The 24-Hour Trap: Rethinking Daily Habits

Rituals and habits are hot topics in productivity circles these days, for good reason.

What you do as you manage your daily life matters a great deal. A simple choice to grab a piece of fruit with your coffee in the morning turns you into a person who eats a healthy breakfast. If you get up and write five pages every weekday morning, you will have a manuscript in a few months.

But that last description of frequency–“every weekday morning”–contains an insight that suggests there’s a problem with how we sometimes think about time. Even people with so-called “daily” rituals don’t always do the same things on weekends. They do these rituals Monday through Friday, and as I study people’s schedules, I find many veer from the usual routines on Fridays, too. These so-called “daily” habits actually happen only four to five times a week.

Why does that matter? This insight is good news for those of us whose days can’t always look the same, but who still want to build sources of joy or meaning into our lives. We live in weeks, not days. Rather than succumbing to the “24-hour trap”–the belief that something has to happen daily on weekdays in order to be part of our lives–we can look at all seven days, and find space for things more often than not.

Take exercise for example: Many people would like to exercise more. But then they tell themselves “I’m not the kind of person who can just leave for an hour at lunch each day to go work out.” Or “I just can’t stomach getting up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to exercise.”

This is the 24-hour trap. But if you can’t leave at lunch every day, here’s a different idea. Just one day a week, pack a lunch and comfortable shoes and go for a walk during the time you’d normally hit the deli. Then, one morning per week–just one!–wake up early and use the treadmill gathering dust in your basement. Add in a run around the fields where your kid plays soccer on Saturday, and maybe another run sometime Sunday evening while the rest of the family is watching TV and suddenly you’re exercising four times per week.

It’s not the same time Monday through Thursday, but it doesn’t have to be. Accumulated minutes still matter.

I’ve been trying to adopt the same philosophy when it comes to writing fiction. I’m never going to be Anthony Trollope, working on my novel for three hours each morning. But I block off 5:30-8:30 p.m. one night per week, and another hour some afternoon, and in those four hours I can crank out the 2,000 words per week I need to write to stay on track.

Daily rituals are great, but they are not the only way to make things happen. By being creative and looking at all 168 hours in a week, we can often find space for more things than we think. The 24-hour trap limits possibilities. Looking at 168 hours opens things up.

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Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

How & Why To Stop Procrastinating NOW!

Before you clicked on this article, were you scrolling through your Facebook news feed? Or perhaps you were watching those crazy cats on Youtube? Better still, did you spend an hour Googling ideas about how to make dinner – quickly? Seems a bit counterproductive doesn’t it.

Before I wrote this piece, I absolutely HAD to do the laundry.  But not just the laundry. It was also essential that I wash my hair, did some dishes and emptied the fridge of mouldy leftovers before I turned on my computer, watched a cute cat video on Youtube and (finally!) got to writing.

Procrastination can really mess up your day and it’s like kryptonite for creativity. We can all do it from time to time but, like any bad habit, stopping it is the really hard part.

Procrastination can affect more areas of your life than you might think. Here are just four:

  1. Friendship: Are you always the one who’s running late? Sure your friends joke about it now but after a while you might find the social invites start to dry up. It’s also time to make that long overdue catch-up for coffee (I’m guilty of this!).Procrastination destroys time management and potentially your friendships.
  2. Career: Filling out that job application or meeting that deadline might fall into the too-hard-basket for now but it could cost you that dream job or a payrise – see the next financial point!
  3. Financial: Paying bills late (and paying interest), buying gifts last minute (and paying more) or getting a taxi (instead of public transport, because you’re running late) are all little expenses that add up.
  4. Health: This could be one of the most serious consequences of procrastination. Not making an appointment with the Doctor about that strange lump? Prioritising a Google search over some gym time? I’ve been guilty of the latter!

On the flip side, however, procrastination can (very occasionally) work to your advantage. Like yesterday when I simply had to go to the gym before I put that presentation together. With a clearer mind for a more productive work day, my health and my clients all won!

Generally though, procrastination just leaves you feeling flat and unfulfilled.  I know because I’ve been doing it for years.

I remember back in my school and university days when I still lived with my parents. My bedroom was never cleaner than at exam time. This habit followed me into the corporate workplace but instead of cleaning my bedroom, I’d ensure my email inbox was perfectly up to date and my collection of Post-It Notes was colour coordinated.

Now that my business operates (mostly) from a home office, distractions like the laundry have been known to take precedence over client deadlines (just don’t tell my clients that!).

Unfortunately, despite all the great technological advancements that have been made in this world, those brilliant men and women still haven’t discovered a way to make my work write itself!

