How to build good habits thanks to automation

January and February have passed. March is slowly reaching its end. But it’s never too late to review and reflect on your actions. You can always handle your matters in such a manner as to make your year great in every way. Read on to find out what tips I have for you regarding this subject.

The end of January also marked the end of the “new year resolution” season, which for many is actually a season of “wishful thinking” or “pipe dreams.” Why is that? Because the reality is that whatever resolutions we’ve made in January, we often tend to forget about by February. We wanted to better some aspect of our lives, but we return to our usual routine. I’ve fallen into this trap myself many times over and just recently came up with a solution that works.

What are some ways of setting and achieving goals?

There are three approaches to setting goals and striving for development:

1) People often set “dream resolutions” – they dream of a better year, imagining how great it would be if all of their dreams came true…

2) The more ambitious of us establish specific goals, such as: “I’ll lose 10 pounds by the end of March,” and then focus on completing concrete steps that will help them achieve their goals.

3) Finally, instead of thinking about specific goals, some people analyze their skills, focusing on what they need to do to improve.

For me, the strategy that works best is the third one, namely focusing on improving my skills. This approach guarantees that even if you don’t succeed in achieving your goal, learning a new skill will allow you become a better version of yourself.

Below I describe how apps for iOS and Mac help me develop new skills, become a better person, and ultimately, achieve my goals – both planned and unplanned ones.

In what areas would I like to improve? (Skills)

For me, this is the key question that helps me decide what I need to focus on. Below I describe some of the areas in which I was seeking improvement… and how, thanks to a few tricks, I finally succeeded!

Why is it about skills and not goals? Because by focusing on building good habits and developing new skills, you’ll be able to create a solid basis for action and gain new “powers” that no one can take away from you. Those in turn will make you act more rapidly and effectively. In the long run, this solution is much better than moving from one goal to another.

That’s why instead of setting specific goals, I ask myself “what do I want to improve?” and then focus on making plans that will help me accomplish these skills.

Reduce the entry barrier

The first prerequisite to creating a regular, persistent habit is lowering the barrier to entry. It begins with very simple things, like arranging icons on the screen of your smartphone. For instance, if you keep the Facebook app on your home screen, it’s likely that you’ll be checking things over and over. But if you move it to a folder on the second screen (and call it, for example, “Time-wasters”), it’ll take you more effort to launch it.

You can compare this to going swimming or to the gym. If you prepare your clothes, shoes and gym card in advance, heading out for the workout is almost unavoidable. All you need to do is grab your bag… On the other hand, the necessity to prepare and pack all your gear right before each outing may lead to second thoughts about the whole thing. These moments of doubt (“maybe tomorrow,” “maybe when the weather is better,” “I’ll pack tomorrow”) are the main source of failure.

Automate using apps for iOS and Mac

Over the past few years, I tried to build certain habits with varying success. It wasn’t until this year that I finally managed to implement them.

To make matters easier, I focused on lowering “entry barriers” by utilizing apps for iOS and Mac, as well as task automation with Workflow on iOS and Animator on Mac.

Here are some examples that will hopefully inspire you to create your own habits for the New Year. I’ve personally tested all of them with very good results. You can start right away by downloading the “workflows” and templates described in this article.

Journaling in the morning and evening with Workflow and Ulysses

Though keeping a journal is typically associated with full-of-drama teen diary entries, it’s a terrific activity that helps improve concentration and boost work effectiveness. Keeping a daily journal and planning your upcoming day the evening before is a practice applied by many famous and successful entrepreneurs. I’ve been trying to keep a journal myself for a very long time. I finally succeeded by designing a simple scheme in Workflow on iOS.

It’s very easy. Each day, I answer a set of questions (what I’m grateful for, what good things happened to me, what I’m supposed to focus on tomorrow, etc.). Next, all of the answers are automatically added to my journal in Ulysses in proper formatting.

