9 habits to create success and improve productivity

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16 mins read
Ben Willmott

Why Create Habits?

I’ve used to struggle to maintain any positive habits, or finish things that I’ve started, whether that’s an online course, a book, or could be jobs around the house.

The impact of this is it slowly eats away at your confidence as this becomes the norm, and to finish anything requires a considerable effort.

A couple of years ago, I set out to change this for several personal reasons, the big one was to improve my overall life at work and at home with my family.

What I’ve learnt over the last year or so is anything is achievable, and we can all change and do things we never thought possible.

I’m still in early stages of this change, but it’s exciting as by changing your habits, you suddenly start to realise what you can achieve and you get a buzz out of doing new things as well as finishing them!

There are plenty of books, blogs and probably courses on habits and how to create them and like anything, you have to find the right approach that works for you.

Below are the habits that have had the most significant impact on me and why. Hopefully, these will resonate with you as well, and you can try them yourself, if they don’t work, then refine them or just try something else!

9 successful habits.png

Habit Creation 1: Planning your week, every week for work and personal goals (weekly)

  • Personal planning every Sunday night
  • Work planning every Monday morning

Procrastination is one of the biggest reasons why we don’t achieve what we want in life. Some of us like to do things last minute, but even if you’re okay with this, it can have a significant impact on others who either rely on you, or you’re relying on them and then they’re not available.

Just by writing something as simple as a list of what you’ve would like to achieve that week, work and personally has a massive affect on if you’ll do it not.

You’re less likely not to work on your actions for the week as you’ve made a promise to yourself, plus you can plan the actions into logical time slots that work for you.

Keep it quick and straightforward otherwise, it will become a chore, and you’ll less likely do it.

Set a reminder for Sunday night (mine is just after the kids have gone to bed) and for Monday morning (when I get in the train for work).

I then just write down up to 5 actions or activities I want to do that week that will bring me closer to my goals or completing a project or action.

You can go a step further and also add these actions and activities into your diary. I find this really helps to keep you focused and stops you forgetting!

For an extended approach to weekly planning, check out my Blog post ‘How to achieve more in a week than ever before

Habit Creation 2: Start the day with a cold shower to kick start your day (daily)

You’re probably asking yourself why right now, why would I want to do that! It is a little crazy, but I love it (most days) for a couple of reasons so bear with me.

Although I consider myself a morning person, I find it hard to shake off that sleepy head for the first few hours of the morning.

Having a cold a shower first thing immediately kicks that sleepy head right in the face, and you’re wide-eyed and ready to go!

Now I have to admit, I’m not brave enough to stay in the shower with the cold water on for the full duration. I put my head under for about 30 seconds, then another 15 seconds fully under (hold in the scream). Then I whack up the heat.

Believe me, this is more than enough to wake you up! The hardest part is not doing that loud scream which wakes the kids up!

The other reason I do it is, this is now a daily habit (weekdays and weekend) and it triggers something in my head that the day has started, so no more leisurely getting ready. It really gets me going in the morning

You don’t have to start with a cold shower, you could just splash cold water on your face from the sink for a while and build up to the shower!

Personally, I’m building up to one day having a house that either has a lake or the sea at the end of my garden that I jump into each morning (long term goal).

You have to start somewhere though, so a shower or a sink is just fine. 😀

Habit Creation 3: Plan your day every day (daily)

So you’ve planned your week, but this at a high-level, so usually up to 5 things.

Planning your day is crucial so that you can work out the detail and finish those 5 things weekly actions by the end of the week.

Similar to the weekly plan, the act of writing down what you want to achieve that day increases the chances of you actually finishing them.

It allows you to be more structured in how you complete your work around other commitments, plus you’re more likely to say no to others when you get ad-hoc requests.

I love saying yes to people as I enjoy working with others and helping them out, if I hadn’t structured my day though, then I was much more likely to say yes far too much.

All these yes’s add up, and ultimately your to-do list just gets bigger!

Daily planning has increased my productivity ten fold

Just before the day ends (I prefer end of the working day), spend 5 minutes or so writing down around 10 things you would like to get done the next day.

I suggest no more than 10 as any more than that, the list starts to become unmanageable, especially when you take into consideration meetings and all the other distractions you have at work.

I then pick the one item I must complete the next day and mark it with an I for important, five or so M’s for Medium and the rest have L’s for Low.

Now I leave work far more relaxed as I’ve already started to plan my next day. It really helps to stop your mind ticking over about work when you get home.

The next morning the first thing I do is look at the list to check the priorities are still valid (assuming nothing significant has happened overnight, I work in an agency so a good chance of this ).

I then drop the actions into my schedule for the day with an estimated amount of time for each one.

