Change Up Routines: Four Ideas to Try on This Fall



The transition from summer to fall shows up more than on calendars.  Maybe it starts with how we remember this transition from childhood. Lazy mornings replaced with out the door blitzes, meandering road trips replaced with weekly/monthly planners, beach reads replaced by term papers.

Even though it seems that lazy summers are more of a fixture of memory instead of current reality, the calendar change to September 1 still sends a message: Routine Returns. This fact in itself isn’t the problem. The problem is that I put on the same old routines every fall like old sweaters, even the ones that don’t fit anymore.

I was jolted into this awareness as a result of a terrific little book: Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99u. It’s full brief but valuable ideas from creative thinkers I admire: Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Tony Schwatrz among many others.  Started to read it on the bike at the gym and got so excited that I thought Hop off and go do this stuff…RIGHT NOW!

My “ah-ha” was not that routines don’t support creativity – to the contrary, routines are critical – but I become stuck in them. I have to find the routines that work for me now, not get back to the old ones that no longer work. It’s like the old pair of jeans I finally gave away last weekend. Stop trying to imagine someday they’ll fit again and move on to something that does.

Four Ideas to Try On

Next week, when September 1 hits, I am ready with new shoes and new routines. Like these:

1.     Great Work Before Anything Else. Do my most important work early in the day when I am fresh and save responsive work for lower energy times. No more starting the day with Gmail then finding two hours of my best energy slip by. My satisfaction comes from a sense of accomplishment, not an empty inbox.

2.     Show Up, Inspired Or Not.  Stop waiting for the right time, right mood, and right place. No more self talks of run this errand, read this blog, check out Amazon and then I’ll be ready. See Gmail lesson above. Promise myself 15  good, focused minutes on a task before I quit (and I probably won’t.)

 3.     Work On My Biggest Priorities Every Day. Calendar time every workday for the projects most important to me. Stop putting my most important goals last, when I have “time” to work on them. Even as little as 30 good minutes on a key goal every day gives me the psychological prize of progress.

 4.     Work With Intention. For me, working intention is the easiest to understand and the hardest to do. Repurpose the hope of wandering into something to focus on my purpose. This means when I research, stick to what I need, not what’s interesting. In a conversation about someone else, stick to the “someone else.” Every activity starts with a purpose or doesn’t start at all.

What About You?

This fall, these are the new or recycled routines that will help me to be more focused, productive and satisfied with my effort.  But what works for me may not work for you. So what about you? What routines will you need to put away with the shorts and flip-flops? What can you try on in their place?


99u by behance (2013). Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

Check out the website for really cool ideas on creativity and productivity:



Lessons from My Reinvention


Two years ago this month, I did what many others working in corporations dream of doing: I left and created my own job.  I had a good job in a legendary company with numerous benefits:  smart colleagues, abundant resources, good pay and security. But it was clear to me that my growth would come from another place. For many years, my response to the What would you do if you could do anything? question was that I’d start my own business.  In March, 2010, I decided that it was time.  My former employer described my departure as an “early retirement.” I described it as  a “late restart.”

This anniversary is a good occasion to reflect upon what I’ve learned so far in my encore career. A few of these lessons were expected; many were not. The unexpected lessons come from the same source: how differently I must think about my work. I think more like an artist now: experiencing, expressing, creating, and sharing. It’s more about creating abundance than managing deficits; more about the white space and less about the boxes. While I could write a lot about what I’ve learned about running a business in the last two years, those lessons were expected. The principles listed below, representing how I am learning to think differently, were not.

Know Who You Are

I’ve had to shift from what I do to who I am. What’s my purpose? What are my values? How are people better because of me? A deep understanding of my purpose and its value is my most important asset. Everything else springs from there.

Art Is Work

In her Artist series, Julia Cameron explains the metaphor for my practice: Art is Work.  Great art is a product of great discipline. Writers write a set number of pages a day and discard draft after draft. Musicians practice for hours a day to produce a ninety-minute concert. Cameron discards the romantic notion that successful artists are natural talents who sit around waiting for the bolt of inspiration to produce great work. Great work comes from hours of sweat and tears deposited on a regular basis.  I relate to her view. My work product may look effortless, but it is not.

Nurture Champions

Champions are people who understand your field, believe in you, and are generous with their time and support.  They are the people you rely upon for advice, insight, support and perspective. If they are really good, they will help you be better. People advise entrepreneurs to start with a plan. My lesson is to start with a list of champions.

I adore my champions. To Kathy G., Casi, Kathy O., Kevin, Cheryl , Gaye, Stephanie, Rick and just about everyone at MSLOC, thank you for your votes of confidence. They mean more than you will ever know. To Jeff, Keeley and Colleen, thank you for being de facto agents for this blog. Finally, to my dearest Peter, you prove every day that I won the husband lotto. Thank you for your all purpose, all weather support.

Lean Into It

A former colleague and current friend, Zenglo, taught me the Buddhist principle to lean into the challenge. My old instinct was to run away. That looks hard, better do something else. That looks risky, better stay safe. Avoidance makes challenges bigger. Zenglo taught me confrontation makes them smaller.

Julia Cameron suggests an exercise to draw a picture of your fear. I did it. I took out my sketch paper and watercolor markers then drew what my fear looks like. You know what? My fierce fear, the bully that keeps me stuck, looks like a dust bunny! Really. It looks like this little grey fluffy thing with a tiny smile. My fear has a friendly smile! This exercise turned something uncontrollable to something manageable. No dust bunny is going to bring me down.

Invest in Inputs

My most profound lesson regards investing more energy into inputs and less into outcomes. When I measured my success strictly by outcomes, it required an enormous amount of effort in managing the choices of others. This produced a roller coaster ride of highs from a “yes” and lows from a “no.” It also bred resentment towards those who could not recognize my brilliant ideas.

Investing more into inputs means tipping the balance of energy into my work. I can control inputs: my choices, time, curiosity, intellectual rigor, quality of work, attitude and effort. I can get the satisfaction of producing my best possible work. While outcomes are important, those choices belong to someone else. I can’t control whether someone returns my call or message, likes my work or says “yes.”  Ownership and curiosity work in an inverse relationship. Less investment in “why” provides more room to think about “how.”

My reinvention is still a work in progress; these lessons will change as it unfolds. My key insight is that for all of the planning invested in this change, I didn’t anticipate the biggest need: thinking differently. For all of the questions I asked about the business, I didn’t ask enough questions about me. So, find included a list of questions that have guided me to think differently, to create more and worry less.

Personal Growth Questions

Someone recently asked if I would lead differently in my old job after this entrepreneurial adventure. The question surprised me and I didn’t have an answer. I probably would be different, but don’t spend time looking back. Looking ahead is too much fun.


Julia Cameron has a series of books about the creative process. Two I enjoy:

Cameron, Julia (1992, 2002). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. New York: Penguin/Putnam.

Cameron, Julia (2006). Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. New York: Penguin/Putnam.