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The New Lifehacking #3 – Avoiding Failure With Improvement Goals

The New Lifehacking #3 – Avoiding Failure With Improvement Goals
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In the prior article in this series, I shared that it’s important to figure out the nature of your current time management system before running to the Internet, books, or programs to find random tips, tricks and shortcuts. I emphasized that when you conduct a random chase, you could end up becoming a tip-a-holic: someone who frantically searches for the latest tip with no real purpose in mind.

For most people, doing an assessment is a good start, but it’s hardly enough. Even the very best assessment that reveals your faults might take you in the wrong direction because there’s an assumption made by the creator that you can’t escape: her/her concept of “ideal” performance. Their particular ideal may not be the same as yours, however.

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After the assessment is complete and you have received the results, the next step is important. In the training I conduct with clients, I describe a range of skills from low to high, using a scale of martial arts belts ranging from White (beginner) to Black (expert.) I issue a warning at the same time: “The point is not to become obsessed about gaining the highest belt possible in the shortest amount of time.” In fact, that’s a good way for you to fail. Instead, you need to set your own goals using the tool’s results. Ideally, your goals should cover each of the behaviors from the assessment, and incorporate a realistic time-frame in which to accomplish them.

Why is this important?

Consider what happens in the life of young tennis players: As they proceed up the ranks, they set goals that are appropriate for their age group. Some just want to enter the top 10 in their city, while others want to dominate their national age group. Neither goal is betterthey are just different.

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As professionals, we need to take the same approach to improving our time management systems. We are all different from each other, and don’t need to have the same level of productivity in order to be effective in our lives. I might be quite happy with a Yellow Belt; a level of accomplishment that might produce havoc in your life. I might not need an upgrade for another ten years, while you might need to put one in place every six months, just to keep up with a fast-changing life.

This may all sound like common sense, but it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom. There are many productivity systems being sold today that promise to “Triple Your Productivity Overnight.” It’s like selling a 10-year old tennis prodigy on the idea of “Winning Wimbledon in 2 Years!” We laugh at outrageous productivity promises but they come in different guises and offer no form of actual measurement: “Save 30 days per year.” “Stop wasting 2 hours per day.” “Instantly double your income by 33.3% by managing your time better.” “Implement this one time saving tip and…”

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Fact from Fantasy

Turning away from outlandish claims, how do you know whether your improvement plans are sound? The following checklist can be used to separate fact from fantasy.

  • Have you done a diagnosis of your current skills?
  • What are the symptoms (if any) that your current level of skills are too low for your life’s demands?
  • Do you know the level of demands to be placed on your time in the future? (personal, business, community, etc.)
  • Are the goals in your plan realistic, and gentle enough to almost guarantee success?
  • What role does changing technology play in bringing new demands in your life?

As you can imagine, a part-time graduate student who is single and has a 5-year-old, has completely different needs than a 24-year-old who’s just entering the workforce. Unfortunately, most books and programs fail to distinguish between them. In their one-size-fits-all thinking they assign them all the same goals… and no idea how quickly they should be accomplished.

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This is a huge disservice. Many, many people fail because they try to follow someone else’s goals at the pace they recommend. They come to learn the truth that researchers have learned: implementing behavior change is tough work and advertising that “It’s Easy!” may provide a catchy headline that sells, but in the end it leads to customers feeling guilty, or that something must be wrong with them.

Let’s back the heck up. We are all different to begin with, so we need to set unique goals that suit our needs, and we need to attempt to achieve them at a speed that almost guaranteed success. It’s time for us to stop failing at time management, and take our destinies into our own hands.

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More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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