When we are pulled in many directions (as so many of us can relate to), we may feel as though we have no control over our time. Many of us wait until our “free” time before tackling our own goals, only to find that elusive free time never materializes.

For many years, I kept throwing time at the problem. I told myself “If I just work a little longer” and “If I just wake up a little earlier”, I’d find the time. But eventually, I ran out of wiggle room. There was no more time to draw upon and, finally, I realized I needed a new approach.

I have always been fascinated with how uber successful people fit so much into their days. What I’ve discovered is they share one common theme: they build routines around their top priorities. Leadership consultant Robin Sharma says the secret of amazing performers like Mozart, Jobs, Oprah, Nikola Tesla, and Lionel Messi isn’t an “otherworldly gift.” Instead, their adherence to “a series of daily practices, when done consistently, generate(s) genius-level outcomes.”

Proactive routines are the ultimate solution for busy people who feel pulled in multiple directions. Routines are essentially rituals built around your most important goals. There are six compelling reasons why they are so critical.

routine; time; priorities; calendar

  1. Routines protect time

When we take control over how we spend our time, we create the space to focus on what matters most. We can carve out time for our work before other things get in the way. We simply need to block and protect time in our calendar, just like we do for meetings with other people. When we proactively block time for ourselves, other people start to work around our schedule. This protected time prevents our inner “keener” from over-committing ourselves. Routines help us prioritize the work we most value and protect time accordingly. After all, if we don’t make the time, we will never have the time.

  1. Routines make every minute count

Financial budgets help us spend our money wisely. The same can be said of the way routines allow us to spend our time in the best possible way. Routines help us to “pay ourselves first”. And unlike money, time cannot be recouped once it’s gone. Squandered time is lost forever. Thankfully, routines help us protect this precious resource. They allow us to design our day to make the most effective use of our time.

  1. Routines help weed out lower value tasks

Routines help highlight how little time we have for lower-value activities. Routines force us to say no to activities we might have said yes to out of habit or obligation. But ultimately, when we cut out these activities, we have more time for our top priorities. Filling up our time with higher-value activities prevents the others from absorbing more than their fair share.

  1. Routines establish good habits

Sometimes the things we know we should do aren’t always the things we want to do. Technically, I want to be super fit. And I want to fit into my skinny jeans. But I don’t always want to do yoga. Having my buddy pick me up on the way to our weekly Saturday morning class has made this routine a habit for me. (No one said you couldn’t enlist the help of others with your routine). Initially, adhering to your routine requires willpower, which can feel difficult, but over time your routine will become a habit. And habits are much easier to sustain. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, says about 40-45% of what we do every day may feel like a decision but it’s actually a habit. Establishing a solid routine leads us to healthy, productive – and successful – habits

  1. Routines reduce decision fatigue

Good routines simplify life by eliminating countless “what should I tackle next?” decisions. Each day, we have a limited amount of energy and every decision we make depletes our decision-making resources. Standardizing at least some aspects of our days with a routine helps to preserve our energy. This is why President Barack Obama, (in addition to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg) has touted the value of a self-imposed uniform. No doubt, limiting his choice to either a gray or blue suit saves the President energy to invest in other key decisions.

  1. Routines reduce overwhelm

Instead of constantly finding ourselves “winging it”, routines keep us grounded. We all know what we have to do – and our long lists can be overwhelming. Routines help us plan when we will be able to tackle tasks. This calms our feeling of anxiety, while also helping us better negotiate deadlines. In turn, this eliminates the stress of feeling we have to do everything now. Routines help us manage both our expectations and the expectations of others. We have a much better ability to predict when we can do things when we have a routine.

Fundamentally, any priority can be incorporated into a routine — whether it’s a recurring meeting, independent focused work, fitness or sleep goals. Granted, unexpected tasks can come out of nowhere, requiring flexibility and adjustment. But when we better manage the things we can control with a proactive routine, we are better prepared for these exceptions.