loud to someone, “yes, I’ve been building these new habits into my daily routine”. It stopped me in my tracks. Routine! Me? I’m not a routine type of person.

It occurred to me that I have applied an either/or lens to my ideas of freedom and routine. All along I thought I was protecting my freedom by avoiding routine. My narrative on this subject needed an update. As part of this reframing, I’ve realised that these new habits — a new daily routine — has been the springboard to greater freedom. By embracing the idea of new habits into my hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routine, I’ve opened up exciting new possibilities. I’m now pursuing projects that would have stayed on the ‘one day’ list. All while keeping the usual balls high in the air.

There’s a lesson in this for all of us small business owners. Sometimes the path to freedom is not the one you expected. If you, too, started your business to create more freedom for yourself, have you been resisting anything that seems too restricting? Have you seen routine as something to avoid? If so, what new habits might you create? In what part of your life could a daily/weekly/monthly routine make a real difference? I can’t encourage you enough to make the leap into freedom by embracing routine.