Over the last year, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time googling ways to build habits and be more productive. Working for myself and setting routines and deadlines I don’t weasel out of is quite difficult when I’m the kind of person who used to succeed at work by relying on my fear of letting other people down.
I tried attaching tasks to already set routines to build an easy flow to my day. For example, I paired my morning coffee with writing down a to-do list so I could start the day with a visual reminder of what I had to do. It worked for a week.
I tried rewarding myself with something small, a cookie or half an hour of video games, once I completed a certain set of tasks. After two weeks, I decided I didn’t really care enough about those rewards to put in the effort. I also didn’t care enough about the system to come up with new rewards that would help push me through.
My partner suggested non-zero days, which had worked for him in the past. Essentially, you attempt to do something, literally some small thing, so that you make non-zero progress towards your goal at the end of every single day. My brain threw massive amounts of guilt at me for doing something miniscule and crossing off another day of being ‘productive’. Needless to say, it didn’t stick even though I logically appreciated the core concept.
Around April, I came across this article on habit points by Chris Bailey that clicked into place in my head. The idea is quite simple.
- Choose a few habits or behaviours you want to cultivate, and allot a certain number of ‘habit points’ you earn if you engage in it.
- Choose a few rewards that bring you joy, and assign a certain number of habit points as their cost.
- Earn habit points by doing the activities you want to make into a habit, and redeem those points for fun rewards.
The process of building habits is basically gamified here. I adore video games where I can grind for hours and watch the various numbers go up, and this system translates that same feeling into my life. I built a spreadsheet to track my habit points, and it looks something like this.
|Points Earned||Points Redeemed|
Chris suggests awarding yourself a certain number of points every day no matter what so that even when there is a lull in your productivity and you just don’t seem able to do anything, you still get to redeem rewards, albeit at a much slower rate. This also works as a kind of ‘check in’. I open the tracker to add my daily points, and now that it’s open, I might as well see what other work I can do so I can increase my total.
This is the first productivity ‘hack’ that has actually worked for me for more than a few weeks. I created the tracker back in April, and it is still going strong now. Over the months, I’ve made tweaks to the system so that it works better for my brain specifically. I’ve also created charts that let me see trends over multiple weeks. Are there certain days in a week when I don’t get any work done? Are there specific behaviours that have been built into habits? Which tasks do I rarely engage in? These questions help me understand my patterns of working, which in turn motivate me to work better. I do have to consciously focus on not getting sucked into thinking about my productivity more than actually being productive.
Well, now that this blog’s done, it might be time to redeem some points for a Switch game. On second thought, my total is 985 points right now. If I hold out for a while, I can hit quadruple digits. 🤔