When you think of the word “habit”, what comes to mind? Do you think about bad habits like biting your nails, smoking, or going to bed late? Habits: the small decisions we make every day that, when repeated regularly, become almost involuntary or subconscious. We all probably have a bad habit we’d like to kick. But what about good habits? Habits that impact and improve our productivity and lives in meaningful ways.
James Clear, a prominent author who has written three books on habits, has said, “A behavior becomes a habit when you notice you are not doing it.” According to Duke University researchers, habits make up 40% of our behaviors everyday. In his article on habits, Clear argues that “what you repeatedly do (i.e., what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality you portray... When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.”
A little over a year ago, after wanting to increase my news consumption, I decided to start listening to The Daily podcast while I got ready every morning. Now, I can’t imagine my mornings without the sound of Michael Barbaro’s voice. The Daily is an easily digestible amount of audio to consume in the morning (roughly twenty minutes), perfectly timed to my morning routine. I feel more aware of what is going on in the world, and like a better, more informed citizen after listening.
Every day after work, on my walk to the train from my office, I call my mom to catch up and hear about her day. I started doing this simply because I wanted to talk to my mom, but it quickly turned into a habit that I call her at the same time every day. Now my first instinct when I leave the office is to dial her number. This habit makes my walk to the train less cold (because I’m not thinking about the temperature as much as I am listening to my mom) and less lonely.
Another habit that has significantly improved my productivity at work is setting 20-minute timers. I set timers for everything, but especially for simple yet daunting tasks like tidying up, answering emails, reading, or even writing in my journal. The Pomodoro Technique, as it’s widely known, has been proven to increase productivity and focus. Simply set a timer for 15-25 minutes, work on the task at hand for the set amount of time, and when the timer rings, take a short break to reward yourself. Every four completed “pomodoros” you can take a longer break. This method has been such a game-changer for me because committing to working on a task for 20 minutes is much less intimidating than working on a task for an undefined amount of time.
These are just a few examples of the habits I have started doing that have improved my day-to-day schedule and focus. Implementing these habits has really changed my perspective, my productivity, and my way of life. Below you’ll find a few tips to keep in mind when setting habits for yourself:
Start small. The more obstacles you have to get through to accomplish something, the less likely you are going to be to do it. If you want to hit the gym in the morning, lay out your gym clothes and water bottle the night before. In a work environment, if you want to tick things off your to-do list, have all of your tasks written out in front of you and eliminate all distractions. Breaking things down into smaller, digestible chunks makes taking on the larger task at hand much less intimidating. Set a timer!
Make it a routine. Similar to how I call my mom at the same time everyday, repeating a behavior, especially if it can be done at the same time every day, in the same place, at the same time, will teach the brain that it needs to remember this behavior to make it easier to keep doing it.
Be around people who influence you to stick to habits. You’ll be more likely to stick to your habits if you surround yourself with people who push you to stick to your habits. Telling other people your goals, as well as writing them down, helps keep you more accountable. At Alipes, we have a daily stand-up meeting for ten minutes every day where we each lay out our goals for the day. Saying those goals out loud to my peers lets everyone else know what I will be working on for that day, and keeps me accountable to accomplish that work.
Reward yourself. Giving yourself a reward after you accomplish your goal is a strong reinforcer. Additionally, rewards function as great motivators. This tip is my favorite and the most important in my opinion. If you work on something for 20 minutes, reward yourself by taking a 10-minute walk outside to enjoy the fresh air.