Simple Steps to Creating Productivity Habits

Little habits matterHave you tried to change a habit lately?  How easy was it for you?  Are you still struggling with it?

In my last post I discussed how there’s so much great advice out there on how to be more productive each day but most of us struggle to implement these new habits.  Check the last post to understand what’s holding you back.

In my quest for complete transparency here at simple mindfulness, I’m laying out the steps that I’ll be following to kick the excessive email habit and replace it with my new writing habit.  I consciously chose to label it “my” new writing habit instead of “a” new writing habit to further own it.

I’m taking the advice of Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.  He’s the master at creating new habits.  Up to this point I’ve told myself that making these changes should be easy and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to just wake up tomorrow and start doing things the way I would like.  Well, I can’t tell you how many months of this kind of thinking has gotten me nowhere.

So here’s my plan:

  1. Identify the new habit you want to adopt. Only one habit at a time for 30 days minimum.

Old habits:

  • Keeping my email program open all day and checking my inbox throughout the day.
  • Writing once a week when my reminder pops up telling me it’s time to write my next post.

New habits:

  • Check email at 11am, 4pm and 9pm (after the kids are in bed) for no more than one hour each time.  Keep my email program closed the rest of the day.
  • Write first thing every morning.

While this may appear to be two new habits, I’m actually replacing a bad habit (checking email first thing in the morning) with a desirable habit (writing first thing in the morning).

  1. Create accountability by making it social.

Sometimes you can get someone to join you in reinforcing a new habit like exercising.  My new habits aren’t group activities so I’m creating accountability by telling you all what I’m up to.  I’ll report in at the end of each day on my simple mindfulness Facebook page.

I have also added this to the log I keep on my refrigerator where I track three things that I want to keep myself accountable for each day.  I’ll simply put a check in the appropriate column:  started day with email or started day with writing.  The logs I kept for the last couple of months only had “Write” at the top of a column so I could check if I wrote or not.  This wasn’t nearly enough.  It didn’t work.

  1. Make it your top priority.

I’m making writing the most important thing in my day (other than my family and health).  If I have other deadlines or “work” to do, it all comes second.  I’ll figure out a way to make it all happen with writing happening first.

  1. Enjoy the habit.

This one seems like a no-brainer.  Of course I’ll enjoy doing more of something I love!  But I know that chattering little monkey mind will try to spoil my party and bring up all the reasons I shouldn’t be having this much fun.  I’m aware and I’m ready for him.

  1. Handle the temptation to fall back into the old habits. 

Notice that I didn’t say “avoid” the temptations.  Avoiding is pretending they don’t exist.  I know they’ll arise and this is what I’m going to do about them:

  • Start by becoming aware.

I’ll be aware of the urge to check email instead of write.  I’ll notice my triggers, most of which are simply having my email program open and having a pause in my train of thought.

  • Don’t act.

Instead of mindlessly repeating my old pattern, once I notice the thought, I’ll take a deep breath and consciously do nothing.

  • Let it pass.

I know that if I wait long enough, the urge to check my email will pass, just like every other negative thought and emotion.

  • Beat the rationalizations.

My monkey mind will say something like, “Oh, just check in for a minute.  It won’t take long.  You don’t have to go through ALL your emails.  The more you do now, the less you’ll have to do later.  It will be one less distraction while you’re writing.”

I’ll beat these rationalizations by reminding my monkey that those excuses are what leave me writing only once a week.  Checking email is what keeps my stress level higher than I want.  And I don’t really need to be needed that much.  I know that the subtle feeling of stress in my chest that I constantly feel when my email program is open noticeably drops as soon as I close my email program.

That’s my plan and I’m sticking with it. 

Nothing else I’ve tried has worked so far, regardless of how smart I think I am (actually, the whole “smart” thing is usually what trips me up).  Leo is the master of changing habits, given how he has transformed his life.  I’ll be humble and coachable and follow the steps and let you know how I do.

I would love it if you would join me on this 30 day challenge to change a habit.  Leave a comment and let me know what habit you’ll be changing.  Then post with me on my simple mindfulness Facebook page with your daily results.  No judgments.  Only support!  Game on!

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38 Responses to Simple Steps to Creating Productivity Habits

  1. Pingback: My Cold Shower

  2. ioana moise
    Commented:  10/23/2012 at 2:11 pm

    Wonderful ideas and thoughts Paige!
    I love what you said about changing your habits. I believe that consciousness is ALL. Then you can do when you consciously.


