What do you do with a problem you can never fully get rid of? That’s the question I faced when I began to realize how all of the technology necessary to my life – phone, computer, tablet – was really making me. It’s not an easy question for me to answer, but it’s the one I tried to tackle in my new book, Lifescale .
Because such a large chunk of our day is spent grappling with our devices, it’s important that we maintain the right habits when working with them. Small tasks that take just a few seconds can compound to become so much more over long periods of time, so it’s important that nothing goes unconsidered. Bad habits can hurt your productivity, creativity, and overall sense of well-being.
That being said, it’s not always easy to know which habits are benefiting you and which are dragging you down . Some things you can do to try to determine the success of your daily habits include:
1. Analyzing your time
It’s difficult to know how successful your daily habits are if you don’t know how much time those habits eat up to begin with. Find a time-tracking or smart calendar app that compiles aggregate information on your daily schedule. From there, get into the nitty-gritty of how you’re spending your time: What takes up the lion’s share of your day? How do you spend your downtime? How much time do you spend on your most important work?
Turning your daily schedule into a visible and comprehensible set of numbers is integral to understanding the ways you spend your time. Once you know how your time is being spent, look at the results, and think about the value of each activity proportionate to its share of your day.
If, for example, you find that you’re spending lots of time in meetings, but you don’t seem to be getting very much out of them, that’s probably a sign that you need to plan more productive meetings . Take a step back to think about your habits in the abstract – what do you do that you really benefit from, and what do you do that isn’t necessary to your success?
2. Assessing happiness versus usefulness
All habits develop for a reason. People bite their nails and tap their fingers because they’re nervous, or they breathe deeply when they’re stressed out. Business habits are no different: Workers constantly check their email because they fear missing something important, they check the same news sites to make sure they’re on the same page as their co-workers, and so on. Just because habits have justification, though, doesn’t mean they’re good habits.
Think about all of the small, automatic things you do on a daily basis, and think about why you do them. Anything without a reasonable justification probably doesn’t need to be part of your routine, but most often, the case will be that you do what you do in order to survive, professionally and personally.
As necessary as it is to return calls and check emails, you have to consider the consequences of your habits just as much as you consider their causes. Weigh the professional benefits of a habit versus the amount of time and energy it takes from you on a daily basis. Habits that sprout from your professional life can be important, but they can also creep into your personal life as well and upset your work/life balance. No habit should take more from your overall happiness than it makes up for in professional utility.
3. Trying small-scale unplugging
Unfortunately, the sources of many harmful habits are also the things no one can afford to part with: their electronics. Cell phones and computers seem to demand constant attention, and their importance to our everyday work makes them hard to toss away.
One way to begin to alleviate this issue is with small-scale unplugging. The creative and psychological benefits of unplugging are clearer than ever, but just throwing away smartphones and laptops is still a pipe dream for most modern workers. Instead, set aside electronics for smaller, defined periods of time. Put your phone on airplane mode from the time you start working to the moment you clock out, or ban all laptop use after 9 p.m. These may sound like simple rules, but they can go a long way toward boosting your state of mind over the long term. Small-scale unplugging gives you the chance to see which habits truly are integral to your life and which you can do away with. (That’s not to mention the sanity you may regain.)
Constant distractions are a massive drain on humans’ creative force. In fact, people tend to be most creative when left alone to think and work entirely for themselves. Mandate some unplugged time for yourself, then use that time to flex your creative muscles in ways you normally might not be able to.
Our daily routines are so deeply ingrained that it’s sometimes not easy to tell what they even are. In an age of constant distraction, however, it’s critical that we don’t let our time slip away from us. Focusing on our daily habits and what we can do to improve is critical to maintaining satisfaction in all aspects of our lives.
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