One of my favourite quotes comes from J.K. Rowling: “It is our choices that determine our path, far more than our abilities.” I tell this quote to students all the time because I truly believe that anyone can have the ability to live their desired lifestyle, but it is really their choices that will determine how they spend their days.
James Clear, the author of one of my favourite books Atomic Habits says that our daily choices are like casting votes towards the type of person we wish to become. If you want to become a healthy eater, you choose to eat healthy foods. If you want to become stronger, you choose to exercise. Clear says that positive choices are like “compound interest for our future self.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Check out the first 5 of my top 10 tips on how you can make choices that can help to get you closer to the lifestyle you desire:
1. Choose one area of self-care to focus on improving.
Many of us are aware that we need more sleep, more exercise, or that we don’t drink as much water as we should, but it can be daunting to try to improve all areas of self-care at once. Often when we try to focus on everything, we end up achieving nothing. Instead, choose one area to focus on and aim to be just 1% better each day. Figure out how to make that one thing more obvious, attractive, and easier. As written by Barbara Oakley in A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, “If you protect your routine, eventually it will protect you.”
2. Try habit stacking.
Since we are such habitual creatures, it can be challenging to suddenly introduce a new habit and then have that new habit stick. Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to incorporate small changes into a routine that you have already established. For example, sitting down to meditate for 5 minutes right after you brush your teeth (because you already brush your teeth every day anyways… at least I hope you do!). The key to consistency is to treat a habit stack like a single action, rather than a series of individual tasks.
3. Set up your space and yourself for success.
Make sure that you have designated space for work that is not your bed, because no matter how awake you feel, you WILL fall asleep! Having a designated space can help to prime your brain and get it into work mode. If you’re using a multi-use space for work, such as the kitchen table, try creating a work kit that has your laptop and other essentials that you can set up each day when you start working and pack up when you’re done.
Set yourself up too! Get yourself “ready” for work, again to let your brain know that it’s not time to lounge around and relax. Create boundaries with family if possible – tell kids when you will be available so they will know when to expect you and won’t interrupt you as often.
Try creating a beginning and end of work ritual. Something as simple as opening the blinds and getting your cup of tea can signal that it’s time to get started. At the end of your shift, close your laptop and do a “pen drop” to signify that your work for the day is done!
4. Decrease distractions.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is very true. Trust me, if I have a bag of chips right in front of me, it’s going down! But if I can’t see the chips, then I will be a lot less tempted to indulge. I recommended following this “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy for snacks and also for your phone. Try turning off your notifications so you’re not constantly interrupted. Even better, try putting your phone in another room! Whenever I try this, I am always amazed at how much more work I am able to get done. Do you like to listen to music while you work? While I do recommend it for drowning out the noise in busy households, ask yourself, “Is this music helping or hindering?” Sometimes music can be distracting because the lyrics ignite the language centres in our brain – the same language centres we likely need to concentrate on our work.
5. Use purposeful planning.
“If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail!” It’s extremely beneficial to use an external system to keep track of what you have to do and when you plan to do it. Sometimes to-do lists don’t work well because you have not made a clear plan as to how and when you will accomplish your tasks. Writing this in the form of an “implementation intention” has been shown to significantly increase your chances of achieving your goal.
You can also plan and aim to increase day to day productivity by abiding by the Power of 3. Each week, choose 3 major goals you would like to accomplish, then each day, choose 3 tasks that will help you work towards meeting those goals!
And lastly, you can prioritize your task list using the stoplight system, one of my faves. When creating your task list, put a red, yellow, or green dot beside each one. Red means the task is challenging and will require a lot of brainpower. Green means it’s a much easier task and yellow is somewhere in the middle. Once you’ve designated your colours, you can decide which part of your day to do them in. For example, I know that I have the most energy and focus first thing in the morning, so I tend to schedule my red tasks earlier in the day.
What tip resonated with you the most? I recommend starting with that one first. Be sure to look out for Part 2 next week where I will share more tips to help you be happier, healthier, and more productive!