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Getting It Together – One Habit at a Time

This January Monica decided she was fed up with feeling behind at work. Tired of feeling tired. And done with working in a chaotic mess. She set a powerful goal for herself: By the end of the year she would feel healthy and energetic; her office would be organized and would remain tidy on a consistent basis; and she would be on top of her deadlines.

To achieve her goal she decided to focus on developing some new positive habits. Over the Christmas holiday she read two books: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Habit Factor by Martin Grunburg. She also downloaded a habit tracking app that Grunburg developed to help people establish new habits and make them stick.

Monica followed Gunburg’s guide. Step one, goal setting, had been taken care of. Step two was visualizing her successful achievement of the goal. That was easy for Monica. She imagined herself leaving her office at noon on December 24. She visualized her desk, with her documents neatly arranged and her to do list positioned next to her keyboard. She imagined herself feeling calm and satisfied about all that she had accomplished that year. She felt energetic and healthy.

Next she asked herself why this goal was important. That was easy to answer too. “I invested a lot of time and energy in my legal career! It’s not the biggest passion in my life but I know it has the potential to be satisfying. I like the intellectually stimulating work. I enjoy my clients. I want to be successful.”

Now she turned her attention to the positive habits that would help her achieve her goals.

She started with research. She thought about the people she knew who seemed to demonstrate this healthy, organized, and productive life she was imagining for herself.

First she talked to Naomi. Naomi was her friend from university who a few years ago had lost weight and gotten into great shape which she maintained to this day. Naomi’s advice was to start the day with a green smoothie and bring salads and fruit for lunch.

Next she talked to John. He was one of those people who seemed able to get 100 things done every day. He was involved in charitable organizations, maintained a busy legal practice, and was able to generate a steady stream of new work. John was happy to talk to Monica. He shared with her two positive habits that served him very well.

The first was the weekend planning session. He developed the habit early on (learned from his mentor) of sitting down in his home office every Sunday afternoon and deciding which of his contacts he wanted to be in touch with during the coming weeks. He then quickly sketched out a to-do-list of items such as set-up a lunch date with Mary, call Ken to hear about his trip to Italy, shoot an email over to Bob with a useful article. John then established a corollary habit of initiating each of those action items first thing on Monday morning.

Monica suspected John might have other useful suggestions so she pressed him for more ideas. He volunteered that he was big on planning. Also on Sunday afternoons he would look at his to-do list and scan his schedule for upcoming deadlines. He kept all deadlines in his Outlook calendar. He then roughly mapped out his plan of attack for the week ahead. Monica was starting to feel quite motivated, all of these suggestions from John seemed fairly easy to implement.

Finally Monica turned to her mentor, Alicia, from the CBA Women Lawyer’s Forum. Alicia had twin daughters and a husband who was also a lawyer. Monica was deeply impressed by the way she was able to maintain her corporate legal practice. Alicia was very encouraging of the steps Monica was taking. Alicia suggested what she called taking the 15 minute challenge: “Before I had the twins, I would waste time everyday surfing the web” she said. “I had this almost daily procrastination urge at 3 pm. Once I returned from mat leave I just couldn’t afford to waste time like that. I read somewhere about how much can get done in just 15 minutes. So when I started to feel like surfing the web, you know looking at the real estate listings and travel specials, instead I made the choice to tackle something on my to-do-list for 15 minutes. At first I just started with dealing with the backlog of filing on my desk. But after just a week I had it all caught up so then I turned my attention to other tasks. I started to surprise myself. In 15 minutes I could review a file and mock-up a simple action plan. In 15 minutes I could call my mentee for a quick touch-base. In 15 minutes I could get a first draft of a memo to a client roughed out.”

With all the great ideas she gathered from Naomi, John, and Alicia, Monica then set about listing the positive habits she was going to commit to establishing. Here is the list she came up with:

Health: 

She would make herself a green smoothie a minimum of 3 times a week and she would bring a salad and fruit for lunch three times a week.

