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The Surprising Power Of Micro-Habits: Little Changes That Lead To Big Results


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

8 minute read

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Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, they are the infrastructure that supports all we do.

If you’re like most people, chances are you have goals or positive changes you want to achieve in your professional or personal life. We have all these ideas in our minds about what we want to do and where we want to go, but putting them into practice is often much harder than we anticipated, and our old habits win out.

One of the hardest things about making progress is getting started, but in the words of Henry Ford, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” If we want to create lasting and significant change for our future selves, we need to understand the power of habits and how we can use them to our advantage.

What Makes Micro-Habits So Effective?

When it comes to creating change, we all want to make sweeping, significant transformations. But in reality, those significant changes rarely work out. Take New Year’s resolutions, for example. Recent research has found that only 8% of people actually fulfill their resolutions.

A small change made on a daily basis can have a much greater impact than attempting a massive change that is difficult to sustain. That’s the idea behind micro-habits. Small, simple changes require less willpower and time to complete and are less disruptive to our usual routine. This makes it much easier to stick to them, and as such, we’re far more likely to see positive results as a result of our consistency.

In his best-selling book Atomic Habits, author James Clear says that if you become 1% better each day, you will be 37 times improved in a year’s time. So if you are looking to make a positive change in your life, big or small, remember that even the tiniest improvements can add up to big results over time.

8 Micro-Habits to Adopt Today to Boost Your Productivity

Whether it’s health or wealth you’re focusing on, we’ve gathered eight habits that will help make your days smoother and more successful. And best of all, each habit only takes ten minutes or less!

Keep a bottle of water on your nightstand

Set a full bottle of water on your nightstand and drink it as soon as you wake up.

We all know how important it is to stay hydrated, but remembering to drink enough water can be easier said than done when you are busy working on your business each day. However, dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. Even in a mild form, you’ll struggle to work at your best.

But drinking water first thing in the morning is one of the best ways to set your body and mind up for the day. Keep it in a prominent place as a visual reminder every morning – this doesn’t necessarily have to be your nightstand, it could be in front of your bedroom door so you can’t continue with the rest of your morning routine without picking the bottle up. Or, simply set an alarm if you find that method suits you best.

Set your alarm one minute earlier each day

Start setting your alarm one minute earlier each day to build a habit of early rising.

Whether it’s to reduce the hecticness of their morning routine, to beat the rush of their commute, or simply give themselves more time to get more done each day, there are many reasons why people would like to start waking up earlier. But if, for example, you’re used to waking up at 7:30 am, suddenly waking up at 6 am can feel like quite a big jump. And even if you are able to get up and out of bed, the chances of you being fully alert and on good form to do your best work are vastly reduced.

Setting your alarm one minute earlier each day might seem pointless to begin with, but that’s exactly the point. It greatly reduces your natural resistance to the new change, making it much easier to maintain. And in a month’s time, you’ll be waking up half an hour earlier! Then, it’s up to you whether you continue with your current one-minute habit, or if you’d want to try ramping it up to two minutes – or even five minutes – earlier going forward.

Go to bed one minute earlier each night

Similar to staying hydrated, the benefits of getting enough sleep are well documented. For example, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that people who get a good night’s sleep are significantly more productive, have better overall performance, and have fewer work-related safety incidences.

So if you want to wake up each morning feeling well-rested or to stop feeling like a zombie at work, the same principle applies as the previous point – start going to bed one minute earlier each night. If you go to bed at 11 PM, aim for 10:59 the first night. After a week, you’ll go to bed at 10:53, and by the month’s end, you’ll have added another 30 minutes of sleep to your daily routine.

Five-minute workout breaks

With all the demands and distractions of modern entrepreneurial life, if you're looking for excuses not to work out, you'll find plenty. But if you're looking for reasons to get fit, you'll find even more. There are countless benefits to exercising regularly, from improved mental and physical health to increased energy and focus.

One of the most common barriers to exercise and fitness is a lack of time, but if you find as little as five minutes spare in your day, you can use this as an opportunity to get the blood pumping. Whether it’s skipping or jumping rope before your morning shower, chair dips in your office on your lunch break, or sit-ups before bed, at the end of the month you’ll have racked up 150 minutes (or two and a half hours) of exercise that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Set reminders for the 20:20:20 rule

In today’s world, many of us rely on computers for our professional roles. When you work at a computer, your eyes are constantly moving back and forth as you read, or up and down from your keyboard to your screen. All this focusing and refocusing requires a lot of effort from your eye muscles, and unlike a book or piece of paper, a computer screen adds contrast, flicker, and glare. We also tend to blink far less frequently when using a computer, which causes the eyes to dry out. This strain can lead to blurred vision, eye irritation, and even headaches and back pain, otherwise known as computer vision syndrome.

It’s been reported that between 50-90% of people who work using computers currently experience symptoms, or have done previously. To help combat the effects of computer vision syndrome, the 20:20:20 rule states that every 20 minutes of screen time should be interrupted to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

But when you’re immersed in the flow of your work, or you’re battling against the clock to complete all the items on your to-do list, hours can easily fly by before you remember to take a break to rest your eyes. So to help remember this rule and stick to it, set reminders on your devices.

Identify your three most important tasks (MITs) before you start working

As counterintuitive as it sounds, when it comes to getting more done each day, less is more in terms of the items on your to-do list. As the head of your business, you should be focusing on the quality of work you do, not the quantity. Prioritizing your tasks before you start the day helps you spend your time and energy where they will have the biggest impact.

Take five minutes to bullet out a small checklist with three tasks that you must complete by the end of the day, and stay focused on them.

This will help ensure that you are making progress on the projects that matter the most, and it will also help you to avoid getting bogged down in less impactful tasks.

When they are done, you’re free to move on to less important tasks – or even get ahead on your most critical tasks for the following day.

Delegate a recurring task

Delegation is a crucial skill for any business owner. No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to do it all. And even if you could do everything yourself, that doesn’t mean that you should.

Delegation is as much about gaining the ability to focus without distractions as it is about freeing up your time to do more every day. So if you want the space to be able to really think about how you’re going to grow your company, plus have the time to actually execute your strategies, you need to start making delegation a regular habit.

If you were to delegate just one hour of low-impact, recurring tasks every working day for a month, you would reclaim the equivalent of around two and a half working days each month going forward. Just think about what you could achieve with that time!

See: Delegate These 25 Recurring Tasks To Save Time Every Day

Take micro-breaks to recharge

If you’re looking for an effective way to manage your energy levels, reduce your stress, and stay engaged with your work each day, micro-breaks could be the answer you’re searching for.

By definition, micro-breaks are short – no more than five minutes – and simple ways to break up repetitive work and give you a mental or physical boost for when you return.

Whether it’s walking to the kitchen to make a hot drink or eat a healthy snack, stepping away from your desk to look out a window (which is also a great opportunity to do the 20:20:20 rule!), doing some light stretches to relieve your back and neck muscles, or walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or Slacking them, these little moments of respite may be all you need to rejuvenate and refresh your mind again.

What’s The Bottom Line?

They say that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. What if the key to making real, lasting change in your life was through small and seemingly insignificant daily activities?

If you want to improve your life and reach your goals, start by going 1% further each day. Don’t let overwhelm stop you from making progress by piling up too many to-dos on your list. You may not see the results immediately, but they’ll certainly be worth waiting for. With patience and persistence, you will be amazed at what you’re able to achieve.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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