Have you ever been in a situation where you set yourself strong goals, knew what you had to do, but then decided to check Social Media, respond to an email or claim your daily reward on a mobile game “quickly” and before you know it, two hours have magically passed? How did this happen?
You were supposed to work on a project, do your homework or house chores, but instead you spent way too much time on your electronic devices and other distractions. I am certain we all had those days before. Of course, I am no exception.
I used to feel extremely guilty about those instances, but learned to accept over the years that I occasionally can afford to give myself a break to enjoy and binge watch a show that I truly enjoy or spend some time catching up with a girlfriend at a coffee shop, as long as those days don’t show up too regularly.
So, the question is, what can we do to stay on target, meet our goals and feel proud of ourselves at the end of the day? The answer is, developing strong habits. What do I mean by developing strong habits? Habits are things we do on a regular basis that feels second nature, without much of a thought process involved.
For example, when you wake up in the morning, do you start by brushing your teeth and changing your clothes? Do you have to remind yourself every day to take these steps? Of course, not because these are habits we developed in our younger years.
But now it’s time to implement new habits to become a highly productive goal meeting, to-do list completing machine. I have read that it takes 21 days to develop a habit and about 90 days for it to become a permanent member of your lifestyle.
This is probably easier said than done. How do you get started? Knowing what you need and want to accomplish is the first step towards becoming more productive. You can start with setting those SMART goals mentioned in another article and break those down into daily habits.
For example, your goal is to save $1,000 by the next year. Since one year has 365 days, that would mean adding $2.74 to your piggy bank on a daily basis. Since that amount is a bit difficult to remember and requires a lot of small change, let’s make it $3 daily, which will give you a bit of a cushion or allows you to reach the goal a bit sooner. You can also have the habit of saving $20 weekly, or $84 monthly. Decide what works best for you and stick to this schedule, no matter what.
Another example could be the goal of losing 5 lbs. in three months. Let’s say you translated this into doing 30 push-ups and walking 10,000 steps each day. Then those push-ups and steps would become part of your daily habits. So, habits are in essence activities or action items that need to occur on a regular basis to achieve your goals. After a while, they become second nature, a routine without an active reminder required.
Start with a To-Do List
Now that you know what you need to do, what will make it easier for those habits to be implemented? Similar to creating a to do list, I like visually seeing habits that I want to incorporate into my daily life. But before I get there, I still consider them to do lists, where I need to be reminded on a regular basis and probably daily that I need to get them done. What would you do to make that happen? What has worked well for you in the past? How do you learn best?
As you can probably tell already, I love the feeling of checking things off or crossing them out. So, I created a monthly spreadsheet, listing all days of the months out horizontally, while listing out the habits I want to implement vertically, grouping it by morning, afternoon and evening routines. That list is printed out and adjusted if necessary on the first day of every month and sits right next to my computer or where it would be handy for easy access, such as in my planner that I carry with me in my purse.
I look at it every morning to remind myself of the habits and start the morning with several successful routines where I can check off several boxes right away to give me a feeling of accomplishment. As I complete certain steps throughout the day, I go back to this list and check it off. Sometimes in the morning I pull it out one more time to see what is missing.
Don’t get me wrong, this process is not completely perfect. There are days when the daily grind catches up with me and some boxes are left unchecked. However, this method definitely supported me in implementing more habits then I would have otherwise. 7 out of 10 tasks completed is better than none at all, right?
My Example of Daily Habits Checklist
To give you an example of my daily habit checklist, I start out my morning with setting up a specific time I want to get up on a daily basis, followed by the habit of drinking a glass of water with lemon, taking my morning supplements, writing my gratitude and goals journal, exercise and meditation.
I leave out activities that have become part of my routine without reminders, such as changing out of my pajamas or brushing my teeth. I hope to drop more off the list as they become second nature.
Throughout the day, I have goals such as spending less than two hours watching TV, playing on my phone and interacting with Social Media (two hours total time, not for each), drinking 75 oz. of water, and getting a minimum of 15 minutes of sunshine, just to name a few.
There are also boxes that are left not to be checked off, but to insert a number. What do I mean by this? For example, I want to increase the number of push-ups I can do. So, instead of checking off that I completed push-ups that day, I write down how many I did. This way, I can see my progression over time. Just so you know, I started with three, and reached 25 at the time of this article.
Some of my evening routines include having the kids go to bed at a certain time (I do adjust for school and non-school days), reading for 45 minutes before bed, putting away electronic devices at a certain time and writing down my favorite memory of the day. Because I set strong intentions for my habits in the morning and the evening, it is so much easier to make everything in between more productive.
Find an Accountability Partner
Routines are slightly easier to implement if you have a partner working on the same goals with you. This way, you have one less excuse to skip that Saturday walk because someone holds you accountable.
My kids have the best memory and love seeing their mother fail, just kidding. But you know they are the first ones to call you out. For increased pressure, I share some of the habits with them that I want to implement, and they certainly don’t disappoint reminding me when I haven’t completed such and such.
My friends know about some of the food categories I want to cut out of diet. So, when we eat out, they are like “Hey, why are you ordering pasta? Didn’t you say you want to avoid gluten?” This definitely helps me stay on track of my diet and avoid the yummy, but more calorie dense options.
Set Up Routines Ahead of Time
Another trick for successfully implementing new routines is preparing for what’s supposed to come next. For example, if one of your new habits is to exercise first thing in the morning, select your exercise clothes the evening prior and make sure that’s what you change into when you wake up.
If you want to finish all your homework Saturday morning, lay out all the necessary textbooks and other required tools on your desk the evening prior. Can you tell that both of my examples are structured for the routine to occur in the morning? If a habit is important to you, try to schedule it for first thing in the morning if possible. That way, you get it done right away and move on with the rest of the day without worrying or even forgetting it. After three months, it will be part of your regular routine.
Some other helpful suggestions I have for implementing habits are:
- Start with small habits and slightly increase them over time (5 cups of water and slowly increase to 8, then 10 cups).
- Don’t focus on your slip ups and get right back into the habit the next day.
- Utilize technology to help you track successes. For example, your iWatch tracks your activities in your Activity app and gives you reminders and encouragements in form of rewards.
- Give yourself a reward when a habit has been implemented for 90 days.
- Plan for changes in your routine. For example, if you are going on a weekend trip and can’t run the same route you are used to, research alternative routes or call the hotel in advance to review your options. Set a specific time in advance to continue your run.
Of course, everyone is different and what might work for me, doesn’t necessarily make sense to you. What’s most important is that you set the intention and try out different methods and see what sticks. If you want to learn more about this topic, read the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a New York Times Bestseller book. It explains what habits are about, and how powerful they can be. Another popular book on this topic is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It focuses on demonstrating how a small improvement of 1% could be very small in the beginning. But when it comes to habits, implementing a small improvement of 1% daily via better habits can add up and have a significant positive impact on the quality of your life. The same works for negative habits, so we should be careful about what we focus on in our lives. What positive habits will you try to implement to improve your future?