As someone who’s been #workfromwherever boss babe for over 3 years now, it’s taken me a long time to find the value of routine.
In fact, one of the reasons I was so jazzed to run my own business was so I wouldn’t have to live by someone else’s rules.
I wanted full control of my life and my schedule.
But, as you can imagine, full control is not at all what I got.
Instead, my lack of structure brought out some productivity demons that had no problem taking advantage of my freeform work schedule.
I had spent the first year of my freelance lifestyle taking full advantage of the lack of structure. I’d sleep in, cut my work hours short, and procrastinate on business tasks. After 3 years working in an office full-time, I was SO ready to just relax and let my desires take over.
But after about a year, I realized I needed a new set of habits. I couldn’t continue that way, I needed to shape up my life.
I knew that adopting the right set of daily habits that would help me wake up earlier, be more productive, and lead a healthier, more fulfilled life. So I set about finding ways to get on the right track – and stay there.
I’ve spent the last 2 years testing apps, mindset rituals, and habit-building tools designed to bring structure back into my life. In this post I’ll review the 3 tools that I’ve found most valuable, and in my next post, I’ll share how I conquered my biggest productivity demons using those tools.
Tool #1: Daily habits “star chart”
I’ll be honest, this one is my favorite. It was essentially the foundation for the other two tools and helped me establish the intention. One of my close girlfriends is a schoolteacher and had made one for her class. I just had to take the idea and make one for myself.
Of course, being a designer, I made it as bright and visually appealing as possible.
Here’s what I liked about this tool:
- No hiding. Having this chart taped to my fridge every day forced me to acknowledge my intentions and work to build them into my day, whether I was successful at it or not.
- Enjoyable. The act of putting stars on the chart was adorably fun.
- Satisfying. Seeing a “perfect day” filled with stars filled me with pride. Even just one perfect (or semi-perfect) day meant that I was making progress, and seeing that displayed proudly in my apartment was the best part of the experience.
Okay, so why didn’t I stick with it?
- Shame. There were some weeks where there’d only be a handful of stars and a lot of blank space. Seeing that gave me feelings of disappointment, and I was less and less inclined to print out a chart for the next week.
- Overwhelm. Seeing all my ideal habits listed every day made me feel like developing ALL of those habits was too lofty a goal.
- Difficult to customize. Although the chart is beautiful, adding new habits meant expanding the rows, and increasing the amount of complexity I’d have to look at (see: overwhelm). Plus, although I wanted extra points for accomplishing habit goals on the weekend, I didn’t need them to be visible all week. It always left this huge blank spot at the top, making me feel less accomplished than I might have otherwise.
Does this look like something you might like to print out, put on the fridge, and stick stars all over? Download the high resolution BLANK daily habits log HERE.
Tool #2: Ideal week calendar
I owe a lot to Amy Porterfield’s podcast for crystalizing my habit-building intentions and introducing me to this concept.
The idea behind the Ideal Week is to have an underlying structure in place which allows you to make fewer decisions about your daily life, and more easily achieve a state of flow during your “on” (yellow) hours.
Here’s a quick glimpse into my ideal week…
There are a lot of things I like about this tool…
- FOMO no ‘mo. Having a really enjoyable baseline structure to my week encourages me to say “no” to stuff that interferes with my (already satisfying) schedule.
- Foresight. I can see clearly how every hour matters. It’s so easy to put things off when you forget this simple fact.
- Fewer decisions. I’ve memorized my calendar, and know exactly what I “should be” doing at any given hour. Not having to put brainpower into these decisions means that I can save more brainpower for real decisions that relate to my business and clients. Everything else falls into place naturally and becomes habitual.
So what about this tool wasn’t cutting it?
- No interaction. I mean, I liked putting stars on the charts. Being able to track my progress might have felt negative at times, but at least it kept me moving forwards.
- No flexibility. I mean, flexibility isn’t the point of this tool. The point is to have an ideal week in place, and doing the best you can to comply. But that OPEN night on Wednesday ultimately meant nothing, and my evenings were just all over the place.
- No accountability. Nothing about the ideal week calendar inspires me to make progress on habits that matter most. It helps give me an underlying structure to work from, but nothing that says “you did the thing! Look at you!”
Just knowing the “zoomed out” version of what I need to do during a given week has given me a perspective that frees my mind and focuses my efforts.
For example, I knew that I was going to be spending time in Manhattan on Sunday, so I moved my “entropy reduction” cleaning day to Saturday instead.
Knowing that my morning routine, business development time, and co-working hours are built into my busy days makes me feel focused and completely on autopilot from the time I wake up till the time I get home.
Tool #3: Habitica App
After the Ideal Week calendar started to lose traction, I knew it was time to crank it up a notch and get technology involved.
I tested out a few different apps to see which of them offered the tools I needed. Fortunately I didn’t have to look very far, and was immediately recommended Habitica by 3 different friends.
I avoided habit building apps for so long, since I already look at my phone enough as it is. But the benefits are incredible, compared to the other methods I’ve tried.
Here’s what sold me on using an app:
- You can also nix the bad stuff. Not only do you gain points for completing daily habits, but you can also choose to lose points for not completing a habit, or feeding a habit that you’re trying to avoid, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee.
- Daily and weekly resets. When you mark a habit as complete, the row turns green. It’s nice to see the row fill up as you go down the list. For each habit, you can decide when the color resets. So a weekly habit, once complete, will stay green for the rest of the week.
- Active reminders. Oh my god. This makes a huge difference, especially with paired with the Apple Watch. You can set reminders for habits that you want take place at a specific time, or it will just remind you to mark your day’s completed habits (something that will probably give this tool more traction than the star chart).
What would I change about Habitica?
- More variety in habit list interface. Be able to categorize the habits by color, instead of just through filters / tags. I’d also like to see a way to visually separate daily tasks from weekly tasks. As you can tell from the other 2 tools I’ve used, I f*#king love color.
- Better illustrations. Okay so I know this is a personal preference, I just am not a huge fan of pixel art. I’m just looking for more pixels in my avatar. ANY more would be appreciated.
- Analytics. This might be a feature of a paid version, I’ll have to check back on that. But from what I can tell, the focus of this app’s development has been the gamification element, not the tracking / visual analytics element.
I’ll check back in 1 month with a more comprehensive dive into Habitica. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how my Bikram yoga and meditation habits develop. 3 weeks and I’m already feeling zen af.
Here are some questions to consider for your OWN habit-building journey…
- What habits do you want to develop in your own life? Are there any habits you’d like to do less often, or quit completely?
- What are 3 things you’d love to do every morning, to get your day started as enjoyably as possible? How about 3 things you’d love to do every evening, to wind down and relax?
- What does your “ideal week” look like? How many hours a day would you LIKE to spend on physical fitness, focused work, and personal business tasks?
Please drop me a comment below, or join my DIY Savvy Facebook Group and let me know what you think!
Yours in hours, minutes, and seconds,