Disrupting Your Routine: What You Can Learn From a Company That Got Rid of Its Clocks

By Beth Caron Nilssen

Do you have a routine that you continue to do because “that’s the way I’ve always done it”? What if changing your routine could turn up unexpected nuggets of time, money, or both?

Are you a creature of habit? I am, and in many ways, my life is better because of it. I certainly have a routine for the things that happen regularly, like packing my lunch, prepping my coffeemaker before I go to bed at night, or driving to work. Being on auto-pilot means it’s one less thing I have to make a decision about. (Don’t get me started on decision-fatigue—a topic for another blog!)

But after hearing about a company that saved thousands of dollars by not doing something that had become routine and expected, I’m looking at those habitual actions in a whole new light.

This is a story about how important it is to continually assess what’s working and what’s not, even if it’s something we continue to do because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” What if changing the routine could turn up unexpected nuggets of time, money, or both?

Are clocks really necessary?

That’s what happened when the Minnesota-based international company, 3M, decided to remove almost all of the clocks—yes, clocks—from its 400-acre campus in the Twin Cities. That action saved them roughly $35,000 this year alone in the cost of batteries for 1,000 timepieces hanging on the wall. And that doesn’t include the labor costs of two dozen staff members who had to reset the clocks (thank you, Daylight Saving Time) and replace batteries twice a year, not to mention the risk of injuries from climbing ladders every six months.

The company realized that wall clocks aren’t really necessary these days. Most people check the time on their smartphones or computers, and research shows employees are happier, more productive, and more creative when they aren’t beholden to a clock-based schedule. (The few clocks left on the 3M campus are in labs and fitness centers.)

I’d be interested to know how this “clear the clocks” campaign at 3M began: Who was the first person who looked at all those clocks hanging in every building and said, “Why are those still there?” And, yet, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of 3M employees who still look up from their desks to see what time it is. We are creatures of habit, you know.

Disrupting the norm

I may be overstating this—it is just clocks, after all—but this feels like a small example of disruption, that ability to look at something that’s always been done a certain way and see a different path. Uber and Lyft disrupted the routine of calling a cab. Airbnb and VRBO disrupted the habit of booking a hotel room when traveling. It makes me wonder what else is so ubiquitous in our homes and workspaces, in our personal routines, and even in our societal norms, that could be improved upon or even eliminated, just by looking at it differently.

That kind of disruption is at the foundation of Great Clips. Back in the early 1980s, a typical hair salon catered to customers who wanted (and expected) to make an appointment and receive a full-service haircut. The founders of Great Clips had another idea: What if they could give customers a great haircut, and make the experience more convenient? The no-appointment, walk-in hair salon concept was born. A few years later, the concept would be franchised, and, as they say, the rest is history!

I can think of a few businesses and industries that could use a bit of disruption: Air travel, specifically how they get passengers on and off a plane! Car repair. Getting a decent cup of coffee that doesn’t cost $5. (Can you tell what my priorities are these days?) 

What do you think is a prime target for disruption? Or, closer to home and work, what have you done to increase productivity, save money, or make your daily routine easier by changing your habits? Send me a note. I’d love to know how you switched up your routine.

Beth (Caron) Nilssen
Director of Franchise Development| Great Clips, Inc.
800-947-1143 | 
franchise@greatclips.com