Routine is important


By D C Pathak

New Delhi, Dec 28:  The senior who taught me work in my career in Intelligence would often remind me of two things — one must ‘distinguish essentials from non-essentials’ and one ‘must not neglect the routine’. I later realised that the first was the substratum of a competent Intelligence Analysis while the latter was a cardinal principle of work in a situation that called for a constant updating of information.

The boss was perhaps not even aware that from sheer experience he was being original about stating what had become the famous Pareto’s Principle laying down ‘there are a significant few amongst the insignificant many’.

As regards ‘routine’ it provides confidence, education and an insight into whatever could be done more efficiently. It is a stress buster. Handling Intelligence matters is a mental engagement and therefore there is no fear of the routine here becoming an unproductive mechanical ‘habit’.

Maria Montessori famously said that a successful teacher should be able to say ‘Children are working as if I did not exist’ – doing the routine like a class attended should instil a sense of independence.

In Intelligence, routine work by its very nature, is never too repetitive. It combines new elements with whatever was known already and this made it an ongoing learning experience. Past here is relevant only in as much as it might help to foresee the course of a threat because it gave a peep into the modus operandi of an adversary. On the other hand in Intelligence, keeping things pending is highly discouraged for it could result in avoidable failure of action producing serious repercussions.

There is a positive side to keeping up the routine, in personal life too. In the area of health, the part of the routine geared to an exercise regimen is clearly valuable and so is the adherence to one’s duty by the children to be performed on a daily basis.

A certain amount of discipline is needed to fulfil personal engagements and this might turn out to be as important and rewarding at the workplace also where it adds to the impression of the person being loyal to the organisation.

The idea of ‘routine’ suggesting that one should try to do something beyond what was done every day – both at work and outside the work area – is a good thought for keeping you from ‘boredom’ of any kind and enhancing your output and hence your confidence in yourself.

What is crucial is that you bring to bear a degree of mental involvement and concentration in whatever you are doing – it ensures enhanced productivity because the greater the concentration the bigger will be the quantum of results achieved in the same period.

The routine does not become any less important just because you are working on it every day – provided that the efficiency with which it is handled does not diminish on account of any discounting thoughts of ‘repetition’. Very often your performance evaluation may get linked to your ability to maintain your efficiency even when the duty was repetitive.

Routine is life. Routine is purposefulness. And routine is sanity. One has to be either too rich to need a work routine or sometimes too poor to have any of it. Work-life balance ultimately determines the quality of life. One should be thankful for having a ‘routine of work’ to be attended to.

Indian philosophy equates life with Karma or ‘action’ and pitches Dharma or ‘work in the line of duty’ as the highest mandate of life. Routine certainly acquires a special meaning in this thought and becomes a positive attribute in terms of fulfilment, mindful existence and striving for improvement.

Routine defines the content of life, puts the stamp of individuality in a situation of collective endeavour and connects with the human eco-system at large. One is entitled to look at the routine with a sense of pride and regard it as the chain of continuity in one’s story of life.

In the era of ‘smart’ living, the routine should evolve but never break down so that there is peace and stability in life. In Intelligence, the routine is ‘dynamic’ for it combines the past and the present to envisage what lies ahead.

How to handle routine is a subject matter of special studies, social analysis and business research.

The secret of success is said to lie in your daily routine and there is more than one logic behind this stipulation. First, brains are hardwired for routine and therefore the familiarity of the set pattern makes it less tedious to make a decision. On the other hand, it is also true that ‘you will never change your life until you change something you do daily’. The importance of being out of your comfort zone for a brief while tends to make you more disciplined, bold and innovative. It has been rightly said- ‘if you are not having fun you are doing it wrong’.

Further, time management regarded now as a critical skill is one thing that can be improved upon by you on your own initiative and this is an established means of enhancing productivity and getting credit for it.

A scientific approach to handling routine can help in this. Prioritisation suggests itself. The thought that it would be more productive to take up several small tasks first is questioned by the scientific logic that the energy levels are the highest to start with and hence more important tasks should be taken up in the beginning.

From all of this it can be concluded that routine need not be ‘dull and draining’ and improving its handling by applying the learning from experience, could make it an enjoyable and fulfilling means of building one’s leadership acumen.

Coming back to my senior in IB who counselled against any ‘neglect of the routine’, I can clearly see how he was drawing from his experience of the institutional importance that information updates had in Intelligence, the requirement of a quick logical follow up on any report in this profession and the situation where some operational or personnel-related problem might have been brought to the notice of the organisation by people closer to the ground below.

Intelligence work goes on 24/7 and it is part of the basic grooming of an entrant that there should be a total awareness of the fact that Intelligence does not permit a gap between ‘information’ and ‘action’. ‘Office hours’ do not have much sanctity for members of an Intelligence agency who may not go home in the midst of work should that become necessary and who would do so without being asked by the ‘boss’.

Much before the success of the Information Technology revolution changed the ways of the world, Intelligence organisations knew and practised ways of making ‘instant communication’ that was ‘secure’ at the same time.

Further, an Intelligence organisation does not let any notions of ‘vertical hierarchy’ mar the speed of response to a threat.

Not clearing matters that sounded ‘routine’ on a day-to-day basis — apart from things that carried the tag of urgency — is therefore not upheld by the organisational ethics in the profession of Intelligence.

Many years ago, the then chief of IB deprecated the use of the mark ‘Most Immediate’ on documents saying that ‘Immediate was immediate enough’ and thus underscoring the importance of quick movement of files at all times, in an Intelligence setting.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)