Want to run marathons? How about starting a new vegan diet? Everyone wants to build habits that last, but the key is to have a plan that works for, rather than against, you.
According to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology on the habit-formation times of 96 people over a 12-week study, it took an average of 66 days before a new behavior became automatic for an individual, or what most people would consider “habitual.” (Although the data ranged from as low as 18 days to as high as 254 days to reach this level.)
Researcher Phillippa Lally says that “Performing an action for the ﬁrst time requires planning, even if plans are formed only moments before the action is performed . . . As behaviors are repeated in consistent settings, they then begin to go ahead more efficiently and with less thought as control of the behavior transfers to cues in the environment that activate an automatic response: a habit.”
That is to say, for each change you would like to make in your life, you must prepare to make that change as part of your daily plan until you repeat it consistently in a similar setting and it becomes routine.
You probably have a lot of new habits you would like to develop, maybe like getting to bed at a decent hour, starting a new exercise routine, or even something as trivial as flossing.
The options for new habits to integrate are endless. If you are trying to improve a lot about yourself at once (who isn’t?), you may have a difficult time keeping track of everything you need to get done.
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How does one successfully schedule their life to integrate several new habits at once? More importantly, how does one do so with all the other unrelenting clutter of life and competing energy suckers?
Enter the Everyday List–where you can produce consistent action using daily reminders on your to-do list. (I’ve reviewed to-do list apps in an earlier post, and I provided suggestions for several options that will allow you to seamlessly integrate an everyday list.)
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Identify actions you would like to make routine.
This will, of course, be different for everyone. I have talked about the Eisenhower Matrix before, and my opinion is that you should try to integrate habits here that are important, but not urgent.
I have at times had items on my everyday list like “floss/mouthwash,” “meditate,” “workout,” etc., but have also had more routine items on there that fit more into the “not important, not urgent” group (such as “do the dishes” and “clean for 10 minutes”). I think a habit that you consider beneficial is worth pursuing, and I cannot make a value judgment for you.
Do some soul-searching. What are your goals? Write them down.
After you’ve done that, think about something you can do every day that would bring you closer to your goals.
Do you want to be a better writer? Try and commit to writing 250 words every day on a different topic.
Do you want to be a dancer in a world-renowned dance company? Commit to doing ten minutes of extra stretching each day.
I think you get the idea.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
~ Chinese Proverb
2. Add those items to your list in a way that you can track.
Most people have probably heard of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. They are goals that are at once specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound.
For example, you might have a goal like “run a marathon in 2018.”
This goal is specific because you have said you are going to run a marathon. It’s measurable because you’ll know you failed if you cannot run 26.2 miles at the end of the year. It’s achievable because you can ostensibly train to run a marathon (Why else would you make this your goal?). Results-focused because it focuses on the result of running a marathon, and each time you run it’s what you are working towards. Finally, its time-bound because on December 31, that year, you will know you failed if you have not run a marathon by midnight.
You can take the S.M.A.R.T. goal concept and use it for almost all of your to-dos, as they will help drive your productivity and will ground you in objectivity about your improvement.
For example, instead of a to-do to “write each day,” you might have a to-do that says to write each day for a specific amount of time or to a minimum word threshold.
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Instead of “start running,” or “workout” you might instead make a daily to-do of “run for 30 minutes” or “go to the gym for 30 minutes.”
3. Reflect on your progress.
At the end of each day see what you have done.
Do I always get to every item on my to-do list daily? Hell no! Sometimes life gets in the way and we fall short. That’s okay.
My goal is always to get as many things done on my everyday list as possible, but if I get more than half, it has been an especially good day.
After you’ve been going with an everyday list for a couple of weeks, reflect on your progress and be sure to look for improvements:
Is there a task that you’ve consistently not been doing? Maybe it’s time to remove the task while you are not taking it seriously. It’s important to have your everyday list shows the changes you actually intend to make, instead of being a repository for wishes that are simply a box you tick every day (and without even doing the task, this means your ticking a box for nothing, and thus wasting your time).
Is there a task that you are doing more consistently, but every day is too often? Edit your list to only include the item several times a week, or every other day. This will keep your list useful and relevant.
Create daily to-dos on your calendar that move you closer to your goals.
Refine your list as you integrate habits, set new goals, and reassess your situation.
Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an attorney at the boutique law firm Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.