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Last Updated on June 28, 2018

How I Learned 5 Habits in 30 Days

How I Learned 5 Habits in 30 Days

If you have been reading about personal productivity on the Internet, I’m sure you’ve read plenty of articles on how to build a new habit. One of the common pieces of advice is to work on one habit at a time until it sticks and then move on to the next one. If you try to focus on too many at a time, you will have a high chance of failure.

I’m here to say that is not true.

I found a hack that allows you to learn multiple habits at a time. It allowed me to learn 5 habits in 30 days and I’m going to show you how you can do the same thing.

The flaw in the approach of one habit per period (usually it’s a month) is that the presupposition is that all habits are created equal. This is not the case — because not all habits take the same amount of effort to make them stick. There are a lot of habits that I would say require the commitment of learning one at a time, but what I found is that a lot of habits can be learned at the same time.

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The 5 Habits

I discovered by accident that you can build multiple habits at a time. As I was trying to figure out how to build more habits, I thought one habit per month was too slow for me. So I started to question the common advice out there and look at it from different angles. That’s when I found that the presupposition was flawed and I used this as a starting point to hack the habit learning process.

Here are the 5 habits I made to stick at the same time in 30 days (they are in no particular order):

  • Flossing every morning.
  • Reading a book before going to bed.
  • Drinking green tea once a day.
  • Taking my supplements in the morning.
  • Stretching my body as soon as I get out of bed.

Here is the flaw in the “one-habit-at-a-time approach” and the question that triggered my discovery.

If I want to floss every morning, why can’t I focus on the habit of drinking green tea once a day that might kick in later in the day? I asked myself this question and pondered it for a while. By mere logic, it doesn’t make any sense to focus on one habit at a time if the two habits aren’t related and are not dependent on each other. I can floss my teeth at 8am and drink green tea every day at 2pm. Why would I then focus on just one habit at a time?

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Like I said earlier, not all habits are created equal. Some take more effort to build because of their nature. The list of habits I wanted to work on don’t require continuous focus. Example of such habits that require continuous focus include positive thinking, eating healthy, becoming a better listener and practicing gratitude. For such habits you always have to be on the lookout because you don’t know when you can expect them to be practiced — and most of them have an external component you cannot directly control.

Let’s take the example of positive thinking. You can start your day with positive affirmations, but what do you do when a negative thought comes up later in the day? It’s not something you can predict to happen (nor expect it to happen) at a certain time of the day. When a negative thought does come up, you have to reframe it right away and this can happen numerous times a day. As you can see, such habits require a lot of focus and practice. For those habits — yes, go with the one-habit-at-a-time approach.

However, there are a lot of habits that do no require this much focus and practice.

These are habits that you can only work on when you are int the right location — and at the right time. By their nature you have a lot of control over them when you want to exercise them and I call them “controller habits”. These are the ones you can make habitual very fast with two simple technique that will I reveal. By applying these simple techniques I was able to learn five habits in a month without any problems.

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Pinging and sticky notes

The “life hacker” way of learning these controller habits involves pings and sticky notes. Like I said before, for certain habits you just need to work on them when you are in the right place and at the right time. A ping is sending yourself a reminder about the habit you want to work on. This is a process you want to automate so you don’t rely on your memory. Examples of how you can ping yourself is by setting reminders, automated emails to yourself, and text messages. These little pings will happen at a specific time and will remind you that you have to enforce the habit you want to learn.

As an example of a ping, I set calendar reminders for every day at 2pm to drink green tea. If you have your phone synced up with your desktop through the cloud (like with iCloud, MobileMe and the like), calendar reminders are awesome. You can setup the reminders on your desktop (make sure there are popup notifications set) and each time a reminder is due you will get notified on your desktop and mobile phone. That way you will not lose sight of the habit you want to work on. Whenever you read the ping is when you have to take action to cultivate your desired habit. Remember to do it right after you read the ping.

The second technique requires a simple prop: sticky notes. For each habit you want to cultivate, write down on a sticky note the action you need to take. For example, “floss your teeth” or “take your supplements” would suffice.

Now this is the essential part of making the sticky notes work. Place them visibly at the location where you need to exercise the habit. This is really crucial. This acts like a reminder for you to build your habit. When I wanted to build the habit of flossing every morning, I wrote down “Floss my teeth” and I posted the note on the bathroom door. This meant that each morning when I went into the bathroom, I would see this note that reminded me to floss my teeth. Likewise for my daily supplements, I posted the note in the kitchen on the cabinet where I stored my supplements. Every morning when I was in the kitchen it would help me remind me that I need to take my daily supplements.

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There is another benefit to these pings and sticky notes. Not only do they remind you of working on your habits but they will also help in getting those habits “burned” into your subconscious. The more you see it, the stronger it will be in your subconscious. Each time I go to my bathroom, I read the note about flossing my teeth — but I don’t have to exercise it each time. However, because I’m reminded of it all the time it becomes almost second nature to me — I now know that I have to floss my teeth in the morning. Repetition is not only the mother of learning, but also the father of getting something stuck in your subconscious.

One Last Thing

If you combine both the pings and sticky notes you can learn a lot of habits at the same time. To round it up, here’s how I used the pings and sticky notes to build those five habits:

  • Flossing – sticky note on my bathroom door.
  • Reading – ping at 10pm and sticky note in my bedroom.
  • Green tea – ping at 2pm and sticky note in my kitchen.
  • Supplements – ping at 8am and sticky note in my kitchen.
  • Stretching – sticky note in my bedroom I would see first thing as soon as I wake and stand up.

If you can chain multiple habits, you will create very effective rituals — or “super habits” as I often call them.

What 5 habits can you learn in 30 days? Let me know in the comments — and hopefully with this advice you’ll be able to make all 5 of them stick!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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