Founder Diary

November 30, 2021

Don't let habits form you

Don't let habits form you

Habits are just a means to an end. “Habit awareness” is how you take back control over your progress.

A hamster carrying a tall stack of dishes from its desk to the kitchen.
A hamster carrying a tall stack of dishes from its desk to the kitchen.
A hamster carrying a tall stack of dishes from its desk to the kitchen.
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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Do you control your habits, or do they control you?

While some habits, like going to the gym twice a week, are conscious, most remain under our radar. By default, they're hard to recognize and control, but overpowering in their effect on our progress (or lack thereof). That's why it's useful to practice "habit awareness" to be able to identify, challenge and change our entrenched routines. This is no small feat, but there are a few approaches that help me keep my head above water.

Habits are just tools

One definition of a habit is "an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary." I don't know about you, but anything involuntary sounds pretty depressing to me. If you'd like to take back at least some control, you need to take just a little time to consciously analyze your workflow regularly. I try to do it once a week, and it doesn't take long. This “exercise” involves asking a few simple but fundamental questions like,

  • What parts of my workload can be eliminated or automated to save time?

  • What are my peak productivity times and how can I protect those from interruption?

  • What should I do to make sure I tackle the most complex issues during those peak times?

  • What interfered with my progress last week that I can consistently prevent?

These help me stay on top of my habits instead of the other way around, spot and work on my weaknesses before they stand in the way of progress. Staying actively in charge instead of blindly going with the flow saves a lot of time because mistakes are easier avoided than corrected.

On the other hand, there's no point in micromanaging. Not everything deserves to be a habit. Truly valuable ones, like taking care of important but non-urgent tasks before they become pressing, or time-blocking to ensure sizable periods of focused work, are often hard to pick up but pay off handsomely. Non-critical parts of the job probably don't deserve the investment. So focus only on picking up routines that advance your key priorities. Helpful reflection questions: What are the major areas your project hinges on? How do you make sure those get priority attention every day despite inevitable emergencies elsewhere?

Remember that you actually want the benefit, not the habit itself. Habits are your HOW, but they should come from a bigger WHY. Always start with the end in mind and clarity as to the results you expect from a particular habit. Idolizing habits on their own is a sure way to lose the essence behind rituals. Try to avoid bureaucratizing your workflow. For example, popular frameworks like the 80-20 rule, Eisenhower matrix and the like can be useful, but should be employed strategically. They are just analytical tools, so do your best to avoid overthinking your daily grind, and focus only on key habits that make the biggest difference.

Finally, habits are in large part determined by environments. Since your workspace and overall work context are way easier to control than habits, look there first for possible improvements. As always, prioritize elimination over addition. Seemingly small, unimportant changes can have an outsized effect. For example, some people find it transformative to put the phone farther away so they can't reach it easily, or remove entertainment shortcuts from their work desktops to avoid distractions. In the end, proactively designing your surroundings so you get more positive cues for your prioritized habits makes a big difference. Reflection question: What one thing can I change on my desk (or desktop) that will make another task easier or unnecessary?

Let's recap my two posts on habits:

  • Habits rock when it comes to making sure your goals are achieved. They're not abstract good-to-haves, but bring practical (though hard-to-perceive) benefits and increase the chances of seeing your project through inevitable setbacks.

  • To effectively manage your habits, you must be aware of them. This means consciously probing your work routines every now and then.

  • You only need some fundamental control over your most important habits. Beware of excessive self-tracking and bureaucratizing, and only focus on mission-critical routines.

Next time, we’ll talk about why showing up is more important than succeeding and why habits should come before progress.

Thanks for reading!

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