We all know planning our time is important. The problem is, most of us know how to stay accountable to someone else, but not ourselves. For much of my life, I’d used my bosses and the Wit & Delight readers to push me toward my goals. That was until burnout hit like a mile-long freight train.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this year thinking about a better way to work. I’ve read no less than 30 books on the topic—on topics ranging from finding your compelling reason to time batching—all of which are extremely helpful in their own right. Yet I found myself applying the same kind of white-knuckling to overhauling my workflow as I did my day-to-day job.
My internal monologue went like this: you’re not doing enough.
What I thought was productive—that mean girl approach to bully myself toward my goals—no longer worked once I started building a better relationship with myself. My inner rebel and inner perfectionist are less effective in driving fear into the heart now that they’re no longer part of my subconscious dialogue. I like to invite them to have a seat at the table and hear them out, but I no longer let them run the show.
My inner rebel and inner perfectionist are less effective in driving fear into the heart now that they’re no longer part of my subconscious dialogue. I like to invite them to have a seat at the table and hear them out, but I no longer let them run the show.
It felt incredibly freeing, to have a full understanding of these two very demanding sides of myself. But I was left feeling a bit directionless without them. After all, most of my success came from feeling absolutely terrified and totally burned out. What if I couldn’t make things happen without killing myself in the process?
That’s when I came to find Atomic Habits by James Clear. The entire premise of the book is to understand the way habits are actually formed in the brain and optimize the way we approach habit building. This helps make new habits not only easier to obtain but also more effective with less effort.
It is all centered around the 1% rule: habits are built from making small, incremental changes, repeatedly. The repetition part, that’s key. And the reason so many of us have a hard time making this seemingly easy approach to habit-building happen is because of our mindset. You have to be OK with going small. With doing the things that your brain will tell you are a waste of time. With ignoring the inner voice that says you could be doing more, that you could get to the end faster if you just worked super, super, super hard for the next 2 weeks. And that’s why so many of us find ourselves burnt out and without the willpower to push toward the finish line.
Break your goal down into the tiniest steps. For example, I’m working on three courses (two are with Skillshare) and they require a lot of mental focus. So I’ve broken the processes down into bite-sized chunks that feel super easy to accomplish. They are so small, I’m only requiring myself to write one paragraph a day. ONE! Some days I do it, and others I feel like I can do more, so I stop right before I hit 45 minutes of writing. I still have energy and I’m excited to get back to work. It’s like going back to school, but I’m holding myself accountable to working in a way that will require less mental anguish, less running around in circles, and a lot more decisive decision-making throughout the process.
I work on my outlines on the same devices, in the same location, five days a week. I have the same coffee, same notebook, same seat at my counter. This was so hard for me to do! I kept finding myself wanting to move to a different table, just to distract myself from sitting down and doing the work. I found making things repetitive is just about removing all the tiny choices we have to make in order to get started on the work we need (and want) to do.
I save all my files in the same place—one that’s connected across all my devices and computers—and I’ve given my team access to it in case they need to review anything. This again saves all those tiny steps and decisions we have to make when communicating with a team every day.
I’ve used this approach with writing, but also with tackling the two smallest self-care habits that I’ve avoided for years because they’re not as big and hard and exciting as, say, achieving a fitness goal. I’m excited to say I’ve been getting 7+ hours of sleep and drinking 64 oz of water each day since July, and it has become so much a part of my life, I don’t even argue with myself when my watch reminds me it is time for bed. Without thinking, I fill up my water bottle so it is ready for me first thing in the morning, and I head up to bed. It’s just on autopilot. It’s specific, repetitive, and easy.
I created a little habit tracker for myself during this process, so I could see my progress over the course of 90 days. We’ve included a free 30 day download for you!
It felt like I had found my magic bullet in adopting these three approaches to working toward new goals. I have since taken James Clear’s course and read the book twice and each time I hear something a little different, with more clarity.
BY Kate Arends - September 26, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.