8 Habits You Can Break Today To Improve Your Life

1. Reading an E-mail More Than Once

E-mail is the single biggest culturally accepted time-waster of this century. This technology allows any one of the 3 billion people with Internet access (and countless automated scripts) to add something to your to-do list. Even by just erasing an e-mail in your inbox, you waste mental energy both deciding to delete it and transitioning to the next decision.

The best thing you can do to minimize the adverse effects of e-mail on your life is to never, ever, read an individual e-mail more than once. Instead, read it once and then instantly act on it (delete, reply, archive convert it into an action item or delegate it) No exceptions, break the “reread” habit and get that e-mail out of your life altogether!

Tip: I have been using a tool called SaneBox that does a remarkably good job of automatically sorting e-mail that doesn’t need to be acted on instantly. These sorted e-mails (called BACN as they are not SPAM or immediately important emails) are shifted to a secondary inbox rather than deleted or archived. I then only check this secondary inbox once every other day. (This may sound similar to Gmail’s priority inbox but I prefer the way this is implemented. Check it out, it has a free trial.)

2. Working While in Bed

Like it or not, humans are habitual creators. We instinctively set daily (although malleable) time blocks for sleeping, eating and other daily habits. We also set habits around places.

With smartphones and laptops it is incredibly easy to work while in your bed. Unfortunately, this habit forms a mental trap. Once you associate your bed with the parts of your brain that allow you to concentrate on work, it becomes very hard to disassociate them.

At night in your bed, a time and place where you have normally trained yourself to sleep, your brain associates with work and you are left unable to get the sleep you need.

Break this habit by making a strict “no working in bed” policy. Instead of checking your phone while still tucked under the covers, form the habit of moving to a work location (maybe a specific chair or home desk) and start your phone checking there.

3. Spending Time on Trivial Decisions

Although it has not been neurologically proven (yet!), I am a firm believer that humans have a finite amount of decision making energy on any given day. When this specific type of mental energy depletes, you are left feeling foggy and have difficulty making even simple routine decisions.

To optimize around this inherent mental limitation, decrease the amount of trivial decisions you need to make in the early parts of the day. Morning trivial decisions include:

To break this habit of depleting your decision making energy early in your day, plan these things the night before. It takes some getting used to at night but feels completely automatic to stumble out of bed and go into auto-pilot as you make progress on your morning routine. After which, you can use all of your energies to make important decisions.

4. Apologizing For Your Passions

A person without quirks is a person not worth knowing. Our passions and quirks are what make us unique and valuable to the world. They are the fuel for every major invention and every famous act.

Unfortunately, quirks and passions are also inherently weird. Would you rather spend your time knitting rather than watching the local sports game? Would you rather tinker with code than get drunk with your friends?

Then by all means, do it!

Normal people don’t change or better the world. Instead, it is the quirky weirdos that make the world a better place for everyone.

Don’t apologize or act embarrassed about what makes you, you. Embrace it and start the habit of actively telling people you are not ashamed of your passion. (This is something I am working on. It is notably hard at first but got easier very quickly.)

Note: The people who don’t support you in your passion are likely still looking for their own passion. Don’t let their lack of focus, ruin your journey.

5. Treating High Caloric Food as a Reward

Starting from an early age, many of us are taught to treat high caloric foods as rewards. Win an event at school? We celebrate with ice cream. Having a rough day at work, many of us treat ourselves with sugar filled coffee or a baked treat.

Unfortunately, this habit works against us. These high caloric foods make us feel great in the short-term but hurt our bodies in the long term.

To break this habit, don’t bother trying to associate healthy foods with treats (there is no evidence to show this will work) but instead, work to break the association of pain to reward all together. Don’t look at a rough day as an event to gorge on food, instead, use your remaining energy to work on improving the day.

With this point said, don’t let this ruin your fun! Try out this related life hack to get your cake and eat it too!

6. Starting a Break Without Doing the First Step of Your Next Project

The single biggest defeater of productively is transitions. Did you get interrupted? You just had your time wasted with two transitions (out of your flow and then back into it) Transitions are the enemy! Luckily, there is a way to make them less threatening.

Break this habit by completing the first task in your next project before you consider your last project finished.

For a writer, this might mean writing the first half of a sentence for your next chapter. For a programmer, this might mean outlining the shape of your next method with comments. For a chef, this might be preparing your next ingredient before you declare your first dish finished.

Doing the first task of your next project allows you to remove the barrier to entry (transition) of your next work block.

7. De-prioritizing Your Health

Staying healthy is the result of a million small decisions. Paradoxically, your health has the single biggest impact on your ability to be happy.

So why would something as important as health be de-priotized so often? The answer is simple. The easiest person to de-prioritize is yourself.

Break the habit of de-prioritizing health by adding any of the following small habits:

  • Walk at least 5,000 steps a day (The World Health Organization recommends 10,000)
  • Drink 8 cups of water a day
  • Do at least 5 minutes of meditation a day

Walking, drinking water and being mindful have a disproportionate positive effect on your health. Invest in yourself by embracing these habits.

8. Accepting a Trivial Meeting Invite Without an Agenda

A meeting is never a productive task in and of itself. You (or the group) need to actually accomplish a task or goal in order for a block of time to have been considered productive.

Unfortunately, this qualification is rarely included with meeting invites. Instead, inviters incorrectly (and wastefully!) assume the act of just meeting will be valuable.

Break the habit of attending trivial meeting by only accepting invites that include an agenda with specific outcome goals. If you receive an invite without this requirement, reply and ask for a meeting agenda that includes outcome goals. If the meeting inviter can not prioritize making an agenda, then don’t attend the meeting.

