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Pick a number: It can simplify your life

Pick a number: It can simplify your life
Number 3

So, what does Jerry Seinfeld and a typical sales person have in common? A focus on a key number. Seinfeld always needed new jokes so early in his career he used a calendar and a big red marker to cross out each day he sat down for a session to write new material. He needed one session per day and made sure every day on his calendar was marked. His number “1” helped him to become number 1 in his area. Anyone working in sales is quite familiar with “meeting the number”, whatever that number is for his or her manager or company.

We often over-think and over-complicate the methods we use for achieving our goals. A great way to achieve our goals is to define a key number and use that as our motivator, measuring stick or target. Here are some examples of how a simple number can positively impact goals and likelihood of achieving them. Use whatever number you want to relate to whatever is important to you. The examples relate to simple numbers (1-10) and are in a range of areas.

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  • Number 1: the special thing you do every day to become number one.
  • Number 2: education – read two books per month.
  • Number 3: dieting – the maximum number big meals taken at a restaurant per week.
  • Number 4: fitness – the number of exercise days per week.
  • Number 5: sales – the number of appointments per week for new prospects.
  • Number 6: television – the maximum number of viewing hours per week.
  • Number 7: goal review – the number of days each week for a review.
  • Number 8: sleep – eight hours per night is best for most people.
  • Number 9: goals – the maximum number of items on the goal list.
  • Number 10: networking – meet ten new people per week (or month).

The main idea here is not to create a list like this one, but to simply pick one or more simple things to attach a simple number to. If exercise is a key, pick the number of sessions per week and put a system in place for getting it done. The simpler the number, the easier it is to remember and visualize it being accomplished. Seinfeld had his big full year wall calendar and reminded himself to never break the chain of marked out days.

Why does this work? Because there is no ambiguity nor is there a place to make excuses when there is sufficient importance put on the simple number. When we establish complex systems for our goals, it becomes easier to defeat them through clever means. They are also harder to remember and visualize. They are also harder to explain to others. With something simple like deciding whether or not to watch a television movie, it becomes easier to switch the thing off if the 6, 10, 2 or whatever hour per week quota has already been met.

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Be careful about building tolerances into the numbers. There is a place for a zero tolerance or zero deviation goals, but they should be used sparingly and only for the main goal. Build in a little flexibility for other goals that are less important. Beating yourself up for not meeting arbitrary goals can be unhealthy. Another aspect is that the goal number needs to be achievable, even under unusual circumstances. Reading two books per month becomes more difficult if you are traveling on a six week vacation and forgot to bring reading glasses along. No need to force-read four the following month or stress yourself out during the vacation because that would be counterproductive.

An important aspect of picking a simple number is that this works better for the long term than for the short term. This technique is great when you are trying to form habits and create lifestyle changes. If you have a financial problem and are working your way out of debt, a simple goal like a “a minimum $20 per day increase in net worth” won’t do much in the short term. After a few years of this, the outcome can be quite dramatic. Similarly, a weight loss goal for an obese person of say “1 pound per month or sustainable weight loss” won’t do much in the first year but it will form the habit for longer term results.

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Don’t forget to build in a termination clause. Keep the weight loss goal going too long and there might be a problem at the other end of the scale. Build in a “mission accomplished” goal number and reward yourself for achieving your desired outcome. Seinfeld probably doesn’t write every day anymore now that his show was a big hit and ran its course. There would have been some great parties and he likely has new goals.

There are a couple points on process that matter. Like with other types of goal setting, there needs to be a visual, tangible way of setting these things down. Use a calendar, notebook, wall chart or some other type of written list to make the number stick to reality. This helps with visualization, demonstrating it to others, maintaining accountability and providing a record. Keep a log of your exercise activities if fitness is your goal. Make it as real as possible. If motivation is a problem, get a partner to help. Having a goal of killing the television viewing won’t work very well if your spouse loves movies but will work great if you are both working on reading more or spending more time in bed.

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So, simplify your life by focusing on key numbers. It worked for Seinfeld.

What’s your number?

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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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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