The Paradoxical Power of Process: How Structure Creates Freedom
Kramer in the Seinfeld episode “The Pothole”, decides to adopt a highway. He has an idea to get rid of the middle dotted line on his mile highway stretch. This would turn it from four lanes to two so that people would have more freedom when driving anywhere they wanted in the now huge lane. Kramer tells Jerry, “A four lane highway becomes a two lane comfort cruise.” As expected, it turns into an absolute mess with accidents and everyone getting extremely frustrated with the traffic.
Adding structure and process to your everyday life will have the same effect as guardrails and center dotted lines between lanes on a highway. They will add freedom, add efficiency, and help you live a more purposeful life.
4 steps to kick off your new structural life:
- Figure Out the Person You Want to Become
- Systemize the Predictable
- Humanize the Exceptional
Figure Out the Person You Want to Become
Take some time to reflect on your values, passions, and long-term goals. Who is the person you aspire to be? If you don’t know what success looks like how will you know what race to run? Start with the why. By defining your ideal self, you create a roadmap to guide your actions and decisions. I want to be a fit person, a writer, a present father, or a leader at work.
Systemize the Predictable
John Wooden’s opening meeting with his freshman recruits each new basketball season was showing them the step-by-step proper way to put on their socks.1 I thought it too so just say it…that’s stupid. Here is rational of the 10-time NCAA Champion coach in 12 seasons. Remember it was the 60s too, so basketball shoes weren’t like they are now. Blisters were a common problem. Coach Wooden noticed they would tend to form in the same spots on your feet around the toes and heel. Both are usually caused by wrinkles in your socks or a shoe not fitting correctly. Coach Wooden made sure all his players built this habit early on so none of his players would miss time or be affected by unnecessary blisters. Everyone did the little things right the first time.
Studies show we make around 35,000 decisions a day 2 and there are only 24 hours each day. Now take 30 seconds and run through what your day will look like tomorrow. I’m sure you can lay out most of the day. Let’s break down your morning.
- Wake up - Choose what time.
- Get Dressed - Pick out your outfit the night before.
- Eat Breakfast - Have it decided or even made the night before.
- And so on
By implementing processes for recurring activities you reduce the brain’s workload associated with decision-making. Essentially you are building everyday habits and habits eliminate choices. Decision Fatigue is a real thing. Systemizing your daily processes allows you to focus your energy and attention on more meaningful endeavors, unlocking valuable time and mental space.
Humanize the Exceptional
Here is where the fun comes in. You just systemized the repetitive parts of your day, now you have a fresh mind allowing room for spontaneity, creativity, and real personal growth. Let your mind go wild. Just be yourself here. This could be anything from deep work focus time, to engaging wholeheartedly in your service job, or to being fully present in a coffee shop with a friend.
Now that you have the time and mental space, plan your priorities first. As Stephen covey says “Put first things first”. What is that task at work you need to get done? What family or friend time do you need to schedule? Carey Nieuwhof in his book At Your Best talks about how all hours in the day aren’t equal and that essentially we have 3-5 hours “when your energy, focus, creativity, and great ideas flow easily and sharpest” this is what he calls your “Green Zone”. 3 Figure out the hours in the day where you are in your “Green Zone,” block it off and put the most important tasks in there.
One of the primary advantages of a structured life is the ability to align your actions with your priorities. By planning your day or week in advance and assigning time blocks for your most important tasks and goals, you ensure that your energy and focus are directed toward what truly matters to you. This deliberate approach eliminates the risk of getting caught up in trivial matters or being pulled in multiple directions, thus increasing your efficiency and effectiveness.
Now do it…walk your talk! This is where so many people fail. It is easy to talk about the person you want to become but it’s way harder to live it. Cultivate self-discipline by establishing healthy habits, setting realistic goals, and celebrating small victories along the way.
Make your time count.
“If you don’t have time to do right, when will you have time to do it over” - John Wooden