Put Purpose before Process. For a Change.

Last week I suggested that you look at designing routines that serve your professional and personal lives. This week, I am going to suggest you shouldn’t be over-reliant on routines. What a hypocrite I am.

Well, not really. Routines are wonderful things, but there are two caveats to the use of routines that you should bear in mind.

First of all, they can be boring. If your time is spent only in routine activity, it won’t be long before your standards drop, and your interest wanes. And that will happen in either order. You’ll get bored and stop trying, or you’ll feel the effort isn’t worth it and you’ll get bored. Ithink that experience is a given.

Next, they can frustrate initiative and growth. I know from my own experience (matched, I suspect, by your own) that the over-emphasis on routine eventually results in the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ attitude to change, which helps no-one, causes inefficient and ineffective thinking, and stifles true innovation. Over-emphasis on routine doesn’t take into account that not every circumstances follows a previously set pattern.

I have always hated blind compliance. Routines are important, but only to the degree that they serve the purpose, and not to the point where the process is served – but the purpose not met.

You should absolutely, unquestionably know the routines. And in many circumstances they are important – like checking your brakes when you start driving, at a low speed where discovery of a fault won’t have a nasty effect. And doing your other daily vehicle checks.*

But you should also know and understand the rationale behind them. Doing this underpins your execution, but also enables you, when appropriate, to save time and effort by not doing those elements of the routine that serve no purpose in the precise circumstances you are faced with. Or by delegating them to a more appropriate level.

Oddly enough, I read a Twitter tweet about just that, this weekend. A barrister was reading or transcribing a PACE suspect interview and stated that the first 17 pages were the ‘rapport building’ stage, the content of which was irrelevant, and unnecessary in the circumstances. I know I’ve omitted that bit with suspects who just want to confess – leave them to it, I say. And I am also aware of Judges who criticised cops for including, in JICA witness interview transcripts, all the pre-evidential guff about who kids support and who their favourite pop stars are.

Like routines, checklists are effective ways of learning routines, and of checking whether things have been done. But they are routines, and just like routines should be seen as guidelines and not The Holy Bible. You wouldn’t ask the mother of a missing child if she happened to know his driving licence number, after all. You know that would be stupid. Apply the same thinking to some of the other lists you follow. And apply your experience accordingly.

To be frank, this advice might not apply so much to your private life. Checklists and routines tend to be professional-life activities, but if you gave it some thought you might come up with some homelife routines that just get in your way. Like ‘I always walk the dog at X pm’ will cause frustration when you have something else you could be doing and you prioritise ineffectively. Or cause you to feel guilty because you’re not walking the dog at ‘her time’.

Use routines, don’t let them use you. Remember – it’s not process at the expense of purpose. It’s better to be the other way around.

*I know.

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Published by policetimemanagement

30 year policing veteran and time management authority. Now I've combined the two.

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