“Routinize” & Other Ridiculous Words That Are Here To Stay (For Good Reason)

Science has been given the “ok” to make up its own words. Take, for example, “methylchlorisothiazolinone,” the mouthful give to an ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics.

Science fiction has its own selection of nonsensical lexis, like “flux capacitor” from the movie Back to the Future or “the Force,” from the trilogy, Star Wars.

Of course, comics won’t be left out of the game. “Adamantium” is the strongest metal in the Marvel Comic Book Universe. And, who doesn’t remember the illustrative language used in TV show The Simpsons, which certainly embiggened our vocabulary (“embiggen,” which was used to mean “to make larger”).

But, despite social acceptance within these industries, should terminology absurdity be adopted by the typically pragmatic study of business strategy?

According to President Obama, absolutely.

When author Michael Lewis decided to write an article for October’s Vanity Fair about the daily life of President Obama, Mr. Lewis discovered a curious business strategy… and also coined a new word.

“I share President Obama’s practice of routinizing‘ the routine,’” writes Robert Pozen, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, about Lewis’s discovery (italics added).

To routinize your routine is the act of simplifying certain aspects of your daily, muntane decisionmaking process in order to maintain the mental stamina necessary to make more difficult decisions.

For example, President Obama revealed to Mr. Lewis that he only wears blue or gray suits. The President explained, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Essentially, President Obama is imitating several experiments performed in the 1990s by Roy Baumeister (a professor at Florida State University) and his colleagues. Baumeister demonstrated, according to the Mr. Pozen at the Harvard Business Review, that certain types of conscious mental actions actually sapped away from the same finite “energy source,” thus gradually decreasing a person’s ability to make intelligent decisions.

In the business world—filled with multi-million dollar deals and life-or-death litigation—the ability to make smart, rational choices from the beginning to the end of the day is crucial. So, in order to keep your metal energy stores at a maximum, you need to keep trivial decisionmaking at a minimum.

Here’s how:

1. Prepare the night before

You do it for your kids to save time, so do the same for yourself to save mental energy. Lay out your clothes for the next day the night before.

You can make all the superficial decisions you want at the end of the day when work is done without worrying that it will deplete your vital energy supply. If you have a lunch meeting or coffee date, prepare your choice of restaurant or bistro in advance.

Or, outsource your decisionmaking. Ask your legal assistant to take over less sensitive decisionmaking, such as where to hold new associate training, what to say in your new employee welcome speech, or how to organize your case materials.

Your assistant may be happy for the additional responsibility, and you can concentrate on the bigger picture, like trial prep.

2. Make a list of your activities and sort by importance

Each week, write a list of the activities—from work to pleasure—that are planned. Re-sort this list in order of importance.

With this in mind, distribute the decisionmaking throughout your days. For example, make the most important decisions first. Then, in the afternoon or evening, think about the other more mundane tasks at hand.

Got a list of 10 decisions? Give the last 3 to an associate or paralegal. Tasks that are listed low on your priority list will suddenly be first on a young attorney’s priority list. So, those decisions—while trivial for you—will be given more than enough time and consideration by somebody else.

Outsourcing and redistributing decisionmaking can become Pareto optimal, where the big decisions are always made by a person who most values making them.

3. Reflect on your most unpleasant decisions

Do you really hate deciding apples or oranges, peas or carrots, beef or chicken in the grocery store? Or, do you dread choosing between taking the subway or driving your car to work each morning?

Whatever your most unpleasant decision, there are two choices. Your first is to “routinize” your decisions so that you are on autopilot, i.e., decide now to always take your car to work unless it’s raining; or, alternate the weeks you buy apples and oranges (and then never stray), for example.

Your second choice is to work on eliminating that decision all together. Don’t waste the mental energy on making breakfast each morning (eggs? omellette? yougurt?). Go ahead and eat out.

On the surface, “routinizing” your routine sounds like the most ridiculous word on the planet. But, as it turns out, its impact on the productivity of daily life can quite profound.

-WB

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