I've become intrigued by habit management over the past few months. It's surprising how much your routines shape your life and impact your ability to reach goals.
I've felt the need to put in place some kind of effective but easy strategy to get things done amid a pile of conflicting work, family, and personal demands. I'm willing to bet most craft professionals feel the same way.
Let's get honest here.
I usually feel like I'm struggling to keep up with work, family, home, marriage, friendships, and personal goals. I always feel like I'm dropping some ball somewhere, and usually several. Some balls don't even make it up in the air. They sit, ignored amid the dust bunnies on the floor.
Specifically, I've long felt I should be able to get more done in the work time I have available. None of the productivity strategies I've tried in the past have really worked for me. I try them, and they get lost in the demands of daily life.
I've become convinced that good habit management - actively cultivating productive routines that, over time, build on goals you want to achieve - is the simplest route to better business productivity.
It seems, a lot of what we accomplish (or don't accomplish) comes down to our habits, both good and bad. If we could just create productive routines - things we do without even thinking, like brushing our teeth - a lot of things should fall into place.
Establishing daily habits is like setting up an automated savings plan. When you arrange for a portion of your money to automatically go into your savings account, you eliminate the willpower needed to save money. You don't have to constantly make a choice to save or spend your money; you just do it. The amount of money you automatically save each month is usually pretty inconsequential, but as each month goes by, it builds on itself and eventually becomes a big pile of money.
Habits do the same thing for us. If I establish the habit of getting up at 6:00am to work for an hour on social media marketing, the little bit of work I can get accomplished in an hour is small. But as I post and pin, comment and like each day, eventually that will grow into thriving social media communities. And if I can turn that work into a habit, I eliminate the need to think about doing it. I don't have to make a choice to get up every day if it is a habit.
These ideas might not be a big revelation to the more disciplined among us, but they are huge to me.
In the past, I've struggled to consciously shape my habits. I do have some great habits that help me achieve and maintain certain goals, but I don't think I consciously cultivated those habits. I can't even really tell you how those habits came to be.
Instead of living with a mishmash of random helpful and unhelpful habits, I wanted to learn how to actively cultivate some helpful habits.
Around the time I started thinking about all of these ideas, a friend recommended the book Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. She said it was full of exactly the type of strategies I was looking for.
I was intrigued, but I'm skeptical of the productivity niche. I've read a lot about the topic, and none of it ever really speaks to me. The "experts" always seem to prescribe one-size-fits-all methods without any consideration for personal work preferences, learning styles, or life circumstances.
But the friend who suggested I read the book is smart, thoughtful, and well-read. She told me the recommendations in the book are based on meticulous research, and they describe effective habit management strategies that account for individual preferences and tendencies. I was definitely interested.
I spent about a month making my way through Better Than Before. It's not a tough read, but I read it slowly to take it all in. My copy of the book is covered in highlights and folded corners (actually digital folded corners because I bought the Kindle version).
The approach to habit management isn't rigid. You're not told what habits you should form. There's no list of "The Top 10 Habits of Successful People." Instead, you're trusted to know what habits you want to develop. You develop deeper self-knowledge to understand which habit management techniques do and do not work for you. Then you're provided with strategies to help you develop and maintain the habits you want to cultivate.
I love this approach to habit building because it frees you to be yourself and do what's right for you.
The book looks at Four Tendencies that represent different ways people approach habits:
The Four Tendencies approach drew me in. I like personality assessments. I used to work with them as a career coach, and I think they can provide valuable self knowledge that can help us move toward our goals and understand and appreciate others.
Once you determine where you fall within these tendencies and how you typically approach obligations and habit management, you get to discover a range of strategies you can use to improve your chances of forming habits that stick.
Again, it's not a one-size-fits-all formula. There's a huge series of well researched principles and strategies you can use for cultivating habits. You can take the strategies that work best for you, and apply them to the habit you're trying to strengthen.
It's been a couple of months since I finished the book. I wanted to spend some time applying the principles before writing about them. I have truly been able to make some changes and cultivate some habits that have always been a challenge for me.
Of course, habits tend to be fragile. I'm not saying I have habit management completely figured out, but I have been able to make progress with habits that have been exceedingly difficult in the past.
The habit that has had the biggest impact on my business has been getting up at 6:00am. I'm normally up at 7:00am to get kids ready for school, and for years I've thought that if I could get up an hour before the rest of my family, I could accomplish a lot in that time. And for years I've been woefully unable to establish that habit.
I've been doing it, though, waking up at 6:00, getting out of bed, and diving into a good, productive hour of work before everyone else is up. I haven't done it consistently every single day. Weekends are still a challenge. But I'm doing it on week days, and I am getting a whole lot done.
How has Better Than Before helped me to establish effective work habits that have eluded me in the past?
I think it's a combination of things.
First, I have a new depth of self knowledge. Understanding and accepting my own personal tendencies, and then working within them instead of berating myself for not fitting someone else's ideal is immensely helpful. I can take the strategies in the book that really work for me, and leave the ones that are more suited to someone else.
Second, the author is a master at cultivating habits for herself. Reading how another person successfully develops effective habits is extremely motivating. Seeing the example of a person who expects a lot from herself helps me to expect more of myself.
Third, I understand habits in a whole new way. Now, when I try to back out of a habit, I see with clarity exactly what I'm doing. The new degree of clarity helps me to make better choices.
In the book, Gretchen Rubin writes about the one coin argument. It's based on the idea that we would say one coin can't make us rich, but if we kept adding one coin to a pile, eventually, over time, we would be rich. There is a point at which you would add just one more coin to your pile, and then you'd say you were rich. So, in fact, one coin can make us rich.
Daily habits are those single coins we add to our own piles. Those single coins we add each day are more important than we realize. If we commit to adding those coins, creating effective habits that function like our own automated savings plan, building our pile, we will eventually become rich in whatever goal we are trying to achieve.
If you want someone to tell you exactly which habits you should try to develop, you won't find that in Better Than Before. If you're looking for a step by step rigorous habit management program, this book is not the book you're looking for.
If you're interested in cultivating some positive habits, and you want to develop a better understanding of yourself, understand why forming certain habits is easy for you, while other habits are tough, and then learn a whole slew of strategies that you can apply to cultivate your own habits, then Better Than Before is for you.