Procrastination is like superglue for productivity. You get stuck doing <insert unimportant task here> and your day goes nowhere. Sure you might get to watch that cat video or get that hair out of the shower drain (WIN!) but you’ll also never get that promotion (LOSE!).

Being fully aware that I procrastinate has meant that, over the years, I’ve paid particular attention to anything or anyone with suggestions on how not to procrastinate.  Basically, there is a lot of conflicting information so you have to find what works best for you. Here are some ideas that you might find useful:

  1. Write a list

You might already write a To-Do list but the next step is to prioritise the tasks on that list. From there, you might want to apply some of the next 4 steps to keep you going.

  1. Remove distractions

Distractions could be anything from social media to chatty colleagues. The first step is to be aware they exist then put strategies in place to avoid them. On occasion, I’ve taken my laptop to work from a café with no Wi-fi and put my phone on Flight-mode so that I can’t be distracted.

  1. Do small tasks first

Yes and No. It all depends on what the simple task is. Does it relate to the priorities on your To-Do list? Alphabetising your bookshelf is simple enough but it’s not going to help you get to the gym.

By breaking important tasks down, they’re not so daunting and don’t feel as overwhelming – which we know can lead to more procrastination.

  1. Publicise your intentions

I’m a big fan of accountability and its capacity to kill-off procrastination. In the past, I’ve even updated my Facebook status with intentions, to avoid procrastination. There’s nothing like the threat of a mass virtual butt-kicking to get me working.

  1. Start small

This is by far my favorite tip for pulverising  procrastination and it’s very different to the first point about starting small tasks first.

Here, the focus is on doing something, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. “Just Do It” is how Nike would put it. “Just Start It” is how I would put it.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be started. Or as Elizabeth Gilbert put it, ‘Done is better than good.’

There’s also some interesting science to this concept that I think you’ll be interested in. The Zeigarnik effect was first conceived by Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s. It’s a productivity boosting concept that highlights the importance of just starting, even if it’s a small start.

Zeigarnik conducted a series of studies and showed that the brain actually prioritises incomplete tasks over completed tasks (you can read more about it here).

So if you just start small, at least your brain will be more likely to remember the task and keep that momentum going until you complete it.

If your procrastination was around writing a report at work (for example). Start small. Open a new word document and save it to your desktop so it’s there for later (unless you want to write the whole thing now – that’s ok too!). It’s a very small but it’s a start.

Or perhaps your procrastination isn’t so much around work but related to your fitness? Again the principles are the same. Start small. Start something, anything – just start.

You might not enter a marathon tomorrow but you can at least walk to the end of the street and back or even just do a few stretches in the living room and work up from there. It’s not huge but it is something.

Ok, it’s time you stopped procrastinating and reading articles online. Get back to work!

This article was written by Lisa Cox.

Chipping Away at Your Goals 10 Minutes at a Time

“Come on, it’s only 10 minutes,” said author Lorne Holden, speaking to me from her home in Stockbridge, Mass., on Monday afternoon. “You always have 10 minutes.”

She was channeling the inner voice that she said chided her whenever she was tempted to procrastinate when writing “Make it Happen in Ten Minutes a Day: The Simple, Lifesaving Method for Getting Things Done,” a 2012 book that entered the pantheon of “… minutes a day” inertia-busting guides.

Among the titles available in the self-help sections are: “Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day,” “Take the Leap: Do What You Love 15 Minutes a Day and Create the Life of Your Dreams,” “Increase Your (SAT) Score in 3 Minutes a Day,” “Write a Novel in 10 Minutes a Day,” “The 10-Minute Retriever: How to Make an Obedient and Enthusiastic Gun Dog in 10 Minutes a Day,” and “The Five-Minute Renaissance: How to Have a Fuller, Richer, Happier Life in Just Five Minutes a Day … Really.”

Really.

The idea behind these and many other similar books is that getting started is the hardest part of forming a new habit or taking on a new project. And that many of us are intimidated by the implicit time commitment involved in, well, say, training a gun dog.

We’re busy. Really busy. Our email inbox is overflowing. Shows we want to watch are stacked up in our DVR queues. Magazines and newspapers beckon seductively, as does the pillow at the end of the day.

The incrementalists believe in setting the bar for daily accomplishment almost absurdly low (the authors of the SAT guide admit in their introduction that they “exaggerated slightly” when promising improvements with just three minutes of effort a day) in order to eliminate the main excuse most of us give for not getting started in the first place, thus overcoming Newton’s First Law, which states that an object at rest tends to remain at rest.

And then, often, ideally, the next part of Newton’s First Law comes into play: An object in motion tends to say in motion.