Additional Habits?

What habits have you broken that have improved your life? Let us know in the comments below. I’ll add the best ones to this post!

I am experimenting with a new minimalist format and not including an intro or outro (which are normally fluff paragraphs.) Let me know if you miss them!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • First, I don’t miss those fluff paragraphs. Get to the point and bullet points are great. I don’t have the time to read a long article so I love the ease at which I can get the general idea of what you’re talking about and then read deeper if I find it interesting.

    I love step 6: Starting a break without doing the first step of your next project. I have been trying this and it’s really really hard to do. We are such compartmentalized beings that we feel completing a task is it’s own reward. But I’m going to start trying this idea and see if it makes me more productive.

    Now here’s my question to you. Step 3: Spending Time on Trivial Decisions. We’ve all recently heard about Mark Zuckerberg and other highly successful people who buy multiples of the same shirt, pants, shoes, and in his case hoodies. Do you think you could do this? I’ve actually trimmed back on the number of jeans I own. At one point it was in the 20s and now I own three pair. But do you think you could really get to the point where you wore the same blue shirt, jeans, and jacket every single day of the year. It’s not a question of spending time on trivial things. I believe it speaks more to the lack of certain creativity within these people. Almost an autistic thing, whereby they feel uncomfortable or out of their own skin in different clothing and actually see the same clothing almost like a shield or armor. So Danny could you get rid of your sense of style in exchange for the same color shirt for 365 days?

    • > First, I don’t miss those fluff paragraphs. Get to the point and bullet points are great. I don’t have the time to read a long article so I love the ease at which I can get the general idea of what you’re talking about and then read deeper if I find it interesting.

      Good feedback. It seems like none of us have time for fluff. I’ll do my best to minimize it in future posts.

      > I love step 6: Starting a break without doing the first step of your next project. I have been trying this and it’s really really hard to do.

      I run into exactly the same hurdle! :-) (compartmentalized projects) Like you said, this was hard to overcome the first few times but I have found it is getting much easier now. There is light at the end of the tunnel! :-p

      > We’ve all recently heard about Mark Zuckerberg and other highly successful people who buy multiples of the same shirt, pants, shoes, and in his case hoodies. Do you think you could do this?

      Absolutely! In fact, I have been doing this for year. As you know I only own about 150 things. This makes narrowing down the amount of clothes I have a necessity. I have been rocking 2-3 pairs of jeans and about 7 shirts (5 different colors and 2 different styles) for a long time now and haven’t run into any serious issues. In fact, I feel much lighter now.

      Congrats on your successes at minimizing so far!

  • Great principles Danny. This is one of those articles everyone should print out and put on their wall as a constant reminder.

    I really like this line. I know it rings true for you and certainly does for me as well.

    “Normal people don’t change or better the world. Instead, it is the quirky weirdos that make the world a better place for everyone.”

    Take care bud!
    – Cody

    • :-) I am glad that rung true for you as well. Take care Cody!

  • Younes

    Nice Articel ^^

  • I 150% agree with about half of these.

    Never apologize for a passion, and in fact, I’ve been known to cut people out who want me to do so.

    Health as a priority? Absolutely. And I love that you include both physical and mental health in your overview.

    Don’t take trivial meetings with no agenda. Again. Absolutely. In many ways, this is a good way to draw a line and say that others must value your time and makes me doubly grateful that you joined my editing webinar. I hope you found it a good use of your time. :)

    But…

    I write this response to you while working in bed. I kind of have to because my 6 month old is sleeping next to me. When I get up, he wakes up, and there goes my work time.

    So while I do agree it’s best not to work in bed, there are sometimes reasons that it has to be.

    E-mail… Some things require a closer reading, particularly if something upsets you or needs thought before responding. I try to clear out all the e-mails I don’t need. Subscriptions, junk mail, etc. (I use unroll.me for that, btw. Very useful and free.)

    What your point says to me, though, is that I should pay more attention the first time I read an e-mail and stop multitasking while I do it.

    Hasta la proxima, Danny. Take it easy.
    xoL

    • Hi Leigh! It is always good to hear from you :-)

      I am happy to hear we are aligned on those first 3 points. It is nice to see others experiencing the same benefits from breaking those bad habits.

      > Working in bed…

      As far as working in bed goes, I still think that is a habit worth breaking. We will have to agree to disagree on this one and you should continue any habits that really do serve you.

      > E-mail… Some things require a closer reading, particularly if something upsets you or needs thought before responding.

      You make a great counter-point here. In fact, while I am tempted to come up with some rebuttal, I think you really are right. In some cases, taking time to calm down or reflect before responding IS the right choice. :-) Excellent point, thanks for reminding me.

      Cheers! :-D

  • Kate L.

    Great list! One suggestion: when recommending meditation, say “at least 5 minutes” to convey the idea that more time can be spent on it (schedule permitting). Making it open-ended encourages them to think about how much time they have/make/can spend on the activity; a specific amount of time, while reassuring to a beginner, can lock in their thinking for only that time for that activity, if that makes sense.

    I did not miss the intro/conclusion paragraphs, especially since the headline indicates the topic so clearly.

    Thanks for providing the food for thought!

    • > Great list! One suggestion: when recommending meditation, say “at least 5 minutes” to convey the idea that more time can be spent on it (schedule permitting). Making it open-ended encourages them to think about how much time they have/make/can spend on the activity

      Love it! Added :-D Thank you for making this article better!

      Cheers Kate!

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