Reflecting on the Intentional Routine

vonnegut

By Kevin Meyer

My post a couple weeks ago on Gratitude, for Gratitude, generated a large number of responses.  Interestingly, most were private, commenting on both the nature of gratitude but especially on my daily routine.  I had detailed my regular set of activities in the morning, including meditation and the setting of three key priorities, and in the evening of reflecting on my performance with those priorities.  Many folks mentioned that they had morning and perhaps evening routines, but said they had not thought about reflection – let alone intentional reflection.

My contemplation of those comments was brought into focus a bit when I came across a passage in the book Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield.  It’s a fascinating, funny, and, since it’s Vonnegut, sometimes freaky book that takes you inside the mind of the famous author.  The passage of import is a letter he wrote to his wife Jane where he describes his daily routine.

In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten.

Of course most people have routines, and many people like learning about the routines of famous or successful people.  One common characteristic that most people know of is that they are almost invariably early risers – Winston Churchill being the exception as someone who loved to stay in bed until 11am.  I tend to agree – my favorite, and most productive, time of the day is between 4 and 8 am.

benfranklinBenjamin Franklin is famous for his routine, which he meticulously tracked on a daily log.  Yes, that does look remarkably similar to a leader standard work sheet, doesn’t it?  Notice the two tasks on the left.

The morning question, What good shall I do today?

The evening question, What good have I done today?

In other words, setting tasks for the day in the morning, and reflecting on them in the evening.  When you search for the routines of successful (however defined) people, that evening reflection is also a common attribute.

Reflection, along with gratitude as I previously discussed, is a key attribute of leadership success.

Many, if not most, people have daily routines.  It is the reflection at the end of the day that makes it an intentional routine.  That intentionality is also a core component of mindfulness.  An awareness of the routine itself, instead of being simply a habitual series of activities.  Reflection looks back at the process and results and, most importantly, provides the introspection and analysis to improve the routine and performance generated by the routine.

How did the routine affect performance against the key tasks for the day?  How effective is that task selection itself?  How can the routine be improved to better support task completion?

Reflection, hansei in the lean world, is a powerful professional leadership tool.  It’s how we look back on projects and performance, and identify ways to improve.  But it is also a powerful, and critical, personal leadership characteristic to improve daily performance.

Reflection converts simple habits into an intentional, high performing, routine.  It’s worth a few minutes each evening.