Have you ever looked at your goals at the start of the year and wished you could just wave a magic wand and have it all happen for you? Because you know that, deep in your gut, very few of your goals will actually be met, even though you fully intend to knock yourself out this year, to achieve them.
Every productivity approach and get-things-done system you’ve ever put in place fizzles out after a few weeks of intense practice and you start looking for the next magic bullet that will absolutely solve all your problems.
And as every single system/approach/app/tool/bloody-expensive-course out there encourages you to set your goals first, you obediantly set out your goals. Hell, you don’t even have to think very hard to get them written down because you’ve done this so often you’ve memorized them.
There is one productivity strategy that will cut through all your procrastination, your time issues, and every justification your incredibily creative mind can come up with for giving up on your goals.
Strategy, not system.
Yes, this is a strategy. A simple approach you can incorporate into whatever system you currently follow…or even if you have none at all. This will still work, even if you do nothing else all year
That’s how powerful it is.
So what’s the freakin’ strategy?
Build habits, not goals.
Sounds simple. Is anything but simple to execute.
However, if you focus on nothing else but the development of productive habits, everything else magically takes care of itself.
I am walking, talking proof of this.
You may have noticed that I spend a lot of time talking about schedules, and quotas, and other anal concepts. There’s a reason for that.
They’re types of habits.
Write a million words this year.
I’ve actually hit the 1M mark several years, including one year shortly before I quit the day job. I’m aiming to hit 1M again this year.
This may seem like an impossible la-la dream of a goal, that could never, ever happen. That’s fine. Pick a number that you want to hit, and do the math.
But let’s use this as an example. Say you decide that you want to write 1 million words this year. Or 12 or 15 books, or whatever your production ideal would be for the year.
Now, 1M/yr IS a goal, but it doesn’t have to be a SMART goal or a constructive goals, or whatever type of goal you’ve been taught to make. It is simply your ideal end point. It’s what’s on the right hand side of the equation, which looks like this:
HABIT + daily practice = goal
The goal is there simply so you can figure out the left side of the equation.
In other words, what small habit, practiced daily (or weekly, if that is the ideal frequency), will give you your goal?
In the example, how many words must you write every day, to reach 1 million words by the end of the year?
Answer: 2,740 words every day.
2,740 words + every day = 1M words a year.
Now, 2,740 words isn’t a tall order. It’s not a stretch even for writers with day jobs. For me, it’s a little over two hours work. Your word rate per hour could be lower or higher (and it doesn’t matter, either way) — just do the math with your own rate.
You can spread two hours of work across a day — an hour on the train to work, and hour coming home and another hour for good measure once the kids have gone to bed.
Or use your lunch break to get 40 minutes in, and two blissful hours after dinner at night.
Or…well, there’s dozens of ways you can squeeze a couple of hours or more out of your day. You may have to give some things up — TV is usually a good first step, and socializing, net surfing, etc. are all good candidates. Try not to sacrifice sleep, though.
You’ve read dozens of productivity books, I’m sure. You know how to prioritize.
When I was writing with a day job, I got 60 minutes on the bus in the morning, and 90 minutes on the way home (when it mysteriously took 30 minutes longer to leave the city than get to it), plus an hour in the boardroom at lunchtime. That got a huge number of words written each year, including, as I mentioned, 1 million words in one year.
This same “formula” can be used for any goal or ambition you’d like to achieve; figure out what you need to do every xxx (hour/day/week/month) to reach your goal, then knock yourself out doing that little daily thing.
The Real Trick
Back to the example.
The trick is to write every single day. Because as soon as you miss a day, suddenly you have to catch up. That’s another 2+ hours extra you must carve out of the day, or an extra hour over the next few days.
This is where a well-built schedule that evolves into a habit will deliver.
Habits put tasks on auto-pilot. If habits are well-established, you can sometime roll into that thing you do after doing something else without thinking about it. If you’ve ever slapped the alarm off, got up and dressed for work before remembering it’s Saturday, you know exactly what I mean.
Imagine that auto-pilot approach to writing every day.
Focus on the habit.
Once you’ve figured out what habit you need to get you to your end goal, forget about the end goal. Don’t do progress checks. Don’t monitor how close you’re getting. Forget it’s there.
Instead, spend all your energy and efforts on establishing the habit that will take you there.
There’s a zillion studies that suggest it takes 30 days for a habit to form.
Have you ever white-knuckled your way through a new scheme/system/behaviour that promises the world, only to collapse after 30 or 40 days of sheer will-power driven effort and given up?
What if you turned that early enthusium upon the formation of a habit, that once formed, will automatically pull you along day-by-day until you reach your goal? When those 30, or 40 days (or however long it usually takes you to lose your enthusiasm for a new system) have lapsed, you don’t have to white-knuckle it anymore, because the habit will take the place of that initial push.
As long as you pay minimal attention to keeping the habit going, day after day, the rest will take care of itself.
Magic, as I said.
Habits are the key. You can set triggers, habit-stack, and fool yourself into completing prodigious amounts of work, because of them.