    Commented:  08/22/2012 at 12:33 pm

    I live life each day with as much laughter and smiles and happiness, My main happiness comes from being a mother and grandmother. I gave up smoking 9 years ago, which was my biggest challenge I ever had. Mind over matter 🙂 did not know what I know now. I had fibromyaglia for years, lived in pain and in fear for so long. but I over came that too 🙂
    I started reading books about how much your thoughts affect everything. your attitude towards everything you want in your life. I know now all this and live so much happier, healthier and mindful of each thought I have
    I gave up all my addictions 🙂 facebook was one of them I would have to check it every morning when I sat to drink my first cup of coffee every morning, I made a choice one day that I would stop so I did, then it was once a month about 2 months ago I deleted my account, Do I miss it ? NO not at all cause my happiness it all around me my children my grandchildren 🙂
    Life is great and getting even better
    attitude about life changed so much.
    I came across this yesterday at work and I am hooked i Love reading all of it
    so thanks so much
    keep smiling and writing

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  08/22/2012 at 1:10 pm

      Wow Laverne! You’ve made some amazing changes in your life and I can feel how much happier you are! You’ve definitely identified the most important things in your life and make choices from that foundation. That’s the heart of intentional living which is the happiest way to live. Yes, attitude is everything and you’ve got a wonderful one.

      Big, Big Hugs to you!!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How Losing Your Job Can Get Your Life Back On TrackMy Profile

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  4. Sylviane Nuccio
    Commented:  04/13/2012 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Paige,

    We are all so busy that it’s very important to be as organized as we can and develop good habits. One of the first things that I’ve learn when I started studying the subconscious mind is that any habit can be taken in only 21 days. I’ve applied this many times this past 6 years, and it really works.

    For example when I started practicing EFT I was missing days constantly forgetting to do my session. But I finally put my foot down and decided to concentrate on doing it for 21 days in a row it did really become a habit. I never, ever forget about my EFT session anymore.

    Thanks for sharing and have a great week end.
    Sylviane Nuccio recently posted..Why Should You Be Grateful?My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/13/2012 at 9:10 pm

      Great concept Sylviane! I’ve heard of “21 days to create a habit” as well and keep a log on my fridge for 28 days (I add an extra week for good measure) to track my progress.

      EFT can be so powerful! That’s on my list of things to get more consistent with. Like you, I was hit and miss so I haven’t realized its true potential. You’ve inspired me to get serious about it! Thank you!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Simple Steps to Creating Productivity HabitsMy Profile

    Aileen | Kaizen Vision
    Commented:  04/09/2012 at 8:42 pm

    Oh Habits, I know them well 🙂
    Some I love and others well…. lets just say I’m joining you on the 30 day habit change challenge.

    It does need an actionable plan and some accountability. – often times when I have a hard time making a change, I focus on the habits I’ve been able to change in the past and remind myself I really can do this.
    Aileen | Kaizen Vision recently posted..What if I HideMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/10/2012 at 6:05 am

      Thanks Aileen! We can do anything that we decide to do. I’m finding that my monkey mind is sometimes trying to convince me how “important” it is to check email “just for a minute” – and we all know what happens when we venture down that slippery slope. The accountability is really helping me to stay on track. Each day seems a little different (or I’m making it feel that way) so the choice seems easier on some days than others.

      Glad to have you along for the challenge! Feel free to post your progress on my page with me, even if your change is for something completely different. It’s always great to have a partner in the process.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..The 7 Links & 7 Random Facts ChallengeMy Profile

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  6. Jt Clough | Big Island Dog
    Commented:  04/09/2012 at 5:28 pm

    Paige ~ I”m so with you on this habit. I actually started this one a while back while doing the “Habits Course” with Leo. I used to get up in the morning and check my e-mail and facebook BEFORE I even got out of bed on my phone!!

    Really? Sounds crazy but I know I’m not the only one!

    Since then I don’t do that anymore. I’m way more productive. I do write every single day. But here is my struggle. And I’m almost shocked to say it out loud. Fear of success. There it is. It’s true.

    I developed some dog treats around a concept of yeast, itching, scratching and licking in dogs. It took me longer than it should have. Now they are done and my first order was by accident when I was getting dehydrated dog food at the only place on the Island I can get it which is another dog trainer’s facility, my biggest competition as far as who people know here on the Island. I showed him. He loved them. Order 30 packages on the spot, with my website and everything all over them! It’s gone crazy from there.

