Know When to Break the Rules

Rules are important. Without them, we’d live in chaos and confusion. Rules are needed at all levels of society including government, business, school, and home.

But sometimes rules need to be broken.

Yesterday was the first day of summer for my kids, ages 5 and 7. We stayed in our pajamas until 2:00 pm. Played too many video games. Ate popcorn for lunch. Devoured jellybeans before dinner. Spent an hour at the LEGO store and stayed up well past bedtime.

We needed a day to break all the rules.

My first year as an Algebra teacher I overheard an outgoing 8th grader say to one of my incoming students, “Mrs. L is really strict, but her class is a total blast!” Best. Compliment. Ever.

If you run a tight ship at work, school or home it’s important to know when to relax and have fun. Here are some great times to break the rules:

  • After everyone gets in line. Establishing the rules takes time. At the beginning of each school year I spent a lot of energy getting my students to follow the routine. Once the class was movin’ and groovin’ to the beat of my drum, I planned a surprise game day, canceled homework, or moved the lesson outside to the shade of a beautiful oak tree.
  • When your team needs to innovate. Once a year my husband’s technology company has what they call “science fair.” For two days employees drop everything and work on whatever special project they want to tackle.
  • Because the troops need a break. Hard work and adhering to the rules causes exhaustion even in the best performers. Give everyone a reprieve by sending them home early, scheduling a special coffee date, or handing out a “free pass” for a particular responsibility or task.
  • To celebrate an important milestone. I’m a big believer in taking time to make milestones special. Don’t make a puny sundae and put a big shiny cherry on top. Bend the rules a little and make the celebration stand out from your average day.
  • As a reward for individual contributors. When individuals go above and beyond their normal responsibilities, acknowledge their effort by letting them break a rule.

It’s easy to get so focused on routines and guidelines that we forget to shake things up occasionally.  When are some times that you’ve broken the rules? Did your team perform better as a result?

Credit: The adorable photo in this post is from


  1. I have two rule-breaking strategies at home that, without exception, generate positive results for both kids and parents.  The first one is simple:  Life is short, eat dessert first.  No, not all the time; but every once in a while it makes us all smile.  The dinner that follows is small, but what we lose in nutrition we gain in fun and family memories that last a lifetime.  Rules are out the window and still order reigns.

    The other one is Yes Month.  Last year I realized that at times I say “no” out of habit; I found myself saying when it really wasn’t necessary.  I did not want to be that person.  So I instituted Yes Month; a time in which for an entire calendar month Mom will say “Yes” as much as possible.  I don’t say yes to everything, but I do say it a lot more.  It reminds me to stop and think before I answer the girls and it helps our girls learn to think through their requests before they ask.  Rules are bent and occasionally broken – logic wins and peace reigns, even when the answer is no.

    Yes, sometimes rules are meant to be broken.  I agree 100%.

  2. BillintheBlank says:

    On point advice for all teachers. May it be their parting thought as they prepare for next year!

    • Thanks, Bill. It also applies to anyone leading a team. Good to keep in mind at the office or on the playing field. I know I always appreciated bosses or coaches who understood when to break the rules!

  3. Tracy, I really like your suggestions for how to celebrate (breaking the rules).  I think we don’t celebrate enough of the right things in life.  One of the teams where I work had a genuine milestone today…a never before done accomplishment.  We really need to celebrate that one in a big way.

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