My XYZ system for habits and productivity
To be most productive, I need routines in place. Otherwise, I waste too much energy thinking about what I need to do and when.
I need an approach of first comes X, followed by Y and Z.
So I wake up (X), put the kettle on (Y), and brush my teeth while the water boils (Z). In the evenings, I shower (X), brush my teeth and wash my face (Y), and then settle down for some reading or writing before bed (Z). I automatically group these together. So instead of getting one task done, I can tick three off.
I find that groups of three tasks work well for me. It's a good amount to do in one hit, and it works best if the first action (X) is something that I do fairly automatically anyway.
To form new habits, I often begin with these existing habits in mind. Once I know what comes first in a sequence, it's easier for me to train myself to do something next.
For example, eating a meal or arriving at the office - these are things I will be doing regardless without thinking much about it. I can then tack tasks on afterwards that I want to adopt, such as meditating for a few minutes, using Duolingo, or planning my priorities for the day.
If there's a task in the sequence that can go on for longer or vary in duration (such as reading before bed), I'd prefer that it's the third task (Z). That way I can enjoy it more and not get distracted by thoughts of what I need to do next.
I also aim to avoid grouping long and creative tasks together.
For me, it seems too intimidating to commit to a sequence such as: write a blog post (X), do some drawing (Y), then work on a web project (Z). I'd rather commit to a sequence of 2 x smaller tasks + 1 bigger creative task.
I group habitual tasks - and use X as a trigger for Y and Z - because aiming to build a habit by doing it at a certain time of day is a risky move. You could be busy and forget all about it, or not feel like doing it right then. If a reminder notification pops up on your phone, you could lose your focus and affect the quality of the task you're already engrossed in.
Finally, any time spent thinking about not doing something takes up mental energy.
This is why I find it effective to:
- think about my existing habits
- think about the best existing habit to trigger the new habit I want to build
- provide visual reminders of this new habit sequence
- do the new task after the existing habit 2-3 times
- assess whether the new habit sequence makes sense
- choose whether to continue
- adjust if necessary
- avoid attempting to introduce too many new habits at once