How can I get more done in less time? It’s a question everyone wants the answer to. And that’s not the only one. People are also asking: How can I improve my focus and concentration? How can I do better quality work? How can I create better flow for my workday?
There is one simple thing we can do to answer all of those questions: Build better work habits. It all comes down to the framework we set in place. The structure of daily behaviors that allows us to maximize our time, be more effective in our interactions, and do better work without draining ourselves of all our energy.
Our habits define who we are. They can either limit our capabilities or expand our possibilities. The good news is that we have a choice in the matter. We get to decide what’s important to us and how we want to show up for our clients, our customers, and our colleagues. And often, when we feel something holding us back from where we want to be, we’re simply in need of a habit change—whether it’s a tweak in our routine or an adjustment to our mindset.
Next time you are feeling stuck—or if you simply know you could be doing things better, go through this simple 5-step process to help you improve your habits.
1. Tune in to your strengths.
What are the circumstances that usually lead you to success? Look at past experiences of when you’ve achieved goals or felt really good about a project or interaction. What were you doing at those times? What were all the elements that led to that success?
2. Tune in to your weaknesses.
Identify what usually gets in your way. What distracts you from your goals? When do you waste time, and when are you disappointed with yourself? (As you build new habits, you’ll have a better understanding of how you can build the kind of habits that help you avoid your distractions and conquer your weaknesses.)
3. Where are you now?
No, not your physical location. But what are your current habits—good and bad? What could you be doing better? What are the habits you engage in that you know don’t benefit you? And on the flip side, what habits support you well in creating amazing work? (This is Point A.)
4. Where do you want to be?
What does better look like to you? What are your goals? Are you looking to have a more peaceful day? Are you aiming to get twice the work done in half the time? Do you want better focus? (This is Point B.)
5. Bridge the gap.
Knowing where Point A and Point B are will allow you to bridge the gap between them. And you will use your assessment of your strengths and weaknesses to plan the route. For example, you have poor concentration (point A), and you want to have at least two hours per day of uninterrupted focus (point B). You are really good at focusing your attention on tasks after you do physical activity (strength), and you get easily distracted by checking your Facebook feed (weakness).
Once you’ve decided you are ready to commit to making the change in habits that will lead you to those two daily hours of intense focus (thus creating better quality work), you can make the plan to bridge the gap.
HOW DO I BRIDGE THE GAP?
Sticking with the “increase focus” example, here are a few ways to go about bridging the gap and improving the baseline habits. We’re also going to be keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses we identified.
- Trade out bad habits for good habits. Don’t simply quit a bad habit. Fill the void with something good. Otherwise, the bad habit is more likely to return. If my morning habit is 20 minutes of scrolling Facebook (which does nothing to help me focus), then perhaps I replace the habit with 20 minutes of exercise (walking around the block, doing yoga, or going up and down the stairs). I’m replacing the distracting habit with something that will actually boost my focus and make me feel a lot better. And anytime I feel the urge to scroll during the day, I make it a point to replace that urge with 60 seconds of squats, pushups or stretches.
- Let your environment support good habits. Do you know what happens when I buy ice cream from the grocery store? I eat the ice cream. And if I don’t buy it? I don’t eat it. You steer clear of bars if you are trying to stop drinking alcohol, and you buy running shoes if you want to start running. Create an environment conducive to building the habits you want to create. For better focus, clear the clutter off your desk. Find a playlist of music that helps you get in the zone. Keep a bag of almonds within arms reach so you aren’t distracted by hunger.
- Take baby steps. Don’t try to overhaul your entire life. Make one change at a time. Commit to a small shift. Start with a 20-minute fully focused session, and work your way up to a two-hour session. Or start by simply clearing the desk clutter.
- Track your progress. Committing to the change in habit doesn’t mean it will happen overnight. It takes time. Before it becomes second nature, you’ll need to remind yourself to keep on keeping on. Keep track in whatever way works for you, whether you put it in your calendar or find an app that helps you check off your daily accomplishments.
- Be consistent. Making shifts in your behavior requires consistency. Doing something every third day will be much harder to keep up with than doing it every single day, at the same time. Anchor your new habits to something you already do. If you are adding in a daily walk around the block, then do it every day after lunch, or every day before your first cup of coffee. Something you can be consistent about.
Get excited about what’s possible!
Shifting your habits means you have the potential to create the optimal work day for you. So get excited about the positive results that will come from your efforts. Look forward to the journey of growth and development.
“…the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.” – Dale Carnegie