Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

5 Signs You're Letting Your Beloved Routine Get in Your Way

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a total creature of habit. I love predictability and stability. They help me to feel focused, organized, and on top of things.

But, not too long ago, I made a major shift to my morning routine. Rather than writing my to-do list when I first sat down at my desk in the morning, I decided to use that time to tackle loose ends—those things that were previously taking up precious real estate on my to-do list, but could easily be taken care of with very little thought or time.

After I made that switch, I realized the system I was relying on to help me was really only a hindrance. It was slowing me down. Yet—for some reason—up to that point, I continued to push forward with that standard schedule I had grown accustomed to.

Yes, routines can undoubtedly be effective for increasing your productivity and approaching your day with some strategy. But, there comes a point when your desire to stick with the predictable manages to only get in your way. Here are five signs you’ve gone from routine to rigid.

1. You Can No Longer Remember the Value

If you’re like most people, you fall into a certain groove each and every day. You grab your coffee at 8:15 AM on the dot. You hop on the train for your commute. You check your emails. Then, you get started on a larger project.

That order of events came about rather naturally, because—at one point—it worked really well for you. But, as you already know, things change. And, in a perfect world, your routine should change along with them.

Unfortunately, this is a trap that’s all too easy to fall into. You do things day in and day out, simply because you’ve always done them. However, if you were to stop for a second and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” you couldn’t really come up with a solid answer—other than, “Well, because I always do.”

If you can no longer see the value in what you’re doing, that’s typically a telltale sign that you’re doing it out of habit, rather than necessity.

2. You’re More Concerned With Your Routine Than Results

In a similar vein, a counterproductive routine places the majority of your focus on the process—rather than the end results. As you might guess, that’s a rather ineffective methodology.

For example, if a co-worker suggests you address a project a certain way—a way that’s far different from anything you’ve ever done before—you’re resistant. Not because you think it’s a bad idea, but because you’re hesitant to adjust your approach. Sure, it very well could be the better way to tackle that assignment. But, it doesn’t fit in with your preconceived format for your workday, so you won’t even waste your time listening.

Again, your career is constantly changing. You’ll learn new information and discover tactics that could serve to make your job and your life a whole lot easier. But, if you’re so stuck in your ways you can’t even consider them? Well, it’s time to make some changes.

3. You Can’t Handle Emergencies

Routines are great for guaranteeing a certain level of predictability. But, there are some things in life that simply can’t be predicted. Things come up that will need to be handled—whether they fit in with your precious schedule or not.

Any realistic schedule needs to have a certain level of flexibility, so that you have the room to put out any fires that might crop up. You don’t want an agenda so rigid that you’re thrown for a total loop anytime something unexpected happens—because you know those things are bound to happen.

So, if you find yourself spiraling into panic at the first sight of a surprise in your workday, your strategy is only serving to make you inflexible. And, as you likely already know, a degree of malleability is required in the office.

4. You Lose Your Cool When Things Change

Do you know how I eventually realized I was probably a little too obsessed with my routine? One day, I needed to do my laundry on a Sunday—instead of on Saturday, as I’d always done it before.

That entire weekend, I found myself in a foul mood. Not because anything particularly bad had happened, but because my planned schedule was altered—and that sent me into a ridiculous emotional funk.

It sounds unreasonable, doesn’t it? But, if you’ve become far too reliant on your system, any little wrench in your plans is enough to send you into a tailspin. Again, it all comes down to flexibility. If there’s no room for adjustment, your schedule truly isn’t doing you any favors.

5. Your Creativity Is Stifled

While predictability can be great for your focus and productivity, it’s doesn’t always breed creativity. Your day is so monotonous, it becomes increasingly tough to think outside the box and generate fresh new ideas.

This can be one of the tougher symptoms to pick up on. But, if you feel like your creative juices have reached an all-time low, your trusty routine could actually only be limiting you. Try changing things up—you might be shocked at how much your perspective shifts.

We all fall into natural routines that help us truck through our days with some sort of plan in place. But, when your plan somehow transforms from a suggested framework to an unbending schedule, it can quickly act as a hindrance rather than a help.

If you see any of these five symptoms within yourself? It’s time to make a change. Take it from a self-proclaimed creature of habit—you’ll be glad you did.

Photo of person with list courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.