    And yet, I have the sales page almost done, so I can put them out to so many more, including the e-book I’m writing to go with it. I’ve yet to push publish! WTF is wrong with me?!!! I already know it’s a go. People search for the information that has gone into the treats and the additional info that goes with it every day. And I keep a few things on the project undone.

    I need to get them done and push PUBLISH!
    Jt Clough | Big Island Dog recently posted..Healthy Home CleaningMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/10/2012 at 6:01 am


      You’ve been a big part of my inspiration to write every day. The ways you’ve described your former social media addiction, I know that was a big one to change. If you can do it, I can do it.

      In terms of getting your awesome new products and information out there, obviously the world is impatiently waiting to experience your greatness! You know what to do with any fear? Look it straight in the eye, shine the bright light on it and vaporize it. What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? You make a ton of money doing something you’re totally passionate about and everyone loves you for it. Or (extremely NOT likely) you sell the 30 packages to the one trainer and nothing else ever happens, in which case you were still a success. Face it, you’re already a success. Are you afraid of where you are today?

      I know you’ll hit publish this week. Let me know when you do so I can help spread the word!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How Would $1 Million Affect Your Life?My Profile

    Fran Sorin
    Commented:  04/09/2012 at 9:35 am

    Ahhhh…..Paige… hand hit the return by mistakes.

    Looking forward to checking out your daily progress. 🙂 Fran
    Fran Sorin recently posted..How 18 Top Bloggers Turn An Ordinary Day Into An Extraordinary OneMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/10/2012 at 5:50 am

      How great that must have been, Fran! Three days off! I made a concerted effort to be completely unplugged on Sunday. It felt great to be completely focused on my family and resting (I really needed it) with no distractions.

      Leo’s Habit Course sounded like a really great one! Thanks for checking out my progress on FB! Some days have been better than others but I’m even more conscious of my choices knowing I’ll be reporting them.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Slow Down Enough to Find Your FreedomMy Profile

    Fran Sorin
    Commented:  04/09/2012 at 9:33 am

    Paige…..Good stuff that you’re offering. I took 3 days off from e-mail this weekend….and work….I feel like a different person.

    I did take Leo’s, Barry’s and Katie’s Habit Course. Very, very helpful.
    Fran Sorin recently posted..How 18 Top Bloggers Turn An Ordinary Day Into An Extraordinary OneMy Profile

    Tess The Bold Life
    Commented:  04/09/2012 at 7:56 am

    Hi Paige,
    I have a huge offline relationship with hubs. That’s why I still don’t understand a lot about social media. I check emails too much on my phone when I’m away from my computer. That’s what I need to stop.
    Tess The Bold Life recently posted..9 Tips for a Fearless LifeMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/10/2012 at 5:47 am

      You are so blessed with the relationship you have with your husband, Tess! You talk about it so often that it obviously has such a positive impact on every aspect of your life.

      I used to have the email addiction with my phone until I decided to turn off the data feature. Now my phone is just a phone – no email, texting or surfing. I wait until I’m home on the computer for that. It was kind of tough at first but I quickly got used to it.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..What’s Your Payoff For Being Unproductive?My Profile

    Nea | Self Improvement Saga
    Commented:  04/08/2012 at 11:59 pm

    I love what you’ve written about “handling” the temptation to fall back into those old habits. The temptation is great but you clearly took that into consideration. There was a quote I read a while back that said it’s not what you do, it’s what you continue to do. I remind myself of that whenever I feel like slipping. I also make sure there’s someone around who I can trust to remind me of why I’ve created a more productive and useful habit in the first place.
    Nea | Self Improvement Saga recently posted..How to Forgive and Forget (Or At Least Move Forward)My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/10/2012 at 5:43 am


      That’s a great idea to have that supportive partner to remind you! I rely on my mindful self for that since it’s usually my monkey mind that finds excuses to not maintain productive habits. The two of them have frequent battles in my mind. 🙂
      I like a quote that goes something to the effect of: The actions we’re taking today are creating our tomorrow.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How Would $1 Million Affect Your Life?My Profile

    Sarah O
    Commented:  04/08/2012 at 6:28 pm

    So amazing how our minds have been following the same ideas lately Paige! This whole last week I’ve been talking to myself about how wonderful it would feel if I wrote something – anything – every morning. (at least every week day). And , like you, I know the only way to do it is to turn off the email in-box.

    Sometimes I’m very anxious to see if I received a reply to a work pitch, or some other email I sent out the day before. So I think my new habit will be to set the timer for 10 minutes – scan the in-box for important work-related emails – mark them as important. And then CLOSE BOTH EMAIL APPLICATIONS and set the timer for my hour of writing.

