Increase productivity and focus by adopting these simple changes to your morning routine.
What are micro-habits?
Let’s say you set a milestone goal (those big, audacious goals that seem attainable – but barely) to compete in an upcoming triathlon in your city. You have imagined the finish line, how good it will feel for strong, confident you to cross that threshold. Your higher brain functions are buzzing with possibility. You know in order to train for that competition you need to be in the gym regularly but right now you only average treadmill time 1-2 days a week. It might seem daunting to go from (almost) zero to 3 hours of gym time six days a week to get ready for the competition. This is an easy spot for your brain – your lizard brain responsible for habit and instinct to be precise – to tell you its time to give up. Getting to that finish line from where you’re starting is impossible.
But we know its not because we’ve seen others reach these same goals. So how do you break through the doubt and inertia of your current situation to get to where you want to go? The answer lies in the simple yet powerful psychological connection of intention to action in the micro-habit.
Micro-habits are simple tasks that can be adopted into our lives quickly and easily. Like the Trojan horse at the gates of the city, micro-habits are simple enough that they avoid any indicators of threat (“something might be changing!”) that can produce a stress response in our bodies when we feel unsure of the outcome. This is because life still seems relatively the same with some minor tweaks. In reality, these small changes in behavior are positioning us favorably to leap from current to desired state. These sneaky little life adjustments give us confidence that we can in fact reach our milestone goal because hey — we made this change so why not another? A few more? Micro habits break us out of the inertia of current state to create new, lasting habits that will set us up for long term success.
Micro-habits: Simple tasks that can be adopted into our lives quickly and easily that break us out of the inertia of current state to create new, lasting habits for long term success.
If you have a long term goal of increased productivity and focus but you are unsure how to actually get to that super productive state, micro-habits can be applied to help bridge the gap. Consider the following five productivity and focus micro-habits and adopt a few into your routine tomorrow. Like your results? Adopt one more the next day and see if you get closer to your goals this week.
1 – Wake up half an hour earlier than necessary
Half an hour will not make or break your sleep routine and gives you important time to acclimate to the new day. If you can wake up before others in the household that’s bonus points to give yourself quiet, focused morning time. In that extra time set your intentions for the day — visualize how you want to feel as you are getting ready for bed that night and what actions will contribute to getting you there. As you get used to this adjustment in your schedule consider adding other positive elements to help balance your life that you otherwise wouldn’t have time for. Perhaps yoga is added into your morning routine, or you might read an industry article over your morning coffee. Avoid scrolling through your phone for half an hour and be purposeful with that time. The point is to avoid waking up rushed and set a positive tone for your day. This will ultimately set you up to intentionally design each day which increases focus.
2 – Make your bed
If you’re not already doing this let me clue you in — it’s time. Making your bed is a weirdly powerful task that signals that sleep is done and the morning has begun. Plus this simple act de-clutters your space visually in a massive way that indicates to your brain — my living space is put together, I am put together. Get a jump start on your morning and make your bed and notice how you feel. Having a clean and ordered personal space helps tame anxiety and reduces distractions throughout your day. This micro-habit is a terrific foundation to eventually address the rest of your space — if I can make my bed routinely I can take another five minutes and put away clean laundry. And so on. Before you know it a new lifestyle habit is born.
3 – Check your financials
Online banking has made this once lengthy chore quick and painless. Knowing your daily financial status gives you awareness of your short term financial health and allows you to adjust priorities as needed for the day to make sure you stay on track. Did the bill I set up to be paid auto-draft like I expected yesterday? Did I receive the freelance check deposit I was expecting by end of day? What balance is in my bank account today? A quick check of your financials at the beginning of the day prevents surprise interruptions later. By adopting this five-minute micro-habit each morning you are setting yourself up to cumulatively have a strong handle on your finances which is the basis for achieving many of the big milestone goals we often set for ourselves.
4 – Give daily priorities more time than necessary
Look at your calendar and know what Very Important Tasks are necessary to accomplish in your day to achieve your big milestone goals. Make sure you have time to travel if necessary, prepare, and wrap up those tasks and committed next steps afterward. The act of identifying your daily priorities in the morning while your mind is still fresh, and giving them generous time in your day, leads to two important outcomes. First you give yourself the ability and permission to focus on your most meaningful work. Second, you accelerate momentum toward long term goals because you put an over-abundance of resources on those priorities.
5 – Defer less important tasks to…..later
Perhaps one of the most important lessons that agile project management has taught me is that if its not a priority now — why do it now? And if it doesn’t become a priority later maybe it shouldn’t be on the list at all. If you’re anything like me its easy to be excited in the moment and agree to “yes, let’s talk about initiative XYZ!” when you are right in front of a person also excited about this idea. When that day comes to talk XYZ again you should have the ability to look at that topic with a fresh set of eyes and decide if that is still one of the most important tasks of your day.
If you hesitate — defer.
I have spent what seems like cumulative years of my life in meetings out of obligation — perhaps because I said yes in a fit of enthusiasm or I was asked to come along and didn’t want to be impolite. Guess what? I don’t even remember 99% of what those meetings were about. What could I have done with my time that contributed meaningfully to my profession or those around me? Stop wasting your own time and defer that low priority obligation. If its truly important it will come back around and you can re-evaluate priority then. The benefit of deferral is that it leaves you unstructured time to be curious and make connections. This is the foundation for creativity and where the big ideas and breakthroughs come from. Protect your time and give yourself mental space for creativity to flow.
While big milestones add meaning to your life, getting started to achieve them can be a challenge for any one of us. No one knows how to prepare for a triathlon in a day — but you can make small changes today to get you closer to where you want to be. Adopting micro-habits into your current routine helps break down current habits to make room for new areas of growth.
About the author: Hi! My name is Jess Anderson, I am a technologist based in Louisville, Ky. I lead corporate technology product and project teams and am a freelance small business consultant. Two school-aged kids call me mom, of which I am proudest of all. I am in passionate pursuit of a well-balanced life and invite you to come along for the ride. Also find me writing on Medium.