Be More Effective – Week 30: The Power of Routine and Rhythm

Preserve your willpower

We all have a certain amount of willpower available each day. Some days it’s more because we are energetic, we slept well or the sun is shining. Some days it’s less.

Regardless of what our level is, every decision requires a little bit of that energy and depletes our will power for the day. When our willpower goes down, our ability to stick with priorities and resolutions goes down with it. When our willpower is depleted, it’s harder to say ‘no’ to temptations and ‘yes’ to things that are good for us but require our conscious decisions and energy to get started.

That is why we drink alcohol after a challenging day, why we skip the gym in the evening if the day was stressful. The more our willpower is depleted, the less we can put in the way of not dropping on the couch, getting a bag of potato chips and a beer and watching TV.

Manage your willpower carefully. Don’t waste it for decisions that are not important. Create rhythms and stick to them.

Since our willpower is a limited resource, we need to manage and invest it carefully. We must not waste it for things that don’t matter but focus it on the ones that do. The more we can remove unnecessary decisions or avoidable annoyances, the more we will be able to get the things that matter done.

Simplify decisions

One powerful habit to avoid wasting your willpower is to remove decisions that don’t matter.

Here are some examples that don’t matter on a day-by-day basis:

  • When to get up in the morning – just do it the same time every day
  • What to eat for breakfast – you can celebrate that decision, but during the week, just stick to one thing (for me it’s an apple)
  • Where to find your office stuff, keys, etc – just get it ready the evening before
  • What to wear for work – I wear the same style every week, blue jeans, black long-sleeve shirt, sneakers; and I pack it on Sunday for the entire workweek
  • What to eat for lunch – again, make it fancy on the weekend or in the evening, make if effective for lunch; I get soup and salad every day; it’s healthy, gives me energy and isn’t so heavy that I get tired
  • Where to park – I park in the same spot every day; it’s higher up in the garage and I could be closer if I tried, but I waste zero energy finding a spot in the morning or wondering where my car is parked in the evening

I have many more things where I can go ‘on autopilot’ and still know I make the right decisions, but let’s leave it there. You get the idea. Find out where you spend energy deciding every day, make the right decision once, then repeat and leave it there.

Remove annoyances

Reduce or remove things that deplete your willpower, even if it might mean you need to change your routines a little bit. It pays off as the day goes along.

Here are some examples of things that annoy me and what I do about them:

  • Annoying traffic – move the times when you commute to avoid rush hour or take the bus; it’s better to get up an hour earlier than to be stuck in traffic for 30 mins
  • Distractions in the office – get good noise cancelling headphones, find a quiet place or work from home when you need to get things done
  • People that don’t give you energy or make you happy – ditch them; right now
  • Spam calls on your phone – put it on mute and don’t answer, you can always check your voice mail

Again, what is the list for you? What can you do to avoid those situations?

Decide ahead of time

On the important decisions it’s best to decide before your willpower goes down. If you want to go to the gym in the evening, decide the day before and then just execute. Don’t hope you will make good decisions after a long day at work.

Create rhythms and triggers for those decisions, so you don’t need to convince yourself every time. For example put your gym bag on the driver seat of your car, so you have to see it when you leave work and get triggered to go.

Don’t starve your willpower

Make healthy choices! Your brain needs glucose to fuel your willpower. When you’re low on glucose levels, your willpower will shut down first. After all, for basic survival, willpower was the most dispensable investment. Don’t think you’re affected by that? How good are you at staying away from junk food, when you are really hungry?

Stay hydrated, but also keep your glucose levels at a constant level. Eat some fruit at regular intervals. Don’t wait until you’re hungry.

There is power in rhythms and predictability. Build routines, build rhythms, and stick to them. Routines and rhythms give you structure, predictability and peace of mind.

Don’t wing it every single day, have a plan for what you want the day to look like. When you can, stick to that plan. Be flexible and adjust but start from a good framework.


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:


Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

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