If you know me, then you know I believe the key to every kind of success is forming the right kind of daily habits. Whether it’s mastering a skill, getting healthy, becoming more organized, or successfully running a business, having the right habits in place is the ultimate answer. Taking this into consideration, I recently began to differentiate between certain types of habits.
A quick recap:
First, there is the easiest habit of all, the “Just Touch On It” type of habit. So if you are studying for an exam, you will have to at least open your books, and stare at them for a minute. Done. What does this seemingly weird, ineffective type of habit do for you? Instead of always putting off difficult tasks, this habit conditions you to come face to face with the dreaded subject every day. By doing so, you will oftentimes end up getting a significant amount of work done, simply because you are already sitting in front of your books. It sounds weird, but it works.
Then there is a second type of habit: The “Quota Approach.” Instead of just touching on something, you set yourself a goal of a specific amount of work you have to get done. So when it comes to your fitness, you might have to do two sets of push ups every day, in order to get those pecs popping. This time, just touching on it is not enough – we are shooting for a specific quota. I like this approach because it allows you to steadily get a lot of work done. The downside is that you have to be careful not to overload yourself. After a really bad night of sleep, you WILL feel overwhelmed, even by a rather small quota. Then you might experience the temptation to skip the habit altogether.
There is a third type of habit, which I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s basically an extension of the “Just Touch On It“ habit, but I think it warrants its own category. I like to call this the “Record It” type of habit. In essence, you again just have to touch on your chosen daily task, but you also need to record how much work you got done (preferably in writing). So let’s say you decided to at least “touch on“ your books every day. But now you also have to clock how much time you spent studying, and note that time in some kind of reference file. Alternatively, you could be recording the number of words you wrote that day. Other possible applications: You could record the number of steps you walked that day; you could write a food journal to track your healthy, and not so healthy choices; and so on, you get the idea.
What does the “Record It” type of habit do for you? It gives you an objective idea about what you have really accomplished that day. Most people, including myself, are VERY bad at estimating how productive they truly are – unless, they start to measure and quantify their efforts. This makes it EVEN EASIER to trick yourself into getting more work done: If you are constantly getting realisitic feedback about your daily progress, you begin to have the very human urge to accomplish a little bit more than you did yesterday. You are basically entering a competition with yourself. This motivates you to get more work done, without the rigid pressure of the “Quota Approach.” But it also requires you to set up some kind of measurement system and a reference file for your data, henceforth creating more work than the “Just Touch On It” habit.
Looking at these different types of habits, you are probably asking yourself when you should start using which habit. That is a topic for another article, but I will at least hint at the two deciding factors. Available ENERGY, and the IMPORTANCE of the habit in question. A strict quota approach, (i.e. doing a certain amount of work each day for a chosen project), is obviously the most demanding type of habit. I reserve that approach for the habit projects that are most important to me. I know this type of habit will take alot out of me on days that I have very little personal energy available, (e.g. after 3 hours of sleep). So the habit project better be extremly important to me, as I have an agreement with myself to stick with it no matter what, even on a crappy day. You really can only do this with a few habit projects, otherwise your whole system will eventually falter.
As a a reverse consequence, the majority of my habits fall into either “Just Touch On It” or “Record It.” In terms of importance, these are all of the projects that are mildly (“Record It”) or even less important (“Just touch On It”) to me. On a bad day I will not feel guilty about cutting these habits short, and just doing the bare minimum. The objective here is to always uphold the habit chosen and to NOT break the chain. On high energy days, you do a little bit more work, on low energy days, you just carry the habit over to the next day.
This might all seem very nitpicky, but if habit building is really the key to success, then you have to take this stuff seriously. Blind activism is not the answer. You will have to get a feel for the tool kit first, in order to have the most impact for your chosen project. Habits and energy management ARE exactly the tools you need, whatever it is you are looking to accomplish.