    I also need to get back on the habit of arising earlier so I have so focused time before my husband is moving around and starting his day. That is distracting! My other challenge is to figure out how to organize my Gmail filters. All those blog posts and notifications are way too distracting and I need to get them directly into a different folder than I can peruse at my leisure. I’m ready to stop consuming so much information and start creating valuable , inspiring content and other great things. Great challenge! Thanks for giving me the kick!
    Sarah O recently posted..Twenty-OneMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/09/2012 at 8:22 pm

      Yes, we’ve totally been on the same wavelength lately. I loved your latest post on menopause.

      That’s a great idea for how to start your morning. I find that I quickly open Outlook to check for a specific response many mornings. I end up skimming all the other emails but I’m being conscious about not getting sucked in.

      Getting up early makes such a difference in how the rest of my day goes. I’m looking forward to when my little ones are old enough to stay in bed when I get up early. At this point I’m staying up late most nights to get focused work done.

      An idea for organizing all the blog notifications is to resubscribe to them under a separate email address and send all the email from that address to its own folder. This helps me immensely in only seeing and focusing on things I need to act on when I’m in my inbox and checking that other folder when I have time. There are so many awesome blogs out there, we could spend 24/7 just reading them.

      Good luck with all your new habits, Sarah! You’ll be amazed at the results when you put them into action!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Head vs. Heart: Which Is Smarter?My Profile

    Evelyn Lim
    Commented:  04/08/2012 at 12:01 am

    I used to have the habit of checking my inbox often. I don’t anymore.

    On most days, I check my messages only once or twice. I can also go for 2 days without checking my inbox. My email inbox can be a monster too. I have got thousands of unread emails. But if I need my rest and break, I have given myself the permission not to check my inbox.

    It is the same with FB. FB can get very addictive. I allow myself to post something first thing in the morning and on most days, I don’t log in until later part of the afternoon or early evening. I also don’t have a preference to be on FB at night, at a time which I believe many like to log in onto the social media site. I find that I get more done when I give myself me-time for meditation, ideas, to do my art and be in the creative flow. And yes, writing or helping clients have to be a priority over others.

    Great idea about creating accountability. Being aware and deliberately making a shift helps!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..Law of Attraction: Activate with JoyMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/09/2012 at 7:51 pm

      It sounds like you’ve truly mastered the email and social media demons Evelyn! Congratulations! I completely agree that more “me” time creates more open space to create and be more productive. I’m seeing that in just the past week of my challenge. Reporting to everyone is also getting me to notice the nuaces of this process. Every day is different. Thanks so much for the inspiring comment!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How To Prepare For Your DayMy Profile

    Cathy Taughinbaugh | Treatment Talk
    Commented:  04/06/2012 at 11:55 am

    Hi Paige,

    Great advice to focus and change our habits. i can relate to the email and writing habit and will take your advice on that one. Writing first thing in the morning every day would make a huge change. One thing that I have started is putting the iphone timer on, closing all internet applications and just writing for 30 minutes. I was amazed with what I had accomplished with just 30 minutes of focused writing. I am working on training myself to not be so distracted by everything that pops up online. Best of luck to you with your new habits. Looking forward to reading about your progress.
    Cathy Taughinbaugh | Treatment Talk recently posted..Treatment Talk Monthly Message – March 2012My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/06/2012 at 12:17 pm

      That sounds like a great practice Cathy! And it’s those baby steps of 30 minutes at a time that will move mountains.

      I’m finding that, even if i turn off email, I’m getting distracted from writing and doing other things on my to do list. I think I need to get more focused. I really like your idea! I’m going to start using it tomorrow morning! Thanks so much!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Where Is Your Happy Place?My Profile

    Betsy at Zen Mama
    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 5:56 pm

    I’m with you on this, so I will be checking your facebook page. I’m getting a little better but I’ve totally been ignoring the book that I’ve been working on. Plus, I’m just on the computer too much when I’m home, since I work during the day. I’m trying to spend from dinner until just before bedtime OFF the computer at all!

    Your post is really inspiring me! Thanks!!
    Betsy at Zen Mama recently posted..The Tao of Winnie the PoohMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/05/2012 at 8:29 pm

      We’re alike in so many ways Betsy! I, too, have been neglecting writing my first program. I have tons of ideas and I’ve written the outline but it’s been sitting, getting lonely on my desk.

