Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to repeat the same activities over and over. This repetition can work for us — or against us. It’s important to stop and ask yourself: “Are my habits truly helping me do my best work? Or are they setting me up to fail?”
1. Maxing Out Your Morning
The first step in building better habits is to maximize your morning routine: Start your day with efficiency and effectiveness. Studies show that we’re much more productive in the morning, so it’s vitally important to create a morning routine that takes advantage of this.
If you have an efficient morning ritual, you don’t need to think about trivial things such as what to wear or what to eat, freeing you up to make the more important decisions. Having a consistent exercise regime in the morning, before work, has been found to make people more productive in terms of time management, interpersonal performance and effectiveness. Investing in yourself and your health pays dividends, especially if you make this a consistent part of your routine, and ingrain it in your subconscious so that it becomes automatic.
A large part of making the most of your morning is being a student of your calendar. It’s hard enough to get people to look at their calendar, but I suggest you actually study it. Focus in on the people, as well as emails, phone calls, texts and social media platforms where you interact with others. This allows you to be very concise and efficient with your time.
Being a student of your calendar will also raise your awareness, attracting more of what you want. Being prepared fosters a vision of prosperity; it’ll give you efficiency, effectiveness and the statistical success of “doing it now.” You’ll understand where there are conflicts, and you’ll know what your objectives are. This vision brings increased clarity and awareness, enabling you to see what adjustments need to be made.
2. Out With The Bad
The next step to building better habits is to be aware of what you need to work on. Most people call these “bad habit.”. I call it the “list of my progression.” This makes it much easier to build better habits when I work on replacing, improving or re-engineering the actions or activities I know I need to progress on.
About 40 percent of people’s daily activities are habits, thanks to our daily 40,000 repetitive thoughts. By making minor changes in your habitual actions, you can yield massive results. Identifying unproductive habits takes introspection, where you take the time to analyze the actions that are costing you the most time or energy. Or, if your ego isn’t in your own way, you can ask others for insight into what they think you can improve on.
In order to improve your effectiveness, it’s important to be aware of what others would call your detrimental habits. It could be checking emails too often, multitasking to excess, unnecessary idle chatter or gossiping, wasting time with meetings, tasks or phone calls that aren’t important, or extending out those calls without any key objectives.
All these progressive habits have a trigger, a stimulus that causes us to act. Identifying your trigger(s) is essential to making a change. Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can replace the activities that need improvement with more productive habits. For example, let’s say a feeling of anxiety or stress (trigger) causes you to seek a distraction, such as looking at cute or funny videos on YouTube (unproductive/progressive habit) when you should be finishing up that overdue project. By becoming aware of what the trigger is (feeling stressed), instead of the old habit (watching several videos to relax), you can pause a minute, close your eyes and take several deep, centering breaths (good habit), then get right back to finishing your work.
3. Cement Your Plan.
Having concrete goals to work toward is another way to improve your daily habits. Know exactly what you want and how you intend to get there. Just make sure you don’t attach your happiness to those goals, meaning you are relying on achieving those outer goals to make you happy, rather than finding happiness within.
Be specific. Make sure the reasons for those goals are aligned with your values. In other words, be very clear on your “why.”
It’s extremely important to keep your eye on what you want; and you must do it daily, for a minimum amount of time each day. Once you’ve established your goals, you need to follow through with an action plan. Pay attention to the errors and successes throughout this journey, and be prepared to make adjustments, if necessary.
4. Check (list) It Out.
Once you have concrete goals, it’s important to show your progress toward achieving them. To stay on track, make checklists of things you need to accomplish in support of your goals.
Using a checklist with consistency demonstrates that you’re humble enough to admit that you don’t always know everything. Checklists have been shown to make individuals in many different industries more productive and successful, and they can easily be incorporated into your routine.
Checklists make surgery safer for patients and help airline pilots prevent errors. Checklists even help venture capitalists to vet companies. So, why not implement this approach as one of your habits? Using a checklist will help you avoid needless mistakes and meet deadlines, while also keeping your eye on the prize.
Make Improvement Your Habit.
Using these four strategies will help you to infuse success into your subconscious. Start every day with a plan of action, work on improving (or replacing) your unprofitable habits, have a concrete idea of what you want in your life, and use checklists to track your progress.
Do this and you won’t just have better habits; you’ll be habitually successful!
This story originally appeared in Entrepreneur. Image courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.