Routines vs. Constants

Whenever I switch jobs, I reflect on what was good and bad in all my previous jobs and what I’m hoping for in the next one.

As the list of previous jobs grows, I have more data to draw my conclusions from. I'm learning more about myself, my needs and what I’m seeking in a job from actual experience rather than what I think I want (which sometimes appears very fuzzy to me).

I’m about to switch jobs again. In the course of making that decision, I realised that I’m a person who doesn’t need routines, but constants.

What are constants?

Here are a few examples of what I mean by constants in the context of work:

  • Working with people I know
  • Working in a familiar environment
  • Using existing knowledge and expertise

What are routines?

Here’s what I mean by routines in the context of work:

  • Working the same hours every day
  • Performing the same tasks
  • Using the same methods and structures to perform tasks

There is a thin line between routines and constants

Let's look at an example to get the distinction right.
In my previous job we had a fixed daily schedule which looked like this:

  • 08:30 – Office standup
  • 08:45 – Team standup
  • 09:00 – Pairing
  • 12:00 – Lunch break
  • 13:00 – Pairing
  • 17:00 – End of work day

We were working every day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with a 1 hour lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. During working hours, we had to be in the office. Home office or “workation” were not allowed. Our schedule wouldn't necessary block us from going out, doing field research and collaborating with teams outside the office, but it made it much more unlikely.

We also had a small number of regular meetings throughout the week:

  • Mondays, 09:00 – Iteration planning meeting
  • Thursdays, 13:00 – Office sync
  • Fridays, 16:00 – Retrospective

Our fixed schedule artificially broke down the day into blocks and thus didn’t leave room for individual needs and sudden changes. Our regular meetings, however, gave us the assurance that there is a time to discuss our matters which we could work towards to. Both have completely different purposes. Which one is the routine, which one the constant?

Why routines are bad for teams

Routines long-term destroy inspiration and innovation because they don’t make us flexible and creative. If we go through the same cycles again and again, we’ll forget that there are different ways. We barely push ourselves outside the comfort zone because our standard approach works and is accepted.

There will always be individuals who thrive for doing things differently, but they will have a hard time making others break outside their comfort zone with them. This group dynamic can work both ways and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Why constants make teams effective

In my previous jobs I found that constants, like working with people I know and working in a familiar environment, create a comfort zone not through a fixed schedule, but through trust and familiarity.

This study by Google confirms that trust and psychological safety are key for teams to be effective and innovative. 5 years earlier, Simon Sinek gave a talk about the importance for leaders to make people feel safe in organisations.

Conclusion

Constants give us emotional stability to excel in situations of unknown while routines (as long as they are not our own) teach us to act as we’re told. It doesn’t need extensive research to get an idea which environment leads to more productive and satisfied teams.

This differentiation between routines and constants was an attempt to identify why some work setups make me feel more comfortable than others. However, their distinction likely depends on the context and individual interpretation.