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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut

How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut

We’ve all been there.

We wake up one morning and realize that we’ve repeated the same day, over and over. Wake up, go to work, eat dinner, go to bed. Maybe we sprinkled some family time in there. An occasional trip to the gym. But we long for so much more. More time. Time for self-care. Time to work on that dream project that we’ve thought about for so long. But we feel stuck. We are on a hamster wheel and we don’t know how to get off.

What we don’t realize is that repeating the same day, day in and day out, is simply a habit.

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, habits are a three step loop. First, you are given a cue (for example, a time of day like 3pm), you perform a routine (walk to the vending machine), and you receive a reward (candy bar).

Understanding how habits work is a key to understanding how to change habits. Once you change your habits, you can take control of your life and your time. And finally reach those goals that you’ve dreamed about for so long.

Here are 10 tips for how to change habits when you feel stuck.

1. Start with Awareness

You march through your day without a thought, because it has become a habit. But take some time over the next few days to write down everything you do during the day, and when. Include the time you spend on your phone (many phones now have a Time Tracker on them). You might be surprised at what you see.

Are you spending more time on activities than you realized? Are you mindlessly performing tasks that you don’t need to perform? Once you see a few days in black and white, you can better understand what you are doing. And how each habit does or does not align with the larger goals of your life.

2. Stop Saying Yes to Everything

Another parent at your child’s school asks you to make brownies for the bake sale, and you say yes. Even though it means that you will have to stay up late, and be too tired to go to the gym the next morning. Or the marketing team asks you to sit in on the 2pm call even though you’re not on that project, and you say yes; even though it means you won’t finish a big report today. And will have to use some family time over the weekend to get it done.

Saying yes is a habit. The cue is someone makes a request. So, of course you say yes. And the reward is that you get to avoid a feeling of guilt. Or you get to enjoy feeling needed. But the habit is not serving you. Because you are pinging around like you’re in a pinball machine. And you’re not getting to all the things that are important to you.

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The next time someone asks you to do something. Take a minute. Break the habit loop. And actually think about the request. Before you respond.

3. Figure out What Is Important to You – and What Isn’t

Let’s say you find yourself spending a lot of extra time volunteering at your kid’s school. Time that is spent away from your children and your job, and doesn’t improve your health.

But when you sit down and think about what is important to you. You realize that you need to prioritize work, family life, and a health goal. So how does that volunteer time fit in? Is it important to you, or not? You realize that much of what you do is not related to your own personal priorities.

We are all busy. But we need to learn how to change habits that involve doing things that don’t align with our larger goals. So it is important to take the time to figure out what your larger goals are:  family, work, health. Or, work, health, and writing that book you’ve dreamed about.

Be mindful of what is important to you. So that you can prioritize your days accordingly.

If you aren’t sure how to prioritize your life, this guide can help you:

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

4. If You Don’t Have a Productivity System, Create One

A productivity system doesn’t have to be complicated. It does have to be something that works for you. Basically, a productivity system is a way to make sure that:

  • You are doing tasks that align with your goals
  • You know what those tasks are
  • You know when you are going to do them

Everyone has a different system. Some love to use beautiful paper planners, others prefer an app on their phone. It doesn’t matter how you want to do it. But you need to take control of your own schedule.

Make a new habit of planning out your day or your week on a regular basis. Figure out a cue for it. Every day at 5pm I will take 15 minutes to plan out the next day. The cue will be the time of day. The routine is to plan. The reward is to create a day full of intention.

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5. Start Slow – 1% Change a Day Can Add up to Powerful Results

When something is a habit, it is well ingrained into our routine. We perform a habit almost mindlessly. So, when we think about how to change habits, we need to start slow.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about the 1% rule. He says:

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. They don’t seem like much on any given day. But over months and years their effects can accumulate to an incredible degree.

Basically, you only need to figure out how to change habits by 1% per day to see a significant benefit over the course of a year.

So start with one, small habit. When it’s 3pm and you find yourself walking to the vending machine, make your way over to the water fountain instead. Or, go outside and walk around the block. Pick one thing and make a change. And then go from there.

6. Stop Listening to All Your Negative Thoughts

“I don’t know how to do this.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I’ll fail and then people will judge me.” Do any of those thoughts sound familiar?