You can do this into your work calendar, or create a quick schedule for your day in your note pad. I prefer the latter.

I also write the schedule and actions in pencil as you have to assume something will change at some point.

For an extended approach to daily planning, check out my Blog post ‘How to achieve more in a week than ever before. Or if you need a good note pad, my preferred is the Moleskin lined note pad as it’s easier to write the time slots in.

Habit Creation 4: Turn your mobile off when you walk into the door (Daily)

If you have kids, this  is a big one as it’s no secret the impact technology has on children as well as adults. Even if you don’t have kids and you’re home alone or with a partner, I think this one is still beneficial for you.

In my case, I turn my phone off just as I’m getting off the train, so when I get in, I can entirely focus on my wife and kids.

I was terrible for getting home and still being distracted by work emails, checking the sport and often in front of my family.

All this is saying is my phone is more important than you, and it’s okay to do this when you’re older.

Sometimes I don’t turn it back until the morning as I forget about it now, or I’ll turn it back on once the kids are in bed.

It really does make a difference to your wellbeing and family life. Just ask yourself, do I really need this phone on me all the time?

If you really can’t turn your phone off for other reasons, then leave it by the front door when you get in.

Just somewhere where you won’t be tempted to look at it but you can hear it. Or leave it in your work bag and set yourself a rule that you can’t get it until a specific time.

Keeping it in your pocket doesn't work as I find you look at without realising.

Good bye old friend, I have to speak to my real family now.

Habit Creation 5: Plan your morning every night (daily)

There are two reasons for this habit, depending on what I’m doing in the morning.

I’m an early riser (see habit 10), so some mornings, I’m working on this blog or various other projects related to it before the family wake up.

This time is precious as it’s just me, so I need to make the most of that free time I have.

Otherwise, I may as well be sleeping! Preparing my morning in this way provides me with the right mindset to be motivated, productive and creative (sometimes).

If I don’t plan my morning, then it’s easy to find distractions not to work. As I said, it’s just me at this time to do some really focused deep work, so I need to make the most of it!

These are five things I typically do, all in all, it only takes 5 or minutes so nothing that becomes a chore.

  1. Write down 1-3 things I want to work on the next morning. This helps me just get started straight away and stops me from picking an easy task
  2. I set up my working space, so laptop out, note pad ready and a clean desk
  3. I get my clothes out for the morning, so work clothes and also what I’m going to wear during this pre work working time
  4. A glass of water on my desk so I can rehydrate after the night
  5. Close down all apps on my Mac to remove distractions

If you want to learn more about Deep Work, I highly recommend reading Cal Newport's Book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It’s a great read and has loads of tips and tricks to encourage deep work.

Habit Creation 6: Meditate several times a week to improve focus and wellbeing (multiple days)

If you have a lot going in life, I’m sure you know you can relate to always feeling on the go.

If you’re not working or looking after the kids, then you’re tidying the house, getting the kid's school ready tomorrow etc.

There is always something to be done, but what we don’t often realise is the impact this is having on our wellbeing, concentration levels and motivation for life's other essential tasks.

It’s draining always being on the go, so I started to find time to meditate, and I really noticed an improvement in how long I can focus for and how much calmer I was with all the chaos going on around me.

At first, it was really hard to calm my mind as I’m always thinking of the next thing I need to be doing, but over time you get better at it and although I have good and not so good meditations, it doesn’t matter, as it’s about just having that moment where you can switch off.

Finding the time to meditate is tough for some I’m sure, but I recommend doing it either first thing in the morning or like me, it’s the first thing I do on the train to work. I’m not sat there with my legs crossed humming 🧘🏽‍♂️ just eyes closed with headphones in so no one knows!

I use an app called Calm, which is fantastic as it has hundreds of guided meditations.

I really recommend using these guided meditations as otherwise, you’ll find it hard to do as a beginner. Every day on the app, there is a Daily Calm meditation which is 10-12 minutes long, so short, but long enough to really get into it. Although I pay for the premium version of the app, the free version has loads of content so more than enough to try it out.

This is me every morning, in my head as I travelling into London on the train : )
This is me every morning in my head as I'm travelling into London : )

Habit Creation 7: Leave your mobile downstairs every night (daily)

It’s commonly known that staring at your mobile close to bedtime, or in bed affects your sleep whether that’s how long it takes you to get to your sleep, or the quality of your sleep when you’ve nodded off.

I’ve been caught in that trap of scrolling through nothing important just because the phone is there, whether that’s in the evening or the morning. If you and your partner are doing it, then it’s even worse and rude!

There isn’t much more important than sleep, but we often abuse it. A bad night sleep can impact us in multiple ways and can cause long term health issues.

