How Habits Increase Productivity

6:30am. The alarm rings. I’m not sure whether I’m awake, or still dreaming, but the next thing I remember is that I have a sip of fresh coffee and the day can start. On my way to the office I can’t stop myself from thinking that I have no memories how I got up, how I turned the coffee machine on, the first memory is from the moment I tasted the coffee. Does it sound familiar to you?

Human brain has the unique ability to protect itself from burning out, and exhausting the body. It does so much work without us even realizing, and makes sure we have much more than the critical minimum energy to go through the day. And the main mechanism which our brain uses, is the “energy saving” mode. In simple words, our brains try to save energy by automating the decision making process in our minds as much as possible, so that we literally “do things without thinking” – these are actually the habits. Maybe not that intuitive for some people, who believe habits and routines are a synonym of “being boring”, habits are actually the main source of increasing our productivity, time management, and leaving our energy to focus on solving problems, or developing and going through complex concepts.

Going back to my morning habit of having a cup of coffee the first thing after I wake up – I don’t think about getting up and turning the machine on, my brain just triggers the habit of doing so and my mind can use the time to plan the day instead.

Habits consist of three parts:

  • A trigger – that action that gives the brain a signal that a habit should start executing (for example waking up in the morning)
  • A routine – the series of automated steps that we execute based on the trigger (get up from bed, turn the coffee machine on)
  • A reward – the end result which usually gives us a state of “feeling well” (the taste of coffee)

We spend more than 40% of each day executing habits – from checking our mobile every time it vibrates, to always putting our left shoe on first. Sometimes we think they are not that important, as long as we have a strong self-control, or will power. However recent research on the topics proves that creating good habits should have higher priority than strengthening our self-control, simply because when we’re tired for example, our self-control doesn’t work, whereas our habits do execute, as they’re automated, and we don’t think about them. That is the reason I didn’t succeed in making myself have breakfast first thing in the morning so far – because I’ve created the habit of having coffee first, and I didn’t put efforts in substituting that habit with the “breakfast” one (apparently my self-control early in the morning seems to be sleeping as well).

So I made a promise to try and start having breakfast in the morning. How will I achieve that? By simply replacing the routine that is triggered by my “wake up” habit – I will make sure I have a bowl of fresh fruit next to the coffee machine, so that when I open my eyes, I take a fruit instead of a coffee cup. It will be hard, but just for the first around 20 days – that is how long it takes in average to create a new habit, or change an existing one.

Would you also try?

About the Author Julia

Julia Oliveira is a highly qualified IT Service Management and Project & Portfolio Management Senior Consultant with more than 15 years of experience in the industry. She has successfully lead some of the largest ServiceNow projects in Southeast Europe.

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