For many people, those thoughts play on a constant loop. Telling you what you can’t do. It’s too hard. Don’t even try.

Change is scary. The idea of doing something new, or something that people could judge, can make your heart pound and make your mouth dry. To your body, it feels exactly the same as if you are a caveman being chased by a tiger. So your brain wants to respond the same way. It wants to run away and hide.

But guess what? Those thoughts are a habit, too. The trigger is that you want to try something new. The routine is to tell yourself you can’t do it. And the reward is to stay in the same routine. One that is safe. Where you might not make any progress toward your goals. But you won’t be eaten by a tiger, either.

So the next time you hear that voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it. To run away from the fear. Remind yourself, it’s a new habit, not a tiger.

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7. Make a Plan for When Things Do Go Wrong

The psychologist Peter Gollwitzer came up with the powerful concept of “if-then planning.”[1] The basic idea is this: make a plan that says, if X happens, I am going to do Y.

Gollwitzer showed that this behavior has can have a huge impact on the success of changing habits.

Let’s say you usually sleep until the last minute before you have to get up for work. But you are looking to start a habit of running in the mornings. And your plan is to run 2 miles tomorrow morning. But when you wake up, it’s raining or snowing. Enough that you don’t want to be outside. What do you do?

Without an if-then plan, you will probably roll over and go back to sleep. But if you made a plan the night before. If the weather is bad, I will go to the gym down the street. And run on the treadmill. The reward will be that I get to watch 30 minutes of a”guilty pleasure” TV. Then, when you look out the window and see the rain, you know exactly what to do. And you won’t fall back into your old routine.

8. Focus on Your Effort

Here’s a secret about everyone you know. Everyone has failed. Everyone from Steve Jobs to the co-worker in the cubicle next to you.

But what makes the difference is how you manage that failure. Do you take failure as a reason to give up? Or do you reframe it as a learning experience? Accepting failure is a way to stay in that rut. To keep doing what is safe. Even though it doesn’t make you happy. Accepting failure is a habit.

But if you can focus on your effort. Your attempts to change. Then you can continually learn from any missteps. And keep moving forward.

Carol Dweck found, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, that the most successful people in the world focus on their effort, not on the outcome. That they frame failures as learning experiences. And, as she says in the book:

John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame. What he means is that you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny them.

9. Celebrate Small Wins

One of the most powerful ways to reinforce how to change habits and make new ones is to give yourself a reward. As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power of Habit:

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Studies of people who have successfully created new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose…a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt free television.

So don’t downplay any positive changes that you make. Reward yourself and celebrate:

How To Celebrate Small Wins To Achieve Big Goals

10. Keep Trying

Let go of the idea that you need to be perfect at this, or that you need to do it all at once. Learning how to change habits takes a long time and will need to be refined continually.

But when you are feeling down or frustrated, remember this is not about getting on or off a wagon. If you slip up, that doesn’t mean you need to give up and fall back into your old habits.

There is no wagon. There are just good days and bad days. If you keep your bigger goals in mind and remember how you long to find more time, work on that side project, or focus on your health, you can do it.

Keep going and find what works for you!

More Tips to Help You Change Habits

Featured photo credit: The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Deb Knobelman, PhD

Neuroscientist and C-Suite business executive who writes about the intersection of mindset, productivity, entrepreneurship and how to reach goals.

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Last Updated on May 22, 2020

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

Do you often feel stressed out with too much work or too many responsibilities? As time passes, do you feel like you have more tasks on hand than you have time to do them?

The trick is to organize your tasks and use your time effectively to get more things done each day. This can help you to lower stress levels and improve your productivity both at work and at home.

Time management skills take time to develop and will look different for each person. Finding what works best for you and your busy schedule is key here.

To get you started, here are 10 ways to improve your time management skills and increase productivity.

1. Delegate Tasks

It is common for all of us to take on more tasks than we are capable of completing. This can often result in stress and burnout.

Delegation does not mean you are running away from your responsibilities but are instead learning proper management of your tasks. Learn the art of delegating work to your subordinates as per their skills and abilities and get more done. This will not only free up time for you but will help your team members feel like an integral piece of the work puzzle.

