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Is It Time to Rethink Your Routines?
Use the 4Rs Framework for Your Routines Audit
Routines. We all have them, both for work/business and for personal life. While we spend a lot of time at PF talking about projects, we can’t ignore the routines that help our businesses and lives hum along.
As time goes on, though, we tend to pick up routines, much the way we (at least we Americans) tend to collect stuff. And while we can fill our closets and garages and basements — and even rent storage units — to accommodate all the extra stuff, our time is limited. Cluttering it up with lots of routines keeps us from being able to apply that time to our most important, best-work projects.
This isn’t to say that some routines aren’t important, even vital, to our work, business, or life. But all of them? Doubtful. That’s where a routines audit comes in.
The What and Why of a Routines Audit
A routines audit is pretty much what you think it is: it’s reviewing all of the routines you do daily/weekly/monthly/etc., and determining which you need to keep doing, which you need to change up, and which you probably should stop doing altogether.
Why is this important? As I said above, routines tend to collect over time. And so we end up with this “routines bloat” we’re likely not even aware of that’s costing us precious time (and in our businesses, dollars💸) that could be spent elsewhere. That’s why it’s important to periodically question the importance of the routines you’re doing.
You might also discover several “ghost routines” — recurring tasks that you or someone on your team is still doing, which were important three years ago but have little bearing on your situation right now.
For your business, think of things like:
maintaining a metrics spreadsheets — someone's taking time to collect the data but is anyone using the data to inform business decisions?
conducting a weekly status meeting (that could have been an email)
writing a weekly report that nobody needs now
On the personal side, it might be things like:
that “magical morning” routine that now has 12 steps and takes you two hours
buying food in bulk that only goes to waste because you don’t eat it fast enough
meeting that not-so-close friend once a month for coffee when once a quarter is probably plenty.
How to Conduct a Routines Audit
When you’re ready to audit your routines, here’s a simple process to follow.
Part 1: Gather
List all of your routines. Pull from your planners and tools (Momentum Planners, Momentum, Asana, task lists, etc.) all those recurring tasks you or your team does. This might take several passes to get them all. Since you’ll be identifying frequency next, it might be easiest if you list them by frequency from the beginning.
Identify the current frequency for these routines (daily, weekly, monthly, and so on).
Denote who’s currently responsible for each routine, or for each task within the routine.
Estimate how much time each task takes to do. This might be easiest by calculating in 15-minute task/admin blocks and 2-hour focus blocks.
Part 2: Analyze
Go through your list. I suggest using a modified version of the 4Ds of time/task management (Do, Defer, Delegate, Drop) to parse your list, which I call the 4Rs: Reduce, Reassign, Reschedule, and Recommit and Reconfigure.
Reduce (drop): make a pass and determine which tasks you can just stop doing. The more ruthless you can be in this step, the easier the others will be, and the more time you’ll regain.
Reassign (delegate): see if the right person is doing the task today. If not, reassign. This is also a great time to look for places where you can batch similar responsibilities with the same person. This might also mean automating: which routines can you create automations for instead of having a teammate do them?
Reschedule (defer): here’s where you decide if the frequency of the routine needs to change. Maybe you no longer need to update that metrics spreadsheet weekly; once a month is plenty.
Recommit and reconfigure (do): once you’ve done the first three steps in the process, it’s time to recommit to the routines you’ll keep doing, and take the steps necessary to reconfigure the work for yourself and your team.
Once you’ve done these steps, you’ll have a smaller list of routine tasks you (or your team) are managing. Bonus points: go back over your time estimates and calculate the savings, both in time and dollars.
One additional benefit of a routines audit: it can also identify tools, services, and software you’re paying for that you no longer need. Take the opportunity to eliminate or downgrade those tools. Add that to your list of savings, too!
The Best Times to Do a Routines Audit
There are several good times of year to conduct a routines audit for yourself or your business:
End of year/beginning of year. Take some time at the end of the calendar year (or fiscal year) to review all of the routines in your business.
In the spring. Think of this as spring cleaning for your schedule. It’s time to clean house and sell off or donate all those excess routines that, like our excess stuff, are no longer serving us.
In the summer (or whichever slow season you have). This time of year has the added benefit that often you reduce your routines anyway, to adjust to the slow season, or vacations/holidays. Which routines are you taking off the schedule during these times? Might you just stop doing them altogether?
Any time there’s a change in your business or life. These are significant changes that might necessitate or be a forcing function for a routines audit.
In your business or work, these might be:
the departure of a teammate or another significant change to your team structure
the end of a big project, or just before the start of another big project
In your personal life, these might be:
a change in your family situation (a new baby, caregiving a spouse or parent, a new pet)
taking on a new job or volunteer role (PTO, homeowner’s association, charity work)
like with work, the end of a big project, or just before the start of another big project
A Routines Audit Is a Project
Like everything else that takes time, energy, and attention, a routines audit is a project.
Depending on the number of routines you have and the size of your family or team, a thorough routines audit will take you a little while to do. Plan for at least a week, maybe two, depending on the other projects you have on your plate, and how much of step four (recommit and reconfigure) you have to do at the end. If you have a team, they likely need to make a routines audit a component of their subtraction habits.
If you’re just doing this for yourself personally, you might be able to knock it out in a couple focus blocks.
Regardless, I think you’ll find the time doing a routines audit well spent — and well saved.