I’ll admit it: I’m a little bit obsessed with learning how successful people spend their days and nights. Who wakes up at 5 a.m. to meditate? Who brunches and brainstorms at their neighborhood diner every Sunday?
It’s not just the activities that intrigue me — it’s also the fact that every one seems to have some sort of daily routine. For years, I assumed that this self-discipline, this ability to adhere so closely to a personal schedule, must be the secret to success.
So when I approached productivity and time management expert Laura Vanderkam, the author of “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” to ask about her daily routine, I was surprised to find that she doesn’t really have one.
“I have a few things that I usually do,” she says, including physical exercise and journaling. “But not at the same time every day.”
As Vanderkam explains, that’s largely because she’s got several young kids at home, and it’s generally easier to control your schedule once your children are a little more mature and independent.
At the moment, the only relatively consistent parts of her schedule are starting work at 8 a.m. and breaking for lunch with her family at noon — and even those rituals don’t happen every day.
None of this is particularly concerning to her. “I still have the life that I want to live,” she says.
To be sure, Vanderkam recognizes the benefits of having a daily routine. Namely, it can help reduce stress by turning certain healthful behaviors into automatic habits.
“When something becomes a habit, it no longer requires making a decision,” she says. That means mental energy and willpower are reserved for more important things, like listening when you’re having a conversation with your partner.
At the same time, there’s a potential danger in trying to create a daily routine. It’s what Vanderkam calls the “24-hour trap,” or the notion that if you can’t make something happen every day, there’s no point in trying.
“People get so hung up on the idea of daily rituals that they just don’t do it at all,” she says.
Instead, Vanderkam advises people to find times that realistically work for them. For example, instead of trying to get up at 5 a.m. every day to run, see if you can go for a run once a week at 5 a.m., once a week on your lunch break, and once every weekend.
Ultimately, it’s important to understand your own productivity style and the limitations of your personal lifestyle.
As simple as it sounds, Vanderkam says, “You need to find a system that works for you.”
This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Shana Lebowitz is a Strategy reporter for Business Insider.
Image: Joggers run past sailboats on the Charles River on an early spring evening in Boston. REUTERS/Brian Snyder.