      Like you, I have to make a concerted effort to stay off the computer between dinner and the kids’ bed time. I work on my laptop on the dining room table in the middle of our kitchen/living/dining area so it’s too easy to take a quick peak at my emails or anything else online. Simply closing the computer makes a big difference.

      Happy I inspired you! You’re definitely a great inspiration for me as well! Thanks so much!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Head vs. Heart: Which Is Smarter?My Profile

    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 4:26 pm

    Hi Paige, embarrassed as I am to admit it I have fallen back into the habit if leaving my email open so I will join you with this one and set times for processing. Remember when you do process your emails to use the FAT method File Act or Trash always aiming for inbox zero!
    Ciara recently posted..5 Simple Ways to Reduce the Stress of School HolidaysMy Profile

    Galen Pearl
    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 4:09 pm

    So many of our habits are below our radar. As Nancy emphasized, awareness starts it all. Great post, and a timely one since I need a bit more in the productivity department this month!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Just a Little Bit MoreMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/05/2012 at 8:22 pm

      Most of our days are made up of habits that we’re not aware of. It does take awareness initially and then a strong desire to change.

      Hope I can help with your productivity this month Galen!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Head vs. Heart: Which Is Smarter?My Profile

      Commented:  11/20/2012 at 12:53 am

      It’s really hard to say that just one thing from this list iiprnses me because it all does! Especially this time of year. I feel that this time of year I tend to question myself, my artistic ability, my business smarts, etc., etc. Mostly I think it’s that I need to BE ME that might inspire me most. And not only because Oscar Wilde is one of my all time favorite writers and I absolutely LOVE that quote, but also because I need to remember that who I am is fabulous and that I should be proud to be who I am! Thank you for sharing this! It really comes at a perfect time!

    Nancy Shields
    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 10:11 am

    Wonderful ideas and thoughts Paige!

    I like what you have stated about changing your habits. I think AWARENESS is ALL. Then you can act once you make this aware.

    In gratitude,
    Nancy Shields recently posted..5 Universal Lies that Unmistakably Lead You to Struggle in Loneliness and FearMy Profile

    Dennis @ selfhelpURLS
    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for your simple steps. Really a simple, easy to follow plan! 🙂

    My new habit is to read at least ONE self improvement article and digest it. I love my new habit – it fills my life with more knowledge and I feel awesome!


    Vidya Sury
    Commented:  04/05/2012 at 6:23 am

    Paige, email is my bete noire too. As I told you in an earlier comment – I found keeping that mailbox open all day just sucked up time set aside for many other things. Then I decided NOT to check email first thing in the morning. Here’s what I did:

    a/ changed my home page in the browser from the gmail log in page. This meant an extra step to go to the sign in page – and a reminder to tell me to chill.
    b/ start the day with “work”. For me this is writing for client projects – and working on this for an hour put me in a different frame of mind, so that when I do check email, I keep track of the time I allotted myself to do it – and i am eager to return to work.
    c/ when i check email at 10 am – i only see the subject lines. I’ve set filters for work emails and colored the labels brightly so that i only need to see those. everything else can wait. This takes not more than 15 minutes.
    d/ at 12 – i log in again. i use the gmail vertical split view to preview emails and delete/archive/mark for action as i go. Takes half an hour
    e/ at 4 i spend time on social media – about half an hour
    f/ at 9 pm – i log into email again to tackle any leftover stuff and visit blog posts, etc.
    g/ oh, i don’t sign in to chat 😀

    This is what am doing. I also make a priority list of to-do stuff and allot time for each. So far so good. It does not mean i am super-strict with this – but I manage to handle it all far better.

    😀 Hugs – I was about to write a post on productivity – so don’t wonder why you heard all this before.

    I am sure you’ll overcome the email demon.

    Did i tell you I love you?
    Vidya Sury recently posted..Does A Positive Attitude Work?My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  04/05/2012 at 8:16 pm

      I love you too, dear sister!

      That sounds like a great plan for your day! Although I have a gmail account, I have 8 different email addresses on completely different systems so I have them all automatically dumped into my Outlook.

      Today I didn’t open my Outlook until almost 6pm (yeah for me!) and got all kinds of things done. Unfortunately, I missed a conference call because all my reminders are in Outlook. If something doesn’t pop up in front of me reminding me to do something, I will forget. I now have a plan for this one.

      I would love to read a post from you on productivity! It sounds like you’ve definitely got things figured out while I’m a work in process. 🙂
      Paige Burkes recently posted..What’s Your Payoff For Being Unproductive?My Profile


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