The Problem With Routines

I forgot to bring my lunch to work last Wednesday morning. The reason I forgot was due to a seminar I attended 20 years ago this May in Santa Monica, California.

The seminar was a customer service training that my department had arranged for us. The company that they brought in to do the training was Ouellette & Associates. It was one of the best training sessions I’ve ever had, and it was my introduce to the great people at O&A. Over the years, I’ve taken several other seminars with them, and they have all been outstanding.

How did this customer service seminar from decades past cause me to forget to bring my lunch to work last week? It so happens that the facilitator from that very first training session was in our office on Monday and Tuesday last week. We had arranged to grab dinner Tuesday evening, and at the appointed time, we met, and headed over to a nearby restaurant. We spent the next 2-1/2 hours catching up. It was great, and the time flew by.

It also meant that I didn’t get home until nearly 9 pm, I time by which I am usually already in bed. It threw off my routine. Kelly had put all three kids to bed, and was in bed herself. I felt rushed, behind the curve. And so I gathered my things for the next, and showered, and then got into bed and went to sleep.

I did not make my lunch. The thought of lunch was nowhere in my brain when my head hit the pillow.

Normally, I make my lunch right after dinner. We clear off the table, and put the dishes away, and then, since I’m in the kitchen, I make my lunch. I toss it into the refrigerator, and I’m all set for the next day.

But on Tuesday evening, my routine was broken, and that carried over to Wednesday morning. I usually grab a Coke on the way out the door. I’m Coke person, not a coffee person. But there was no Coke left, and that threw off my routine in the morning. I left without thinking about my lunch.

And so it was that Wednesday, right around the time my stomach began its daily grumbles for the midday meal, I realized in a moment of sudden—but brief—panic that I had forgotten to make my lunch.

I went to Shake Shake for lunch instead.

This illustrates the problem with routines. Routines are great, habits are great, but they also make me blind to what can happen when things go sideways. Fortunately, it is usually little things, like forgetting my lunch, but each time something like this happens, I try to remind myself to go through a mental checklist when things do go sideways.

Any system that claims to teach you how to make a habit out of something needs to include a chapter on what to do when your routine goes awry. Because despite everything, routines will go awry.