All Articles Leadership Careers How the right routines (for you) help you show up at your best

How the right routines (for you) help you show up at your best

Routines matter. This excerpt from "Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative" by Scott Eblin gets into how executives are making routines work for them.

7 min read



This post is excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from “Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative” by Scott Eblin. Copyright (c) 2014 by Scott Eblin. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. Eblin is a former Fortune 500 executive with a leadership development client list that includes some of the world’s best known private and public sector organizations. He is also the author of “The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success” and an occasional SmartBlog on Leadership contributor. Follow Eblin on Twitter and YouTube, and connect with The Eblin Group on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Happy Hour Starts at 6:00 AM

For Alanson Van Fleet, a senior executive in a global financial services company, happy hour starts at 6:00 AM. No, he doesn’t start his day with a Bloody Mary or a mimosa. Happy hour is Van Fleet’s term for the morning routine that helps him show up at his best for the rest of the day. Here’s his breakdown on what’s in his happy hour and what it does for him:

I spend the first 60 minutes of the day really focusing on taking care of myself. First, it’s 20 minutes of pretty vigorous exercise. I’ve got an exercise bike, and I go almost at a sprint level on the bike for 20 minutes. It wakes my body up and gets my circulation going. Then I set a timer for 20 minutes of reading material related to a mindful way of life. Then I wrap up with 20 minutes of meditation.

Then I head down for breakfast and a shower and get ready for work. Happy hour sets my day up with an incredibly positive frame of mind that leaves me feeling very connected with my mind, body, and spirit. It’s just a great way to start the day. . . . It carries me through.

As we begin Part Three, we turn to identifying the routines that will help you strengthen your mindfulness alternative by reinforcing how you are at your best. Just like how you are at your best is unique to you, the routines that will help you show up at your mindful best will be unique to you as well. Your routines may not look anything like Van Fleet’s happy hour. They may not even take up an hour of your day, but there are undoubtedly some that would make a big difference to your best case performance and the kinds of outcomes you hope for at home, at work, and in the community. This opening chapter of Part Three is intended to give you a framework and a starting point for selecting the mindful routines that will work best for you. Once we’ve set that foundation, in the next four chapters we’ll get into more details and ideas about the physical, mental, relational, and spiritual routines you want in your life.

If you’re creating your own LifeGPS as you read this book, you’ll want to have your worksheet nearby as you read through Part Three. You can download a copy of the Life GPS worksheet at

Why Do Routines Matter?

Just about everyone has routines in their lives. You probably wake up at more or less the same time each weekday. You may have a routine of skipping breakfast, or perhaps you eat the same thing every day. If you go to an office every day, it’s likely that you take the same route daily. Your calendar probably has some routines embedded in it, like standing meetings or conference calls. You get the idea. Human beings make an almost countless number of decisions every day. The range I’ve read online starts at 612 on the low end and tops out at 35,000 on the high end. Whatever the actual number is, when you stop and really break down everything you do in a given day, you realize there are a lot of decisions. It’s a good thing that we have a lot of routines because if you actually had to stop and consciously think about every decision you make in a day, it would lead to a literal case of paralysis by analysis.

So routines are a good thing until they are no longer a good thing. You reach that tipping point when the routines you have no longer serve you. When was the last time you stepped back and took a look at the routines you go through most days to ask if each of them is really in service of your showing up at your best? Chances are, it’s been awhile.

That’s what we’ll be working on over the next several chapters by asking:

What are the routines that I either have in my life already or need to add to my life to enable me to show up at my best more often than not?

By focusing on the routines that add value, it will be easier for you to identify and change the routines that reduce value. The good routines will begin to crowd out the bad ones.

It comes back to that favorite Aristotle quote I cited in Chapter 4, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” For our purposes, excellence represents you at your best. Habits are the consciously chosen actions that make up the routines that help you show up at your best.

An example of how this works comes from Crystal Cooper, the Unisys vice president we met in Chapter 6. The day I interviewed her, she mentioned that she was two or three business days away from an important presentation that she and her team had not yet nailed down. When I remarked that she seemed really calm and peaceful about that, she told me that she had learned enough about herself over the years to know that she would get everything done in time and that it was all good. (She was right. When I e-mailed her a few weeks later to ask how things went with the presentation, she reported, “We did a great job, and it was a good day.”)

In our interview, Cooper told me that the routines she’s followed over the years enable her to be calm in a deep way, “How you feel internally is how you will present externally,” she told me. She continued, “It’s very hard to be calm on the outside if you’re not calm on the inside. For me, that comes from daily routines. . . . Through them, I realized that it’s all in me. I have it. The routines get me to a place where I can access that creativity and be calm and confident so that I can do these things.”

Daily yoga and meditation are at the heart of the routines that enable Cooper to show up in the calm, confident, and creative state that represents her at her best. She told me, “I started off on a fairly irregular basis, and then it got to a place where I needed to incorporate it every day in the morning or, based on whatever my day was going to be like, I was able to pick 20 minutes, or half an hour, or 15 minutes, just depending on how I was feeling that day.” She has found that by coming back to these routines for some period of time each day, she is not only able to set her energy level and pace but also able to clarify what she wants to accomplish in a given day.

Again, as your routines may be different from Alanson Van Fleet’s daily happy hour; they may be different from Crystal Cooper’s daily base touch with yoga and meditation. The point isn’t to advocate specific routines but to help you identify a few that will enhance the level of mindfulness you need to bring a focused sense of awareness and intention to your life.