You often hear about new methods to increase productivity, boost incomes, and raise brand profile. You get advice from experts on habits to decrease clutter, work on the essential, and concentrate harder. You aren’t always told that these same habits and methods can help your wellbeing–and your productivity.
This is why I was happy to come across Atomic Habits by James Clear and watch him talk on the subject in Nashville this January. Clear’s New York Times bestselling book collects all the current research on habits and distills it down to easily applicable principles you can use in your own life and work. In the end, it’s all about building good systems so you see the results you want down the road.
After listening to Clear, I found these three small habits really useful.
1. Stack your habits.
Habit stacking is a great way to jump-start a new habit. The idea is to use a habit you already have as a cue to trigger your new habit. Basically, it follows this formula: After [current habit], I will [new habit].
This idea, which originally came from research conducted by Stanford professor BJ Fogg, can be applied to many areas of life. For example, I found I wasn’t drinking enough water to stay hydrated. So I stacked drinking water onto something I already do, which is drinking a cup of coffee.
Getting my coffee fix is an automatic, preexisting habit. Once I have my favorite dark brew, I will drink three cups of water.
This can be applied to your productivity as well. Clear shared how a woman at a financial firm stacks her habits at work. She said, after she checks future prices, she will email her clients.
2. Change your environment.
A good habit doesn’t stand a chance against a bad environment. This is why those office cookies can keep throwing you off even if you work out and eat well. But if you design your own environment to encourage good habits or discourage bad ones, you will have more success.
I had read Tim Ferriss’s idea of cutting back on technology for wellness. So I designed my new environment to keep my phone and computer out of the bedroom. I would place them in a bowl on my living room coffee table, so if I wanted to use them I would I have to go out there.
When you’re already in bed, you don’t want to get out. This has allowed me to relax at night and focus on my new habit of practicing 10 minutes of mindfulness.
At Clear’s talk, he shared with the audience how he used environmental design to increase his own productivity. When he was writing his book Atomic Habits, he got way behind. In order to complete the book, he decided to change his work environment to make it less distracting.
Basically, Clear made it difficult to look at his social media accounts during the week. He accomplished this not by strength of will but instead by having his assistant log him out of his accounts every Monday–and change his passwords. He would then get the new passwords on Friday, leaving him free to concentrate on the book during the week.
3. Never miss twice.
People tend to be all or nothing with habits. You’re either someone who works out three days a week or doesn’t work out. You’re someone who eats salads or someone who eats office cookies. There’s no middle ground.
The problem is that life always interferes with cues and triggers for good habits. It breaks your routines.
Clear’s advice is we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about falling off track. The goal is to never miss twice. Sure, you may have missed the gym once this week, but that doesn’t mean the whole system is off. Chocolate may come into my office and I’ll have a piece, but as long as I don’t miss my good eating habits twice in a row, I can keep on track.
This can be applied to work as well. Clear shared how he used the idea of never missing twice with his online blog. When he started the blog, his goal was to publish every Monday and Thursday. However, sometimes life would intervene and he would miss a Monday. Instead of giving up writing altogether, he would just get back on track on Thursday. By not missing twice, he was able to consistently publish his blog and grow a following.
All three habits are great. His practical advice has worked wonders for creating habits that stick for me. Since applying his advice, I’ve been able to start new habits, stay focused, and, more importantly, get back on track if I lose out one day.