Focus on the details that make up your day
What we do everyday makes us who we are. Oftentimes you are not aware of the actions you perform regularly. You usually do those actions unconsciously. As a result, it may seem to you that your life is on autopilot. That is no surprise, as much of 40 % of what we do every day is habitual.To combat this feeling of a loss of control and to make changes in your programming, you need to be more conscious of the things you do. Manage your habits, those singular actions like the way you eat, or how you brush your teeth. Also, be conscious of your rituals, the groups of actions you do for example, at the start of your workday or before you go to bed at night, by doing so you will reshape your life into one that is more of your choosing and lived with a deeper sense of both purpose and intent.
Usually, when you want to change some aspect of your life you will immediately look to add a new habit or two, such as exercise and changing your diet. Then after three days, three weeks, or three months you find that you quietly abandon those recently added actions. Even though you knew they were good for you when you first started them, now however, they feel like a burden. That is absolutely understandable. It happens to all of us. What I have found works for me is to consider two ways that we change our habits.
First, to gain a new habit let go of an old one. Multitasking as a method of changing habits is one of the most strenuous situations you could put yourself in. Instead, choose a habit that you want to get rid of and one you want to develop and pair them.
For example, Jim wants to give up smoking because he knows it is not good for his health. Despite that, he enjoys the moments of relaxation he gets from puffing on a cigarette. Smoking makes Jim feel calm and in control, even if it’s for a brief time. Jim is also aware that he is suffering from shortness of breath and his sense of taste is diminished because of smoking. When a friend suggests he practice meditation to help him quit smoking, Jim is presented a way to achieve the desired result with a different action. If every time Jim wants to smoke, he does a five-minute mindfulness meditation, using meditation to manage stress and it would take the same amount of time as smoking a cigarette did in the past, but the results would be exponentially more beneficial. He would experience more calm, have better control of his emotions, not smell like smoke and restore his sense of taste. Now he has a new tool to help him relax and it will be easier for him to give up smoking one day at a time.
As Jim becomes more consistent in his mindful meditation, he can incorporate that habit into his day in other ways. He could make it part of his morning routine or the thing he does before going into a high pressure meeting. Little by little, his negative habit of smoking will be completely replaced with the more beneficial one of meditation. It is important that you assess your habits in the same way. These questions will help you to do that.
- What habits do you want to eliminate or adjust?
- Which new ones do you want to welcome into your life?
- What is one thing you could change in your day-to-day life right now, which would have a dramatic impact on your outlook and personal development both immeditely and into the future?
The answers to these three questions will help you to see your habits for what they truly are. The underlying foundation of your life.
Rituals Big and Small
Rituals are a series of actions you may use in a certain part of the day (i.e., the things you do when you first wake up) or in conjunction with specific activities, like giving a presentation or getting ready to go out on a date. These groups of actions can have a great impact not only on your present mindset but also your future results, making it easier (or more difficult) for you to create desirable outcomes. What are the actions you do in the first 30–60 minutes after you wake? How do you psych yourself up before a presentation? Do your rituals need fine tuning or a complete overhaul?
Manage Your Rituals or They Will Manage You
The first step to managing your rituals is to document them. Over breakfast, or before you start your workday write down what you did in that first half-hour of your day. Repeat this logging of your daily rituals for a week until you have mapped them all out. Your patterns of unconscious actions will slowly begin revealing themselves to you. When they do, you can begin making adjustments one habit and ritual at a time. You are probably saying to yourself, “But John, several of these habits have to go!”
That may be true but you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or shock your mind with a major change. That could devastate your progress. Instead, take it one action at a time. Like a cook perfecting a recipe, or a marketer looking to increase engagements, if you change too many things at one time, you won’t know which of the changes was the one that made a difference. Go slow and stay results orientated. Once you have created and implemented one ritual, work on another. Consider this process a constant maintenance program. Before long, you will be achieving the outcome you desire.
How I improved my productivity
I used to go to work and pick up where I had left off the day before, reading and actioning email. Sliding over to prioritizing the day’s tasks, continuing with a few breaks, meetings and responding to email notifications whenever they popped up on the screen. Then I developed two new habits: Scheduling the next day at the end of the previous one and only doing email three times a day, transitioning to these habits completely changed my work processes.
By scheduling the next day before I left the office for the night, I departed work with a clear mind, and I stopped having to bring physical or mental tasks home. I knew that I had a plan, so I could give the work a break. Additionally, when I got to the office the next day, I could quickly get up to speed on the agenda I had set for myself. The same was true with email. Scheduling email three times a day, helped to turn down the distractions. That allowed me to work more productively and smarter on the activities that were important to me. Putting a stop to multitasking and unfocused, panic mode task management helped my productivity to soar. It is amazing that just by changing these two habits and creating new work rituals . You can do that in any area of your life too.
In conclusion, focus on the details that make up your day. As I stated earlier, it is widely reported that upwards of 40% of our daily actions are habitual. Being aware of what these actions are, and choosing activities that are in harmony with what you want to achieve and how you want to live, will make your life better tomorrow than it is today.
Now that your project is done, it’s time for analysis.