Variety may be the spice of life, but routines can add a little flavor too. My morning routine is to open my Mac at the Panera Bread Company in Macon, Ga., or whatever city I happen to be in at the time.

Hazelnut coffee — just after the doors open at 6:30 AM — gets me going in the right direction. And my morning routine gives me a perspective for viewing the early rituals of others.

Recently some marketing folks at Panera thought it wise to add three nesting tables filled with to-go goodies to the traffic flow. Customers heading in for a cup of coffee are tempted to pick up a bag of bagels, loaf of bread or pastry ring.

While the effort seems to work, it has created a traffic-flow problem around the coffee pots. Ongoing adjustments to the placement of the tables don’t seem to help.

The marketers (the manager told me) said that putting the tables in an “L” shape would psychologically lead people to form the line to the left. It hasn’t worked.

The line forms to the right (the familiar path) and crowds in on those trying to get to the coffee pots. And, of course, being between someone and his/her first cup of morning coffee can be a dangerous spot.

Each morning I check to see how these three tables are configured, where they are in relationship to the coffee service, and how the crowd reacts. One customer simply moved the smallest table out of the way one day in order to get back on his usual path.

Having a routine is value-free. We can have good ones, bad ones and those that matter very little. I consider seeing the sunrise, getting started on my work early while my mind is fresh and enjoying hazelnut coffee to be a good one for me. Others are constructed differently.

But one of the good questions to consider is whether our repeated, daily activities are good routines or simply ruts. Maybe the answer lies in how this activity impacts the rest of the day.

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