Forming the 10 Habits

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An essential part of ZTD is the forming of the 10 Habits, one at a time. One of the main problems people have with GTD, probably without knowing it, is that GTD is a series of habit changes that they try to undertake all at once.

They get enthusiastic about GTD, and try and do it all in one shot, and then fall off the wagon. They get back on, and then fall off again. It’s almost like dieting or exercise — if you don’t adopt successful habit change methods, you will keep failing and eventually get discouraged and quit.

Well, if you’ve been reading Zen Habits for awhile, you know that habit changes aren’t something to be taken lightly. They can be successful, but it takes a lot of energy and focus and motivation, and it’s hard to do that with a bunch of habits all at once. I highly recommend that you start with one habit, and apply proven habit-change methodology to that habit, and then once that has become a habit, move on to the next habit.

Now, I understand that’s not easy. When you take on a system like GTD, you want to do it all at once. You’re excited and enthusiastic! Trust me, I’ve been there. But take that excitement and channel it into one habit, and you will be hugely successful. Doing one habit at a time will take some patience, but at the same time it’s not as overwhelming and it’s much easier to adopt this way. For some people, GTD can be overwhelming, and a major life change. I am an advocate of gradual life changes, ones that will last for a long time, not just for a few weeks.

If you are already good at some of these habits, and if you are good at changing your habits, it’s possible to do more than one at a time. I wouldn’t recommend more than 2-3 at a time, though, because the more you do, the less your chances of success. If you are already good at ubiquitous capture, for example, you could try adopting it as a habit along with, say, processing your inboxes. But don’t try to do much more than that. Start simple, and gradually add the other habits as you see fit.

Now, which habits should you adopt first? I recommend the order that they’re listed in, but that’s far from mandatory. You could easily do them in reverse or scramble them, or form an algorithm to decide. I suggest that if you don’t want to do them in the recommended order, see which ones will benefit you the most, and give those a higher priority.

Rome wasn’t built overnight, and you can’t change from being undisciplined, unorganized, procrastinating, unproductive (as I once was — I’m not accusing you of being these things) to organize, productive, with a do-it-now habit. Give yourself time to make these changes. At the end of this year, if you start now and adopt 1-2 habits per month, you will have some great habits adopted.

Habit Change Methodology[edit]

What are the methods you can use to make these habit changes successful? I won’t be able to go into much depth here, but these are discussed elsewhere on the site:

  1. Commitment. Commit yourself to your habit change, big time. Make your commitment as public as possible — put it on your blog, join an online forum and tell them about it, tell your family and friends, send out a daily email update on your progress. The more positive public pressure, the better.
  2. Practice. Changing your habits is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. Commit yourself to a 30-day Challenge, and try to do your new habit every single day for 30 days. You will be training yourself to do that new habit, over and over. If you mess up, don’t beat yourself up, but just try again. Practice makes perfect.
  3. Motivation. Find as many ways to motivate yourself as possible. See the Top 20 Motivation Hacks.
  4. Tracking. It’s best if you log your progress on your habit every day. This may sound difficult, but it will make your habit change much more likely to be successful. Log it in before you go to bed, placing your log next to your bed. It’ll motivate you, and will make you feel great as you look back on all your progress.
  5. Support. Join an online group, or do your habit change with a partner. However you find it, get others to do a habit change with you, and it will be much easier.
  6. Rewards. Reward yourself often, early on — at the end of each of the first three days, and then at the end of every week, and then a big one at the end of your 30-day Challenge.
  7. Focus. It’s extremely important that you maintain your focus on this new habit for the full 30 days. That’s why it’s hard to do more than one or two habits at a time — you can’t maintain focus. Find ways to bring your focus back to your habit. Post up signs or posters around your desk or home. Send yourself email reminders. Put it on your desktop picture. However you do it, keep a laser focus!
  8. Positive thinking. This is perhaps the most important element. If you tell yourself that you can do this, that you will do it, then you will. Squash all negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones. You can do this!

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