Productivity and Habit Formation Lessons of 2016

Trudging through mountains of work, emotional upheavals, and projects taught me quite a few things about how to manage both my time and my mental resources. I’ve definitely made some good habits my priority and stuck to them, while also got on the right path to effectively manage time. Below are six game changers from my 2016.

1. Pomodoro: Last year, I took up more projects than ever. As a result, I’ve had to juggle a whole lot of time-intensive things, while doing a full time job. A major chunk of this overburdening work is writing. I write in the zone, which means that once I start writing with focus, I can go on for hours. But the trouble is that it’s very hard for me to start. Being in the zone is great, but getting there is tough. In addition to this, my work requires me to manage a bazillion tiny things that take up anywhere between ten minutes to an hour to do.

The Pomodoro method is magic. In essence, you work for 25 minutes straight with no distractions, then take a five minute break; repeat. Each cycle is called a pomodoro, and you measure how many pomodoros it takes for you to complete your task. I do not count the number of cycles or follow it militantly, but I do use the method. There’s a cute timer that ticks away to 25 minutes before a ding. It’s almost soothing to work to the sound of the ticking.

(Image: http://brittbrouse.com/2011/02/02/the-tomato-timer-that-changed-my-life/)

The method really hit its sweet spot by using 25 minutes: it’s neither too long that you want to avoid it, nor too short that you can’t get anything done.

2. Bullet Journal: Yes, everyone is talking about this, and for good reason. Bullet journaling has changed the way I do things entirely.

I’ve become extremely stressed out as a person, and one of the biggest side-effects of that is absent-mindedness. I have twenty thousand things to do in a day that I should remember, and I want to monitor what I eat, and I want to make a note of an important life event, and I want to see how many days this month I’ve exercised, and I want to make note of interesting ideas, AND I don’t want to use twenty different apps for this. Enter the bullet journal, a planner, diary, log, to-do list, all rolled into one.

I use a habit tracker that looks somewhat like this:

(Image: http://bulletjournal.com/show-tell-3/)

I initially divided my daily log page into tasks, notes, food tracking, and how I feel mentally & physically. Then I realised that was just unnecessary as it turned out I didn’t have too many things to say about how I feel. So I went back to the standard format of bulleting, while also tracking everything I ate in a small box on the side. My journal pages typically look like this:

(Image: http://www.tinyrayofsunshine.com/blog/bullet-journal-apr-2016)

Everything else is flexible.

It really is a bit of a pain to start off with, but set aside half hour one day to do so. Once you start, it’s incredible. Every month, you can try out a new iteration and see what works best for you. You can track books you read, make travel plans, jot recipes down, have weekly goals, make monthly notes, and more. It’s biggest advantage is that it is super customisable.

I’m not gonna go into details of what a BuJo is. There are ample resources on the internet. But these are the two pieces that helped me start:

If you want to get started or know what in the name of heaven this bullet journal is- https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/how-to-start-a-bullet-journal

If you want more ideas for customisation- https://www.buzzfeed.com/nicolenguyen/genius-ways-you-can-customize-your-bullet-journal

3. Two-minute Rule: A lot of work I get stuck with are small chores that build up over days and then need enormous chunks of time to complete. A prime example of this is email. I habitually put off replying to emails that are not urgent because, one, it requires me to think and compose a response, and two, it requires me to sit with a device in hand yet again. But a good way to free up mental bandwidth is to get rid of chores as and when you can so that they don’t build up into a mountain of work you need to trek through. The two-minute rule states that if you can get something done in under two minutes, do it right now.

This is a good rule to follow to declutter your planner and your mind, keep your surroundings neat and tidy, and a great stepping stone for those who have a habit of procrastinating.

4. Identity-based Habits: I decided to go vegan in November of last year, and I have lived happier since. I don’t feel lethargic anymore, my body feels so much flexible, I’m mentally very alert, and I sleep much better. I also started Crossfit, and my goodness, I would recommend it to any and every person. (Yes, I am a part of both cults now!)

These were two habits that I had to form. Being wary of everything you eat is tough. It’s incredible how much dairy is in our foods whether we want it or not. Eating outside or at others’ houses is not bad these days, at least for me. I’m fortunate enough to mostly be around people who understand dietary preferences and/or how much dairy industry contributes to our degrading environment and accept my choice. But there are some who don’t. The best way to deal with them, and with yourself, is by making your habit a part of your identity.

Instead of saying, “I can’t eat dairy” when someone offers you ice cream, you say, “Sorry, I don’t eat dairy.” This reinforces the habit to you as it becomes a part of you, and it’s easier to not cheat. If you are trying to quit sugar or fried foods, give this a shot.

Additionally, I’ve realised the trick to maintaining healthy eating habits is to never wait till you are hungry to figure out what you want to eat. Actually, I never wait till I’m hungry to eat. Hunger makes me crave things I don’t want, so I constantly eat little portions of fruit or some nuts that keep me feeling satiated before meals. This also helps in reducing drastically the amounts of food you eat.

5. Visual Triggers: An important thing to note when trying to change habits is how things we can see around us affect our actions. For example, I might not be craving for chips or even thinking about it, but if someone lays a packet of potato chips in front of me, I’ll find it very hard not to reach for it. Similarly, I know I should drink a lot of water every day. I do get thirsty. But if there’s no water near me, I don’t drink it. So I always walk around with a water bottle. Even better, on my desk, I try to have a glass that is always filled with water. So I keep reaching for it all the time.

A great way to motivate myself to exercise is to have my clothes for the workout laid down in front of me, so that the thought of figuring out what to wear doesn’t make me push my workout away. I keep sunflower or pumpkin seeds on my desk so that I don’t go to the kitchen and snack on Oreos or get tempted by a packet of Maggi.

6. Buxfer: I have no idea why it took me so long to use this tool effectively, but it is the only thing you’ll ever need to manage your personal expenses. I sync this with my bank, so transactions are downloaded and then easily renamed. I have different accounts for cash, PayTm, and credit cards, and each are easily synced and noted down. I no longer worry about losing track of where my money goes. Buxfer is great and extremely simple, I love it! I’m yet to figure out how to use the Budget feature. Maybe that will come in my next year’s list!

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