When you have a habit established, moving forward yields a certain kind of inertia.
You have run for 4 days, so you do what your supposed to on day 5.
You eat right so you don’t “waste” your run. You run 4 miles because you don’t want to waste yesterday’s 6 miler.
You up the intensity at the office so you can be free to do another workout. The heightened intensity means that the to do list gets shorter.
Every good, sustainable habit is likely to cause order in other areas. I don’t suggest that we force every area of our life into some sort of lockstep. That’s not particularly productive, it hits diminishing returns, and always watching the clock means that you don’t produce your best work, you’re not in flow as much as you might be.
Still, forcing one habit on yourself, something important (running, writing, coding, whatever), means that other areas fall into place. There’s one set of actions that’s something like a lynchpin.
For me, there’s also action that cancers all I try and do. If I play a video game, say Civilization or World of Warcraft or if I jump on Facebook chat, there will be a smothering burden on me that won’t be lifted till a clean break is made.
For me, the important habits are:
- Running. Not the elliptical, not “cardio”, not lifting weights. Pure, real running. Attacking previous good times, seeing how far I can go. The preferred workout is about a 9:40 pace with 1 mile as fast as I can go at the end (right now just under 8, but that’s with holding onto the treadmill for dear life).
- Follow up: I ping people whenever I think I can add value. I use a CRM to do almost everything, and stay familiar with people. I don’t spend enough time doing this, and I have to push hard to do it. But, when I work to help people, add value, and connect, good things happen.
- Reading: Right now, I’m working off of a few of reading lists: Ryan Holliday’s is excellent, Brad Feld’s is good, and Derek Sivers’s is pretty good. The most interesting stuff is hard and not the low end business books that I’ve been reading forever. (If you know of a list, email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll work off of it). I try to read at least 2 books a week, and it comes and goes. Some of the bigger biographies I wind up skimming the long passages of exposition.
Of the habits, running is again new, and Reading has probably made the biggest difference in my life. I’m still given over to lashing out at bloviating idiots, etc. etc. but as a whole reading has changed the course of my life more than I’d imagine it would. Not just in knowing history, but in acting decisively, thinking clearly, understanding what great people did (hint, it’s not answering fools on quora)
If I’m regularly doing those three things, everything else takes care of itself.