Organization:

Whenever she felt like procrastinating she would instead take the 15 minute challenge and tackle her filing, organize her desk, update her to-do list, catch-up on time entry or some other simple task. She committed to doing this a minimum of once a day.

Deadline Management:

Taking a cue from John she committed to setting herself two new productivity habits:

The first was to get all her deadlines in her calendar.

Her second was to take time every Sunday afternoon at home to review her calendar, and contact list and map out a rough list of priorities for the week including connecting with clients/contacts and work on projects that were not immediately due.

Monica was now almost ready to launch her habit creation action plan. There was just one last and critical habit to form: the habit of tracking her progress. Every day at the end of the day before leaving the office Monica decided she would log her habit activity. Did she carry out her habit? It was a simple yes/no question. Even if she did something three times in the day it would be simply a yes. Some habits, such as the Sunday planning only required a yes once a week.

Over the next month she tracked her progress on her habits. She also staggered her start. She gave herself two weeks to work on the green smoothie and salad habits. She couldn’t believe how much more energy she had and noticed she no longer felt sleepy in the afternoons.

Then she took on the 15 minute challenge habit. That one turned out to be easy and felt so rewarding each time it was easy to stick with. Before she used to feel guilty and lazy for web surfing, now using the 15 minutes productively made her feel like she was accomplishing something – because she was!

The next week she activated the Sunday planning session, and getting her deadlines in the calendar. That worked really well. It gave her an immediate sense of comfort to be able to watch her deadlines. Also having a game plan at the start of each week was helpful.

The tracking turned out to be harder and she missed some days. In the end she found the best time and way to track was after dinner while watching tv. She would open up the file on her IPad and mark her progress. After a month she felt great looking at all the checks on her tracking sheets. After two months she felt good walking into her tidy office every day. When she looked at her schedule she felt like she was in control.

Most of the time.

Every month client emergencies would crop up and she would find herself under the gun again but she could handle it better because over all she was operating from a stable and organized foundation not a disorganized fire-fighting mess.

The above story is fiction. It is a compilation of a number of different positive habits that I have learned from lawyers across the country. Monica is not any one person but she could be you.

If you have read this far my questions for you is:

What are the positive habits you would like to develop in 2013?

I have a goal of writing a book so my new habit is getting up in the mornings at 6:00 am and writing for 50 minutes each day, Monday to Thursday to start with. I started on December 31 and have found it surprisingly easy to do. I made my start time 6:00 am because I knew that 5:30 am would be too much of a stretch. I immediately discovered that starting my day with a productive hour filled me with energy and made me feel satisfied with accomplishing something important before eight o’clock. I am tracking my progress and will consider adding another new habit once this one is fully established.

To get your positive habits aligned with your goals follow this simple recipe from Gunburg:

  1. Identify the goal.
  2. Visualize accomplishing it. How does it feel?
  3. Answer: Why is this goal important?
  4. Decide: What are the positive habits (3 to 5) that I want to develop that will help me achieve my goal?
  5. Answer: Why are each of those habits is important?
  6. Set the minimum performance target for each goal. Not every habit has to be repeated each day.
  7. Start your new habits. I suggest you stagger your start so that you give yourself time to focus on getting one establishes before adding another. Habits for different parts of our lives, such as a healthy breakfast and combating procrastination with the 15 minute challenge can be started simultaneously without too much difficulty.
  8. Track you progress daily by asking “did I accomplish my habit today yes/no?”
  9. Build in some rewards commensurate with the degree of success you achieve. It is important to congratulate yourself and treat yourself to something special for successfully meeting your new habit formation targets. Sometime success is its own reward, such as the pleasure of walking into a tidy office each day. Sometimes it helps to reward yourself with a treat such as a massage, or heading home early from the office one afternoon.

Best wishes for adding one or more new positive habits in 2013!

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