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How to Change Your Habits and Get More Stuff Done

Updated on February 11, 2016

Three steps to changing habits the professional way

The following methods for changing daily habits (and, ultimately, being far more productive and far less destructive) are scientifically and (personally) anecdotally proven to work. They come from years of study by me, and are backed by virtually every productivity book or article I've ever read. These are time proven principles than can help you change your life right away!

If you're looking for a more personal story about how I quit drinking, you can check that out as well. You might also want to check out this article on how to get away from some of the distractions that take you away from accomplishing your goals.

Writing down a goal makes it real

Task lists are an important part of making your day move forward in the direction you want it to, and habit changing is nothing if not a day-to-day process. If you have a list of tasks to get done (or goals to accomplish) for the day, it makes it "real." This means that it is no longer in the realm of the theoretical. It's not, "I should do that!" It's on your list of tasks to get done for the day, so it's going to be done.
Don't make the mistake of trusting your memory here! Memory isn't reliable for precisely the reason that you have negative habits in the first place: they're comfortable and easy to accomplish. I have made tremendous progress toward accomplishing my goals merely from the act of writing them down, and you, too, can see benefits immediately.

Think about SMART goals



Do you make daily, monthly, or yearly goals?

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Choosing the right goals: SMART

SMART goals are utilized by successful businesses and individuals around the world. When you are ready to stop playing around and shooting from the hip with your goals, you need to get SMART.

So what does SMART mean? SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

These are all ultra-important aspects of a good goal. It needs to be very specific, not vague. If you're just saying you want to be a "better person", that's not going to help any, but if you say that you want to "lose 5 pounds by January1st", that's something else entirely. Similarly, if it's not measurable, there's just no point in making the goal in the first place. You need to be able to say whether or not you have achieved your goal (and that's exactly where the "achievable" part comes in- don't set a goal for the day you wont' ever reach; instead, make the goal something you almost certainly will accomplish if you set your sights on it.

Clearly, the task must be relevant to what you aim to accomplish in life or business in order for it to matter. Putting a time cap on it ("time-bound") is the last piece of the puzzle; without this, procrastination will surely rule the day.

Use a project board for bigger stuff

When you are trying to change a much bigger behavior in your life, or you want to accomplish something much bigger, it pays to have an AGILE style project board. You can use note cards for the individual tasks, break them down into individual categories in the rows (like health, finance, and professional, for example). The columns (labeled up top) are "to do", "in progress", and "done." This allows you to keep track of bigger tasks that are part of a large project or plan. You can accomplish longer term goals in this manner by keeping track of it.

The picture I've included below is the project board we use at my gym. As you can see, the far right column has a great deal more task cards (color coded note cards; each person gets a different color). When you get a task done, there is that sense of accomplishment, and when it's in the "in progress" section, you tend to notice it every day and think about what needs to happen in order to get it done sooner. Very motivating!

Finally, make sure there aren't too many in the "in progress" column. I'd say no more than 3 at a time, although one or two is probably ideal (for us we have more because there are more people working on various projects). It's important to have a very real sense of "I can get this thing done!", and one or two things at a time is ideal.

AGILE project board we use

This is our project board at Revolution BJJ.  Note the giant pile of "done" cards, and note the scant number in the "in progress" column.
This is our project board at Revolution BJJ. Note the giant pile of "done" cards, and note the scant number in the "in progress" column. | Source


Change is life

Although I'm a huge believer in having a daily routine, once you've realized that a habit is destructive, it's time for a change. Change is what makes life interesting, and it's also what makes you grow as a person, and, ultimately, makes you happier. Seek to change yourself constantly through incremental improvements, as the above three steps will help, and you'll be well on your way to a happier, healthier, more productive life. Read a little more about how to become more productive, specifically, here.


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    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks for the thoughts, Sue. I like the garden analogy very much, and I'd say that I definitely do "constructive procrastination", as you put it, at least once a day. I'd categorize walking my dog or washing the dishes, or setting up coffee for the next morning, as within that realm too.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 

      4 years ago from Andalusia

      Very interesting and well explained.

      There is another way to accomplish goals. Take a garden. Once it has been planted according to a designed plan, its upkeep becomes "organic". Even if the task of the day is, say, pick the apples, the garden itself demands certain unplanned and distracting actions, all along the way. Like, for example, pulling up weeds, or trimming a dead branch that has just nearly blinded you on your way to the apple tree. You could call such unplanned organic actions "constructive procrastination" as it all helps maintain the garden in the long run.

      I agree with change. Change is what makes the world go round. Turning negative habits into positive ones for self improvement towards a never achieved state of perfection is the only way to go.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is amazing what we can accomplish in life when we have a visual reminder of what we are working on. I like the "project board." I have found that charts worked great when we were helping our children to work on things, whether in their personal life, or at school. I use these types of visuals for myself on a regular basis, and have found it a great way to keep myself motivated.

    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Glad to help, Bill! I agree- we all need to be reminded every now and then. :)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      SMART goals work, when done properly. Thanks for sharing, and reminding, us of these important issues! ;-)

    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      100% agreed, Rhonda. I've seen this in my students (at my BJJ gym) as well!

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 

      4 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      I like how you point out goals need to be measurable. I think that's why so many people give up. They make an indefinite, vague goal and when they feel they have made no progress towards it then give up. I saw this so much in students. Measuring all the little steps along the way to a larger goal can add boatloads to keeping one motivated.

    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Linda, I did do some research. One of my students specializes in AGILE (or agile) training, so I'll definitely ask him the next time I see him at the gym!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      4 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I love your visual to-do board at the gym. What does the name AGILE mean... is that an acronym? Anyhow, it looks like it would be very useful and so now I'm wondering where I can put one here in my office!


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