Idea of the Week – How to create Productivity Structures

It’s early February now, and I wonder how many of us kept their New Year’s Resolutions. Or whatever goals we set for ourselves a few months ago.

I wrote here about how to set simple, kind-of-motivating New Year’s Resolutions, that will still keep you going – yes, even mid-February!. And then I wrote here about the Yearly Planner to help you keep track of your goals and spread them throughout the year.

This is about how to create continuous help in the habit change process.

It’s all about baby steps, we know that. But even babies have walking aids to help them keep going and prevent them from tumbling down, when they’re unsure of their first steps.

Structures are Walking Aids

Imagine you’re just starting with your project. You’re enthusiastic and want to devote time to it. Then something appears whooshing by your ears, and steals your attention away. You tumble down.

You get up the next day and say you’re going to work 3 hours on that project.

But whoops! out of nowhere a big task comes bumping down your head, and leaves you panting for air for the rest of the day.

Structure is the fence you build around you, that prevents lower priorities from stealing your time. Baby Walking Aid

It’s the bells and whistles you hang around the walking aid to motivate you.

It’s the colourful prop that motivates you to take another step every day. And, it definitely makes taking more steps easier!

How do you set structures?

Ask yourself:

1. How far do I want to get? What are my baby steps?

2. How much time do I want to devote to this, per day?

3. Per week?

4. Per month?

(Yes, treat them as separate questions. Most people I know would stop at “per day”)

5. How will I keep myself accountable? What are my “bells and whistles” above?

6. What other resources can I use in the process? Who can push/pull me when I encounter difficulties?

Examples of Structures:

- setting your alarm clock 30 min earlier – and actually getting out of bed 30 min earlier every day!

- taking a special route to work that enables you to read 20 minutes on the train

- blocking 3 evenings in your week on a regular basis, for a specific action (and have them blocked no matter what. I do this for my coaching. When a coaching session is moved to another day, I devote that time for other coaching-specific activities).

- having a buddy to hold you accountable and ask you how your task is doing (yes, a coach works very well for that! :) )

- having a mentor to hold regular meetings and get improvement tips (yes, a coach works great for this too! :) )

- setting time for a personal reward regularly. I love watching trailers, and normally on Sunday mornings (after writing my blog post) I go to apple.com/trailers and spend my time there.

- having an Excel file (or anything else that works as a calendar) with your projects list, and reviewing it regularly (say, once a month) – the Yearly Planner works great for that!

- having an agenda where you write your daily appointments (but only if you’re really using it daily).

- changing how you read emails

…and so on.

Enjoy building your structures. Make them colorful! Make them work for you.

And, remember, the whole point of a structure is to have it permanently around you, and to use it constantly. At least, until you’ve made that new habit part of your nature. Then you’re done with baby steps and can start walking proudly on your own.

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