The simple act of leaving your mobile downstairs when you go to bed helps release tension immediately, gives you time to read a book, chat to your partner and most importantly get better sleep!

Get a great book to read as it’s a nice and relaxing thing to do before you sleep, or chat to your partner before going to bed.

It really helps you wind down and get ready for a decent sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy an alarm clock!

Try not to have one final check of your phone before you leave it downstairs and head up to bed, it betters to do this as far away from bedtime as possible. Hopefully, some nights if you’re doing habit 4 your phone is already off!

Habit Creation 8: Journal regularly to keep track of thoughts, ideas and learnings (ad-hoc)

I always thought journaling was a bit fluffy and a waste of time, but after trying it and doing it for different reasons, I’ve really seen the benefits.

For me, writing something down after the fact really helps me remember it, or think about it differently.

Finding the odd moment to note down your thoughts on a particular situation really focuses your mind on the problem (if it is one) and in some cases allows me to take a step back and not react immediately.

I use it to reflect on a situation that has occurred, this allows me to acknowledge what happened and make a quick note on what I would do differently next time.

I write about positive things, people and events in my life and recognising this and showing gratitude does wonders for your wellbeing.

I also write about ideas and what I want to achieve in life even if some of these goals are years away.

The simple act of noting your thoughts down is the beginning of making these dreams and goals real. Keep a small note book on you or in your bag like this one

To read more about the steps when it comes to reflections, read my post 'Time to reflect and learn'

Habit Creation 9: Start early (daily)

This is a habit or subject that gets a lot of love or lot of hate when spoken about online. All I would say if you’re an early bird then go for it, if you’re a night owl then obviously use the evenings.

If you have a full-time job as I do and you want to do something on the side, then you have to make time sacrifice somewhere.

Obviously, it can’t be during the day apart from some time at lunch, so it has to be either early morning or late evenings.

I prefer the early start as no one is up, and there is nothing to disturb or distract me.

So no kids, work emails, sport on TV or social events to go too.

I’ve been doing early starts since January 2019 and what I’ve learnt and created since then just simply wouldn’t have been possible without them.

There is no point doing early starts for the sake of it, you have to have something to work on, and towards that, you’re passionate about.

Without this passion and emotional attachment to what you’re doing, you just won’t get up, and you’ll soon lose interest.

For more on creating goals that you can work towards, see my blog post ‘6 simple steps to achieve your goals'

If you do want to start getting up earlier, don’t just drop from 7am to 5am in one go. I did this last year, and within a week or two, I was back to 7am wake ups as I was completely shattered during the day.

You have to incrementally reduce your alarm clock wake up time week by week. So if you typically get up at 7, then for one week set your alarm for 6.45.

Then the second week set it to 6.30, third week 6.15 and so on. This is less impactful on you and the difference week to week is so minimal, it’s much easier to do.

I currently get up at 4.30 which 6 months ago I thought it would be impossible to function after that, but now it just feels normal.

The view I hope to have one day from my work from home office : )

There may be times when you first get below the 6am mark you start to struggle a little, if you do, either extend the time you’re at (5.45 for example) for another week, so you adjust.

When this feels okay, then drop it down another 15 minutes. Or if you’re really struggling, go up 15 minutes and stay there for a couple of weeks before dropping down again. Just be patient.

Now I’m not saying I spring out of bed every day and some days are easier than others, but the early starts along with a clear vision and goals that I want to achieve gives me that reason to do it.

If you don’t have a reason, you’ll just fall back to the later start times.

As you're getting less sleep, you may need to consider getting to be bed a little earlier too, just try and find your optimal sleeping hours and go from there.

Over time I've found I need a little less sleep than before, so now I don't need to go to bed early too.

Don’t press snooze and fall back to sleep for 5-10 minutes, you fall back into a deep sleep then wake up to quickly, you’ll feel a lot worse.

If you've have a night out and you’re out late, then just use common sense and don’t do the early start as you’ll be shattered.

I look at the optimum sleep hours needed, then adjust my wake up time accordingly. It’s helpful that I have two young children, so my social life isn’t too crazy!

So, in summary, think about what really drives you and what you want to achieve, then create the habits that will get you there whether they're short or long term changes or goals.

If it's long term then doing small habits every day, for multiple days and multiple years will it get you to your extraordinary life and achieve those goals.

Remember not every habit has to be daily, but once you have created a habit and after a month or two of doing it, ask yourself what new habits can you create?

Review your habits regularly, so you can adjust or improve them. Or use apps like Streaks as another way to encourage you to complete your habits.

Last habit suggestion, read one of my blog posts each week : )

Ben Willmott
Ben is the founder of the PPM Academy, which provides training and coaching for project managers at all levels of experience.

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