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Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

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    Putting in some extra effort at work can pay off. You can get a promotion or a raise, or wind up on a choice project. The same goes with your personal finances — going the extra mile can help you pay off a debt early or save up for a purchase. You can push through to success in just about anything. But once you’ve achieved your goal, it can be hard to keep up that level of effort. If you’ve been staying late every night to finish a project, you don’t want your boss to start thinking that’s the level of effort you can commit to every project. If you cut way down on your expenses, you don’t want to live a spartan lifestyle forever.

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    Just the same, however, you’ve seen your work pay off. You don’t necessarily want to give up every perk that all that extra work got you. In order to find balance, you have to find a way to keep that momentum going, without driving yourself over the edge with all that effort.

    Looking for Balance

    Keeping up an extreme pace for weeks or even months can turn your extraordinary effort into something that you consider quite normal. That trap can make it hard to take a step back and decide whether you can really keep up this level of effort. However, it’s a necessary step: when you’ve accomplished your goal, considering the work that got you there is important. Of course, your work alone isn’t the cost of completing a project or reaching a goal. There are other costs, like the time you’ve been able to spend with your friends and family, your own comfort or even your health.

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    Life isn’t a balance sheet, but you can tell the difference between your lifestyle at a project’s beginning and at its end. Depending on the benefits, you may decide that keeping up your exertion is well worth it: maybe getting a raise means that you’re getting paid enough to make an increase in your workload well worth your while. But, then again, you might decide that you need to reintroduce yourself to a few things that have been missing in your life: if you stopped going out entirely in order to save up money, allowing yourself the occasional night out isn’t the end of the world — and it might do you a little good.

    If you can decide just what you’ve cut that you want back, you can tell just how much effort you are willing to put into keeping momentum on your goal. Think about the example of saving money by cutting entertainment expenses: you may be willing to continue to keep those expenses down, but with at least a little bit of a budget for fun with your friends. You won’t negate all that hard work of saving money — keeping up at least some of the momentum of your original goal and maintaining your success — but not depriving yourself of all entertainment.

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    Setting Up Balance

    Once you’ve got an idea of how far you’ll go to maintain your success, you can go about reintroducing balance to your life. You may need to inform a few people of your plan to do so, though. If you’ve been putting in 12-hour workdays, it’s probably a good idea to inform your boss of the fact that you won’t be doing that anymore. Many employers will revise their expectations upwards if you’ve gone the extra mile — it stops being extra and becomes required. You don’t want an employer to think you’re suddenly slacking off. But sitting down and talking out the matter can be all that it takes to step down to a more sustainable schedule.

    Depending on just what your goal was, you may find that other considerations must be made. Perhaps your friends or family members changed their schedules in deference to yours: changing that schedule back may be difficult. Being willing to compromise might come in handy if you are ready to cut back on your effort in other areas. Unfortunately, creating a bit more balance in your life may not be as simple as waving a magic wand, but it possible with a little consideration.

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    Key to creating balance is ensuring that you do follow through on any commitments you made upon achieving your goal. Maybe you set a secondary goal — something that provided a little continuation and helped you take advantage of the rush of meeting your initial ambition. Or maybe you have a new project set for you by someone else as a product of your prior effort. You may not be in a position to throw quite as much at your new goal as your last, but if it is important enough for you to follow through on, you’ll find yourself putting at least some effort into it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re able to maintain balance with other parts of your life in the long run. But you may need to set a few initial limits to ensure that any new projects won’t consume your every waking moment.

    With a little care, all that extra effort won’t become an every day expectation. If you’re willing to prioritize other parts of your life, you can build on your successes and keep some momentum without working yourself to the point of going crazy.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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