Wednesday, March 13, 2013

habits, things that work until they don't, and time for the things that matter.

{Even Gmail gave up on counting my unread email - I don't blame 'em.}

Here's the thing about systems: They work until they don't. But if they never worked, they never will. You can't just close your eyes and cover your ears and whistle and then poof! Zero inbox, organized desk, schedule that works for you, clean apartment, healthy body, etc., etc., INSERT WHATEVER GOAL HERE.

I've fought against the ideas of systems, habits, and routines since I was a kid - I thought that since I'm all a 'free spirit' and an artist, I didn't need routines and deadlines and systems because, you know, I was above that. Habits and systems and routines were for Wall Street and "boring people."

And then? Then I found myself drowning in my email - I still have ~300 unread emails as we speak. I had all but completely stopped blogging, and reading others' was all but impossible. Learning French was NOT going well. Writing became a rare privilege instead of a daily thing. I rarely used my camera - and I was supposed to be running a photography business! I was losing contact with my friends. I was forgetting little things at work. My apartment looked like it had been ransacked and robbed, regularly. And I don't even want to talk about my finances.

Every once in a while I would sit down and spend time "catching up" and never really "getting ahead." It was exhausting. And it was taking up so much time - taking away time from the things that really mattered.

So I'd cover my ears again and sing to myself some more and close my eyes really tightly and hope - HOPE - I'd stop receiving emails or would just magically have time to do ALL THE THINGS. But as I've even talked about before, our time is limited

Slowly, I've started admitting I need systems to help me out - 2013 marks my third year with an Erin Condren planner. (And this year mine is color coded for different responsibilities!) My gmail inboxes - oh yes, plural - now all forward to one catch-'em-all email address so I don't have to log in to multiple accounts to check my email. I have discovered the Archive button - how did I live without it?

I'm admitting that you know, habits? Some of them - like folding laundry - ain't so bad. With them my apartment doesn't become a clusterhell of clothing and shoes and dishes and hey-is-this-clean? Like the Archive button in Gmail, now habits like immediately writing things in my planner are things I can't believe I ever survived without. And I think that's the best sign of a good habit.

I've still got some a lot of bad habits. (Damn you, Netflix 15-second auto-play feature!) But I keep coming back to three things that help me find the strength to work on replacing bad habits with new more helpful ones.
  • The first is this article from the Harvard Business Review: If You Don't Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will. McKeown talks about how to start framing moments in our lives as choices instead of obligations, which can make it easier to make the right choice for our priorities.
  • The next is the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I haven't even finished it yet and it's making me look at the relationship between success and habit wildly differently. Duhigg shows readers how we create habits, how we can replace habits, and how habits can lead to a happy, more successful life.
  • Asking Why the fuck? over and over for every commitment I make.
Listen, routine doesn't have to be bad. We can't change everything and start a million new routines that will simplify our lives all at once because - hey! starting a million things at once is effing complicated. But if you're feeling how I was, pick one thing and start there.

I started with just writing in a planner. When I started goal-setting, I learned that I needed to actually schedule action steps for myself. Eventually, I started to print my monthly goals off and frame them so I'd see them without opening the Word doc. Later, I started using Chrome exclusively so I could have the Any.Do to-do list extension to sync with the Any.Do app on my iPhone. Then, I forwarded all my email into one catch-all inbox that is organized with labels, then unsubscribed from a whoooole lot of email lists.

Notice though - Started. Eventually. Later. Then. It's taken a long time and I'm not done. (Next up is limiting how much time I spend checking/responding to email.) Building systems that work for you is sort of always "in the works." Because, to come full circle, your systems will only work until they don't. Having Reeder on my iPhone used to work for me for reading blogs, but now that I have a car and don't take the bus as much, it doesn't work for me anymore. I need to find a way to replace that system, but maybe it will work for you.

Do you guys have any good habits or systems that help you simplify your life to make room for the things you care more about?

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