Harness the Power of Routines to Create Habits and Improve Productivity

Woman making her bed

We’re already more than five months into 2022 and, by now, our New Year’s resolutions are either entrenched habits or abandoned goals. Establishing new habits is commendable and worthy of celebration! But what about our abandoned goals?

The good news is that we can create new habits at any time — even midway through the year. There is no magic to starting on January 1st! The habits that have stuck for me seem tiny, but have actually made a huge difference in my life.

Five Steps to Creating New Habits

If you’re looking to create new habits, I highly recommend that you read Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. I have read this book several times and we also studied it in the Solopreneur Academy Book Club. I used this approach to create new habits and will share three of them later in this article. Here are the five steps to creating a new habit, as described in Clear’s article How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide:

  1. Start with an incredibly small habit. Make it so easy you can’t say no. For instance, meditate for one minute per day rather than trying to meditate for ten minutes or an hour.
  2. Increase your habit in very small ways. Make it one percent better every day. You can start with a minute of meditation and build it up by a few seconds every day.
  3. As you build up, break habits into chunks. Clear recommends that, instead of trying to do 50 pushups in a row, you do five sets of 10.
  4. When you slip, get back on track quickly. Abandon your all-or-nothing attitude. If you miss a day, start again the following morning.
  5. Be patient. You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient.

Three New Habits

When I think of creating new habits, I feel like it has to be around achieving great goals. Five minutes of walking seems insignificant when friends are training for a marathon. Substituting fruit for my afternoon cookies seems modest compared to committing to a ketogenic diet. And making my bed every day seems minuscule compared to decluttering my basement.

Nevertheless, this year I focused on making tiny changes and they have paid big dividends. I recognize that the habits that have stuck are things that I can completely control. These include:

  1. Making my bed. My morning routine goes like this: My dog wakes me up and she needs to go outside immediately. I get dressed quickly and rush downstairs before she has an accident. Unless I’m leaving the house (rarely these days), I don’t go back into my bedroom until 10:00 PM and would make my bed in the evening. This year, I did something different. When I went upstairs to brush my teeth after breakfast (a habit I rarely missed), I would step into my bedroom and make my bed first. It took less than two-minutes and I started the day with clean teeth and a freshly made bed.
  2. Filling my coffee pot. First I must confess that I seriously love my morning coffee. Until this year, I would feed my dog breakfast (yes, she pretty much runs my life), fill up my coffee pot, and hang out while it brewed. This year I realized that, while I waited for my lunch to cook, I had enough time to clean the coffee pot and get it set up for the next morning’s coffee. So now, before I open the fridge in the morning to retrieve the dog food, I start my coffee maker. I have freshly brewed coffee ready and I don’t have to wait. I can’t overstate how happy this makes me every morning and I wish I’d thought of it years ago.
  3. Planning at night. I have always created a daily “To Do” list before I started work. This year, I started writing my “To Do” list in bed before I went to sleep. I’ve grown to love this practice. It gives me unhurried time to review my day and figure out what I want to accomplish the following day. As a bonus, my brain can ruminate on my ideas while I’m sleeping. I wake up knowing what I’ll be working on and I don’t waste time figuring out what to do next.

Get More Done with Habit Stacking

One of the common elements of my new habits is that they were linked to habits that were already entrenched parts of my daily routine — not the routines of other people in my household.

In his book, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, author S.J. Scott recommends linking habits – also called “habit stacking” — together to create morning and evening routines.  S.J. Scott describes how good habits have eight elements.

  1. Each habit takes less than five minutes to complete. Making my bed, setting up my coffee pot, and planning my day each only take a couple of minutes.
  2. It’s a complete habit. This means that each habit is an action that cannot be built upon. Unlike actions such as exercise – which can always be improved – making my bed is a complete action. Once my bed is made, it is made.
  3. It improves your life. S.J. Scott recommends creating habits in the following areas – productivity, relationships, finances, organization, spirituality/mental well-being, health/physical fitness, and leisure. The habits I mentioned all improve my life.
  4. It’s simple to complete. Habits should be uncomplicated and take only a few small steps to complete. It doesn’t take much brainpower to fill a coffee maker or make my bed.
  5. It takes less than 30 minutes. The author recommends that your complete habit stacking routine take between 15 to 30 minutes so that you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine is simple: Wake up, get dressed, let dog out, start coffee maker, feed dogs, enjoy coffee. After breakfast I’ll being another small set of habits: Make bed, brush teeth, and start work.
  6. It follows a logical process. Your habit stack should be like a production line, with constant action until all of the habits are complete.
  7. It follows a checklist. Do your actions in the same way, in the same order, every day.
  8. It fits your life. Consider your energy level and the time of day while you’re creating your habits. One of the reasons I never made my bed was because I didn’t want my dog to have an accident. So a traditional habit chain – make bed and brush teeth before getting dressed – didn’t work for me. It did work to create my own routine where I make my bed and brushed my teeth a bit later in the day.

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Harness the Power of Routines to Create Habits and Improve Productivity
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