There’s a big difference between routine and commitment

5. September 2012 10:00 by Jay Grossman in   //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

I am a very big fan of the New England Patriots. In the early 1990's, they were terrible (going 1-15 twice in 3 years). Then Bill Parcells was hired as the coach and turned around the fortunes of the team. In 1995, he let go of the team's best running back Marion Butts and used a third round draft pick on Curtis Martin from Pittsburgh. Martin immediately became his starter, went on to have 3 really great years in New England (including a Super Bowl run in 1997), and then followed Parcells to play for the Jets.

I was watching Curtis Martin's Hall of Fame induction speech (which is the most heart felt speech I have seen from an athlete), and there was a story that stood out to me. Martin was always known as one of the hard working players anyone will ever meet and he always got the most out of his talent. He would outwork other players, the coaches, the trainers - that's just who he was. He tells a story how Parcells called him over during a practice and told him:

“There’s a big difference between routine and commitment.”  

Parcells was known for being able to push his players and get them to play to their potential. Martin went on to say that this comment got him to raise his workouts to a whole new level and become a better player.

This got me thinking about my own self, and about the way I have approached some of the things I have been working. Are they part of my routine, or am I committed to something? 

Let's define both terms:

Routine can be defined as customary or regular course of procedure. 

Commitment can be defined as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.


Having a routine is not a bad thing at all. I love having predictable outcomes. If no one established routines, our lives would be completely inconsistent and chaotic. Routines are all about consistently knowing the outcome, allow us to establish baselines for our expectations. I definitely appreciate many routines in my life - such as having Monday-Friday work week, getting paid on the same interval, knowing what days garbage gets collected, knowing the day my mortgage bill is due, etc.

Being someone who creates software, my days are often about defining and creating routines. If I want a function in my script/program (a.k.a. a software routine) to accomplish XYZ, then I will always expect an established set of inputs. Developers need to be completely sure that function will work as expected, that we often automate series of tests to validate the functions work as expected (unit and integration tests).

Once a routine is set, how often do we revisit it and assess if it optimally accomplishing its goals. It's really easy to be happy with having a predictable outcome and moving on to solve the next problem. We know there may be room to refactor the routine to make it better or more efficient, but it is worth the effort?  Is it something important enough to you to want to make improvement? Are you committed enough to achieving the best possible outcome that you will dedicate the time/energy/resources to making the improvements?

I really think everyone should review the routines related to the more important things in their life periodically, especially creative people and entrepreneurs. It can really make you think about why you wake up every day and what you are working towards. Are you actions just "turning the crank" to make the business go, or are you really trying to make the best use of your time to meet your goals?


I saw an interesting post related to 2 distinct types of commitments:

To me, there are two kinds of commitments, in the general sense. One kind is the kind where you are merely fulfilling obligations, promises. You enter it knowing full well what is your role and what are your responsibilities, and you will see that you fulfill those tasks set upon you. Whether you try to look at those obligations positively or try to execute it the most fun way possible depends on your approach.

The other kind of commitment is the one you enter into willingly, voluntarily, totally. You enter it with hopes and determination to make your commitment enjoyable and satisfying. Of course there will be rough patches, but those are just phases and you know that can be overcome, because in this commitment there isn’t just will, there’s also passion. And even though there might be better offers coming along, you will stay true to your commitment because you know that even though the grass seems greener on the other side, what you have committed to is still incomparable, despite whatever shortcomings or flaws it has.

The first category of commitment are the things you have to do, whether you like it or not. You may not really care about how you get them done, but you know you have get them done. We'll often build routines around them and forget about them - turning the crank. Paying my bills is a good example of a commitment I have that I know just needs to get done,  but I don't want to focus much attention on once I have the autopay set up to take care of it.

The second type of commitment is the one I like to focus on, the ones we willingly take on and are often passionate about. These are the ones we want to do well. I see these fall into 3 larger categories that I see people tend to be more committed to:

  • work, job, or business
  • friends and family
  • personal interests
Parcells challenged Curits Martin about his commitment for something he loved, training for his football career. Since Martin loved it, he was willing to look for ways to optimize his workouts and optimize his routine. He found ways to continually get better, and he led the NFL in rushing yards gained in his final season.

Personal interests is another really good example, as people seem to put in a huge amount of time on them. For over a decade I have run a subscription based community for people who collect sport autographs (SportsCollectors.Net). It's amazing how passionate the folks on the site are, how much they enjoy working on the projects and enjoy their hobby. It's pretty common for such collectors to establish a routine of searching a list of sites for the items they would like within a target price range (and you could even automate this if you desired efficiency). Then there are some who are so passionate (including me) that they take time off and travel distances hoping to find items they'd like to add to their collection. There are times when collectors desire the item so much that will far exceed their targeted price point to acquire it. These are examples of commitment, as these collectors are willing to break their routine to accomplish their goals. 

Measuring the Cost of Commitment

I always look to for a way to measure things quantitatively as I try to understand them. I have searched quite a bit out there looking to find a find an established formula to measure one's commitment and how it relates to routines, but my search has come up empty. Commitment is a very subjective concept that varies so much by the person and situation.

Shannon Sharpe (another Hall of Famer) started his induction speech apologizing to his children for all the important things he missed while they were growing up in order to be the best football player he could be. He said he was sorry, but he would not change it. He was willing to sacrifice certain family and personal related things in order to make his career successful.

The underlying theme I am finding is that one's level of commitment has a relationship to the extent the person is willing to sacrifice some other things.  In economics, an Opportunity Cost is the benefit that could have been gained from an alternative use of the same resource.

So let's look at a practical example. I want to upgrade the Private Messaging feature on SportsCollectors.Net that I originally coded in 2005. I have a good idea of some things I'd like to enhance - performance, UI, search, and tagging functionality. In order to take on this work, I will need to find time competing with other things in my life such as:

  • personal time
  • other functionality on this project
  • other projects
  • sleep 

So I can try to quantify what the opportunity cost is if I go forward with this work by:

  1. Estimating the time it would take to accomplish this work
  2. list all the other things I could do with this time
  3. Prioritizing the list. Seeing the list helps me prioritize its importance compared to the alternatives. 

If I have strong commitment to this work item, then I will take it on and accept that I will have sacrifice other items on the list.

Some Personal Reflection, Am I committed?

I'd like to think that I am a somewhat organized person. I have defined my vision and the appropriate goals to get there. I think the execution of my plan to accomplish those goals is where we see if my actions are routine or a product of my commitment.

Professionally, building my projects and going to my day job has become my routine. They are a comfort zone for me, knowing I can feel good about making progress. I somewhat look forward to my train commute where I have undistracted time to think (and blog) about what interests me.

I've always felt that solving an interesting problem is more addictive than any other stimulant. I get so much satisfaction knowing that others enjoy using my projects and find them to be valuable that it makes me want to make them better. The place I see my commitment is when I see a scenario for learning something interesting  or the opportunity to make a significant improvement. When I really want a piece of functionality or explanation on an interesting subject and can't find it, that's where I see myself getting really excited to bridge the gap. 

About the author

Jay Grossman

techie / entrepreneur that enjoys:
 1) my kids + awesome wife
 2) building software projects/products
 3) digging for gold in data sets
 4) my various day jobs
 5) rooting for my Boston sports teams:
    New England PatriotsBoston Red SoxBoston CelticsBoston Bruins

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