Changing your habits can change your life. Here’s some practical advice that will help you review, analyze, and upgrade your old habits one at a time.
How we build habits
We create our habits based on the knowledge and resources we have at the time.
Our reality and experiences set limits on what we can or can’t do. To make the most of our reality, we use the tools we can access and the knowledge we already have. Other options may exist, but if we don’t know about them, they don’t really exist for us. Not yet.
Sometimes, we have access to other tools, but don’t understand how to use them. Or we overlook creative methods or advanced uses: it’s always possible to use a tool in a new way, but the time we need to put into learning can be prohibitive. It’s easy to focus on getting things done and miss the opportunity to learn how to get things done in a better way.
We also build habits based on what we see other people doing.
This approach to creating habits is efficient, in one sense: it’s a way to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” If a coworker, friend, supervisor, or mentor is successful in a certain area, it makes sense to copy their methods and processes in order to gain similar success.
The need to revisit old habits
However, we often fail to revisit our habits once we’ve established them.
By sticking with old habits and old methods, we can miss out on new tools, approaches, and information. What used to be the best method can quickly become out-dated. What worked well for someone may no longer be the best approach for you.
In many cases, a regular review of the habits, tools, and expectations we have can lead to new methods and better tools. It’s not about getting rid of a habit as much as upgrading a habit. To upgrade a habit, start by reviewing the habits you already have.
How to review old habits
Think of your habits as a piece of software or an app. Periodically, they need to be updated to the newest version.
- You could set a regular time to work on your habits: weekly or monthly, perhaps. Create a recurring event on your calendar or set a reminder. Use an hour or so to review one or two habits and think of ways you could improve.
- Choose to work on habits that will have the greatest effect on your efficiency and your enjoyment. You could spend time optimizing and upgrading any habit, but not every habit is important.
- Review and upgrade the habits that you repeat regularly; upgrading a daily habit has the most impact. Any action you repeat daily can be improved and, as a result, will improve your daily life.
- Review the habits that take up the most time and cause frustration. Start paying attention to how much time these repeated actions take. Something simple in theory (sending an email, updating information, making an appointment, setting up a meeting, making a list, sharing notes) can be complex in execution. More complexity in habits usually means more room for inefficiency and frustration.
- If you’re not sure which habits to work on, track your time for a little while. Use a calendar as a daily log, and record your actions on it for at least three days. (A week is even better.) Then you can look back at how you actually spend your time. It can be surprising to see where your time goes.
How to upgrade old habits to newer, better versions
To upgrade habits, look for tools, methods, and actions that make things easier, simpler, and more efficient. Then try them out. If they don’t work for you, you can always go back to your previous way of doing things.
- Choose one habit at a time to improve. Trying to change more than one habit at a time quickly becomes overwhelming.
- Do a little research on new tools, methods, and approaches. Think about which ones would fit best into your lifestyle and workflow.
- It can help to analyze the way you do things now. A complex habit or series of actions has many elements: which part of the habits creates the highest time/energy cost?
- Think creatively about solutions and upgrades. There might be approaches that look or work differently than you’re used to, but achieve the same goal with much less effort.
- Implement the new tool or approach for at least 2 weeks. Give yourself time to learn and adjust, and use your new habit consistently. Then you can evaluate if it’s a better method for you or not.
Example: upgrading email habits
For many of us, email comes with a very high time and energy cost. We send, receive, and process hundreds of emails in a week.
And we often depend on email as a form of communication for many different types of information: sharing files, giving feedback, making plans or having discussions with a colleague, and sending event invitations. But email isn’t the most efficient form of communication in all these scenarios.
Here are a couple of ways Teamup users can upgrade their email habits:
- Instead of sending an event invitation via email, then having to send updates if the event details change, you can share a customized calendar link and let invitees open the upcoming events directly on the calendar.
- Or, instead of using email to invite people to a group event, share the event as a webpage. Copy the link to the event page and you can share it via text message, in a group chat, or on social media or a messaging app. The event page will automatically update if the event details are changed on the calendar. Invitees can check the event page anytime and get the most recent information.
Keys to success
- Remember to focus on changing one habit at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with change. One positive habit change that sticks is better than many attempts that don’t stick.
- Try focusing on small changes: look for one tiny element of a larger habit or process, and improve that small part.
- Not sure what to change? Track your time for several days to see what’s taking up more time than it should. Laura Vanderkam, author and productivity expert, shares some good tips on how to track your time. We love tracking our time on a Teamup Calendar; it’s fast and accessible on a browser or on the mobile apps.
- Be aware of your own expectations and don’t get caught up in perfection. Small changes become significant over time. Focus on changing one small habit, by upgrading it to a more efficient version. Then slowly you can expand your habit upgrades to many areas of your life.
If you want to try a Teamup Calendar for time tracking (or anything else), you can create your own free calendar here.