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2. Prioritize Work

Before the start of the day, make a list of tasks that need your immediate attention. Unimportant tasks can consume much of your precious time, and we tend to offer these too much of our energy because they are easier or less stressful.

However, identifying urgent tasks that need to be completed on that day is critical to your productivity. Once you know where to put your energy, you will start to get things done in an order that works for you and your schedule.

In short, prioritize your important tasks to keep yourself focused.

3. Create a Schedule

Carry a planner or notebook with you and list all the tasks that come to your mind. Being able to check off items as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated.

Make a simple ‘To Do’ list before the start of the day, prioritize the tasks, and focus on the essentials. Make sure that these tasks are attainable, too. If there is a big task you need to complete, make that the only thing on your list. You can push the others to the next day. 

To better manage your time management skills, you may think of making 3 lists: work, home and personal.

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4. Set up Deadlines

When you have a task at hand, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. Once you set a deadline, it may be helpful to write it on a sticky note and put it near your workspace. This will give you a visual cue to keep you on task.

Try to set a deadline a few days before the task is due so that you can complete all those tasks that may get in the way. Challenge yourself and meet the deadline; reward yourself for meeting a difficult challenge.

5. Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the things that has a negative effect on productivity. It can result in wasting essential time and energy. It could be a major problem in both your career and your personal life[1].

Avoiding procrastination can be difficult for many. We tend to procrastinate when we feel bored or overwhelmed. Try to schedule in smaller, fun activities throughout the day to break up the more difficult tasks. This may help you stay on track.

6. Deal With Stress Wisely

Stress often occurs when we accept more work than we are capable of accomplishing. The result is that our body starts feeling tired, which can affect our productivity.

Stress comes in various forms for different people, but some productive ways to deal with stress can include:

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  1. Getting outside
  2. Exercising
  3. Practicing meditation
  4. Calling up a friend
  5. Participating in your favorite hobby
  6. Listening to music or a podcast

The key is to find what works for you when it comes to lowering your stress response. If you don’t have time for anything else, try a couple of breathing techniques. These can be done in minutes and have been proven to lower stress-inducing hormones.

7. Avoid Multitasking

Most of us feel that multitasking is an efficient way of getting things done, but the truth is that we do better when we focus and concentrate on one thing. Multitasking hampers productivity and should be avoided to improve time management skills.

Make use of to-do lists and deadlines to help you stay focused! This way you can do better at what you’re doing. Wait until you finish one before starting another. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’re able to get done.

8. Start Early

Most successful people have one thing in common — they start their day early as it gives them time to sit, think, and plan their day.

When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed. As the day progresses, your energy levels start going down, which affects your productivity, motivation, and focus[2].

If you’re not a morning person, you can just try waking up thirty minutes earlier than your normal time. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done in that bit of time. If you don’t want to use it to work, use it to do a bit of exercise or eat a healthy breakfast. This kind of routine will also contribute to your productivity during the day.

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9. Take Regular Breaks

Whenever you find yourself feeling tired and stressed, take a break for 10 to 15 minutes. Too much stress can take a toll on your body and affect your productivity.

And even better, schedule your break times. It helps you to relax and gets back to work with energy again later. If you know a break is coming, you’ll likely be able to overcome boredom or a lack of motivation to push through the task at hand.

Take a walk, listen to some music, or do some quick stretches. The best idea is to take a break from work completely and spend time with your friends and family.

10. Learn to Say No

Politely refuse to accept additional tasks if you think that you’re already overloaded with work. Take a look at your to do list before agreeing to take on extra work.

Many people worry that saying no will make them look selfish, but the truth is that saying no is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and your time. When you take care of this, you’ll find you have more energy to devote to the important things, which the people around you will ultimately appreciate.

Final Thoughts

When you get clear about what’s on your plate, you’ll be more focused and get more done in less time.

Good time management requires a daily practice of prioritizing tasks and organizing them in a way that can save time while achieving more. Use the above strategies for few weeks and see if they help you. You may be surprised just how much more time you seem to have.

More Tips on Time Management Skills

Featured photo credit: Brad Neathery via unsplash.com

Reference

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