“Once I start I actually find myself enjoying it and work much longer than the 10 minutes,” reported Eileen Donnersberger, among four dozen readers who responded to the 10-minute challenge for 2015 that I issued in my column on the day after Christmas. Donnersberger’s goal is to finish knitting an afghan that she began several years ago as a housewarming present for her son.

“I’d say I work (on it) an average of 30 minutes a day,” she wrote when I inquired how it was going.

The range of goals is quite broad. I have an assortment of declutterers, novelists, memoir writers and aspiring instrumentalists.

Mary Dobbins intends finally to fill out “The Story of A Lifetime,” a book that asks older people to answer a series of questions about their life and times for the benefit of future generations.

Paul Mouw plans to write “short notes of encouragement to friends, acquaintances or people who could use a kind or helpful word” every day.

Barrie Hinman is going to study herbal medicine using “an ambitious online series of courses I have already paid for.”

The complete roster is online at chicagotribune.com/zorn, and if you want in on it, I’ve extended the deadline to Friday. Write to me at ericzorn@gmail.com.

Once you’re on the list I won’t bug you, but I will check in at the end of the year to see what sorts of projects and goals this micro-effort idea seems best suited to.

The idea is that 10 minutes a day is the floor, not the ceiling, and that with a minimum of 60 hours of effort over the course of a year you can get a lot done that you’ve always been putting off because you tell yourself you don’t have enough time.

But you do. Because, as Lorne Holden insists, “You always have 10 minutes.”

This artcile was written by Eric Zorn.

6 Small Changes to Your Morning Routine Will Transform Your Entire Day

The first few minutes of your morning are the most important of your day and can set the tone for positivity and productivity. Ideally, you have an app or clock that taps into your natural circadian rhythm and wakes you during your “best time” within a certain window. Getting jarred out of a deep REM slumber to the sound of a blaring alarm clock sets you up for a negative day brimming with fatigue and crankiness.

But getting the right alarm clock is only part of the battle.

Here are six ways to start your morning better while kicking bad habits that destroy good sleep hygiene.

1. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of no screen time

Besides turning off an alarm that might be on your phone, resist the urge to check your email or social media. It sets you up for a day of being enslaved to technology, and your morning time should be reserved just for you. This might mean disabling notifications on your home screen so you’re not tempted by that Facebook update or mounting emails.

2. Swap out the coffee for lemon water

Lukewarm water with a fresh lemon squeezed into it has numerous benefits–but you need to drink it first thing in the morning. It starts your metabolism, which burns fat while sustaining muscle, cleanses your mouth and throat, and gives you a boost of energy. Then wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth, drinking, or eating. This might be a toughie for caffeine addicts, but you can manage 30 minutes and it’s a great way to reduce the need for a coffee fix.

3. Sit up correctly

There are many “bad ways” to get out of bed, but only one best way, if your body allows for it: Roll over onto your right side, then push yourself up into a sitting position before standing with a straight back (no hunching). It’s the gentlest way to get up, takes the pressure off your heart and back, and is a great, easy ritual to start your morning right.

4. Set and affirm your goals for the day

While stretching in bed or prepping your lemon water, set some feasible goals for the day, but limit them to three. This might include packing your lunch instead of eating out to save money, committing to that noon yoga class, or scheduling the doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off.

5. Stretch

It seems so obvious, and yet so many people ignore it. You can do this in bed, using a simple stretched-out-legs-and-arms-overhead movement. You can indulge in a supine twist on a padded floor, or you can practice whatever feels right for as little or as long as you like. Your body’s just been booted down for hours–you can’t expect it to be warmed up, energized, and raring to go right away.

6. Meditate

Don’t skip over this one just because it sounds boring or like you don’t have time for it. Meditation is only as strict, long, short, boring, or annoying as you make it. A “successful” meditation in an entire lifetime might be only a few seconds. However, sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on clearing your mind–even if it’s for less than a minute–can help your mental clarity and spiritual well-being and set the stage for the day.

You probably already know which morning habits aren’t serving you, so why keep doing them? Instead, focus on what really makes your mornings better and prioritize them.

This article was written by Drew Hendricks.

12 Ways to Improve Your Productivity in 5 Seconds Flat

Set a mini goal

Before you jump into a task, take a few seconds to set an intention about what you hope to accomplish over the next 20 to 40 minutes or so, suggests Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project.

Read more

8 Ways Practicing Patience Radically Increases Your Capacity for Success

We’re told from a very early age that patience is a virtue. However, very few of us are ever really shown or taught how to be patient. Patience is not something we have; it is something we consciously do. Read more

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