I have a separate set of questions for the morning and evening. Before going to bed, I launch the “journal-night” scheme, whereas in the morning, I fire up the “journal-morning” scheme. Workflow works on iPhone and iPad, so whenever I have time and feel like writing something, I just grab my tablet and do that.

An added benefit of this habit is that in the morning, instead of using my iPhone for reading the news, I use it for more productive and positive things, such as writing stuff in my journal. The result is that, over the past few months, my effectiveness has improved tremendously. Not a day went by without me writing something in my journal.

Of course, whenever I feel like writing something down, I can easily do that by launching Ulysses and writing a sentence or two directly within a given day in my journal.

Starting each day with Nozbe

Another easy-to-master habit is a “morning routine.” These are steps that you want to follow each morning to start off your day on a positive note – deliberately and productively. Though it doesn’t sound too spontaneous, it allows you begin the day “the way you want,” not “the way it turns out.”

We all like to do different things in the morning. That’s why you need to listen to yourself, observe what you like and dislike, what bothers and motivates you. Over time, you’ll manage to build your own ideal morning routine.

Having established mine, I created a daily recurring task in Nozbe which I named “Morning routine.” In the comments section, I’ve added a checklist with all the steps I need to complete to have a great day.

My morning routine is as follows: I wake up, get out of bed, go and grab my phone, which is charging on the other side of the bedroom, open my journal, answer all of the questions and when that’s all done, I launch Nozbe, head to the “morning journal” task, mark it as complete and move on to the next things on my list (like brushing my teeth, etc.).

Planning the day with Workflow, Bear and Nozbe

Following the advice of Radek, with whom I co-host The Podcast, I make plans for each day in Bear. The idea is that each day, regardless of the number of tasks on my Priority list in Nozbe, Workflow automatically creates a note for me in Bear for a given day. Inside this note, I write down three most important tasks for the upcoming day.

Using Workflow, I also add half-hour blocks to these daily notes in which I regularly write down my progress, how many meetings I’ve attended, how much time I’ve spent on deep work and other activities… and how much time I’ve wasted on other stuff.

Work and exercise statistics in Numbers

I also keep a separate sheet in Numbers in which I write down various kinds of data: how many hours I’ve worked (conclusions from the note in Bear), what exercises I did (jogging, swimming, cycling or working out in the gym), and all kinds of other matters I want to track. That gives me a good overview of my days and weeks. Later, I use this data to determine what needs to be improved.

The spreadsheet in Numbers is very convenient, as it synchronizes via iCloud on all of my main devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac).

Weekly review with Nozbe

On Fridays at Nozbe, everyone on the team is supposed to do a mandatory weekly review. As part of it, we go through our tasks, projects, calendars and other matters to wrap up the current week and prepare for the upcoming one.

A weekly review is a multi-stage process. To make sure nothing escapes our attention, we use a special Nozbe.how template. Anyone can just load it into their Nozbe account and customize it to their own needs. Every week, when it’s review time, I create a new project from this template and go through it step-by-step.

Habits help you achieve goals!

As the saying goes, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” It’s a proven fact that developing good habits helps you achieve goals. Interestingly, actions that occur automatically are not controlled by the same hemisphere that is responsible for creative thinking. Rituals help reduce fatigue, allowing you to save energy for creating new things. Once established, a habit is so persistent that when you break it, you can easily get back into it.

As my experience has shown me, it’s hard to accomplish goals without applying automation and habits. Therefore, I encourage you to work on new habits and utilize apps and Workflows for iOS and Mac. They work especially well on iPhone, which I always carry around in my pocket. By developing a few good habits, I managed to say goodbye to checking status updates on Facebook in favor of writing things down in my journal, making daily plans and other productive activities.

What kind of habits help you increase your productivity? Please share them in the comments!

Michael
Nozbe founder and CEO. He records a weekly podcast, writes on this blog, and publishes books to help modern knowledge workers get more done and have a more organized (and passionate) life.