Establishing a routine can be more important than having a lot of time. With the right structure, small stretches of time can produce outsized achievements, and without discipline, vast expanses generate nothing but aimless chaos.

You can relate time and routine like the sun and a magnifying glass—to harness its power, time must be concentrated and focused through routine, otherwise it diffuses, touching everything and transforming nothing.

And the root of a winning routine doesn’t begin with priorities but priority. Singular. One thing that, if done every day, will add up to make everything else easier or even unnecessary. Because too often “priorities” turn into exhaustive lists that scatter rather than gather our efforts. 

Such essential actions are often what others plan to do later or never—the hard things, the uncomfortable things, the complicated things, the unexciting things, and the exhausting things. It’s the difference between waking up every day and asking “what should I do?” instead of “what shall I do?” It’s the difference between doing the right thing and doing the thing right.

For example, in fitness, the right things include controlling your calories and macros according to your goals, eating plenty of nutritious foods, and doing at least a couple of hours of exercise per week, and mostly to gain muscle and strength. If that’s all you knew and did, you could ignore most everything else shared by experts, authors, and influencers and have a lean, muscular, and healthy body for the rest of your life.

Many people aren’t ready to accept the strictures of routine, though—to say “no” to most things so they can say “yes” to the right things—because it feels boring. Life seems too short to leave out so much. 

Boredom is often just a symptom of inaction, though, like creaky joints or stagnant water. If you’re bored after a few minutes of something, continue for a few more minutes. If it’s still boring, go for another ten minutes. Then twenty. Then forty. Eventually, you no longer find it boring.

And in a world awash in on-demand information and entertainment, we must develop a wholesome “attentional diet” like a nutritional one to avoid the penalties of excess. Just as we can’t overindulge in food and maintain a healthy body, nor can we gorge on “content” and maintain a healthy mind.

So, consider this:

Your daily actions mostly determine the trajectory of your life. Just 45 minutes of daily exercise can banish disease. Just 30 minutes of daily reading can turn you into an expert. Just a few hours of daily deep work can create a legacy.

Moreover, most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years if they just don’t stop. If, as Emerson said, they approach their work like nature achieves hers—atom by atom, little by little.

Success isn’t the result of a single choice—it’s the result of an often long and winding chain of choices. And it can only be forged, link by link, through routine.