The secret to extraordinary productivity is not a “secret.” It may seem like some people have a superpower, and you might wonder how others accomplish so much. The answer is productive habits. The most effective people have the best habits.
Stephen R. Covey wrote the classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. It sold over 25 million copies because it works. The seven habits have helped millions of people live their best life.
Those behaviors did not make people highly effective because they did them one time. It worked because people installed the behaviors as habits. With the right habits, you can transform your productivity.
These principles have stood the test of time. Yet, many people fail to take advantage of the power of habits to increase productivity. The missing piece is using a habit tracker. Tracking habits is the key to building habits.
In this article, we will show why should track your habits and how to do it.
What is a habit?
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, a habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically. This is true both in life and work.
Put Your Life on Autopilot
The truth is that you already have many habits in your daily life. You may not be aware of it, but you have a lot of routines running in the background that help you manage the activities of your life.
In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg cites a Duke University researcher who found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day were not actual decisions, but habits.
The reality is that you spend a lot of your day not thinking about what you are doing. If that much of your day is on autopilot, that is something you can leverage to accomplish your goals. Determine the best habits to drive your behavior. Like the autopilot on a modern airplane, you choose the destination, then your habits take you there.
5 Examples of Productive Habits
Here are few examples to inspire you to get started. Imagine how productive your day would be if every day you started with habits like these:
- Schedule your day the night before
- Wake up early
- Follow a morning routine
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Do your most important task first
Successful people identify the behaviors that make them productive, but then you have to build those habits. They do not happen automatically. One of the most effective tools for building a new habit is a habit tracker.
What is Habit Tracking?
Habits are actions that you do regularly. In its simplest form, a habit tracker is a systematic method of recording whether or not you performed an action. A habit tracker can be as simple as marking each day on a calendar when you complete a habit. It can be done in either digital or analog format.
Tracking habits is the key to building habits. If you want to build a new habit, you need a way to remind yourself about the habit, a way to hold yourself accountable, a way to measure your progress, and a way to stay motivated. A habit tracker provides a method of doing all those things.
Why You Should Keep Track Of Your Habits
There are many benefits for using a habit tracker.
- It creates a visual trigger for you to remind you to take action on your habits
- It is motivating to see your progress
- It is an personal accountability tool
- It provides an instant reward when you record your success in the moment
- It provides a historical record of the habit forming process
- Habit tracking is a critical part of forming and maintaining habits
1. A Habit Tacker Helps You Stay Motivated
I work as a writer. To be successful I need the habit of writing every day. I cannot wait until I feel inspired to write. Some days, I will not feel like doing it. It is the habit of writing that keeps me on track. I need the habit to be productive, and I need the habit tracker to stay motivated. The habit tracker reminds me of my commitment to write. It holds me accountable and gives me a way to measure my progress towards my writing goals.
2. A Habit Tracker Helps You Achieve Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Goals
Habit tracking is directly related to achieving goals. To accomplish a goal you need to install a habit….the kind of behavior that results in accomplishing the goal.
Seeing the before and after pictures of someone who lost a lot of weight can be impressive. However, what the pictures do not show you are the effort it takes to produce a transformation. Having a goal to lose weight is not enough. To accomplish the goal requires habits for healthy eating, exercise, and sleep.
3. A Habit Tracker Helps You Improve Performance
When I go running in the morning, I measure my run. Using the technology of my Apple Watch, I see my distance, my time, my heart rate, etc. It motivates me to do my best. If I was not measuring it, I would not run as far. When I see that I am at 4 km, it motivates me to reach 5 km. I am encouraged when I realize how close I am to the next milestone. If I see that I am about to finish in a new faster time, then I speed up a little bit. Measuring or “tracking” my habit of running causes me to improve my performance. My habit tracker is my “coach” to keep me on track to complete my goals.
4. A Habit Tracker Helps You Eliminate Excuses
Excuses are the enemy of building a healthy habit. The moment you meet the resistance of building a habit, your mind can become full of reasons (excuses) for why it is okay to “just skip one day.” A habit tracker is a method that allows you to see the impact of your choices. You can leverage the positive feedback provided by your habit tracker to overcome the resistance of the excuses that derail your habit.
5. A Habit Tracker Is A Log Of Your Personal Winning Streak
By definition a winning streak is an uninterrupted sequence of success. By recording your “wins” on a habit tracker, you build your own personal winning streak. In baseball, the first “at bat” was not the same as the “at bat” that broke the record. When you build up your streak…you place more significance on the daily win. Every time you complete a habit, you create more momentum for the next win. Your habit tracker is where you record your wins and build your streak.
Why Habit Tracking Works
A habit tracker is a very effective method of building a habit because it leverages key motivations.
- It is visual. The visual trigger of seeing your progress
- It fuels a sense of accomplishment. Your brain gets a hit of dopamine when you put another another “X” on the calendar. It feels good to see the chain grow.
- Fear of disappointment. The natural aversion to loss is another form of motivation to keep you from breaking the chain.
- Perspective. This method helps you focus of one day at a time. All you have to do is do it today. You can focus on the habit as just one day.
Which Habits Should You Track?
What you track depends on your goals. You can use a habit tracker to build a new habit or break a bad habit. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you might track habits like exercise for 30 minutes each day, go to the gym 3 times per week, or no alcohol. If your goal is self-improvement, you might track habits like read for 30 minutes per day, meditate for 10 minutes every morning, or write a daily journal entry.
The best habits to track represent the kind of behaviors that will help you accomplish your goals.
Ideas For Good Habits to Track
- Go to the gym three times each week
- Weigh In
- Eat a healthy breakfast every day
- Take vitamins
- No caffeine after 4 pm
- No screens after 10 pm
- Sleep for 6-8 hours each night
- Get out of bed without using the snooze button
- Meditate for 10 minutes each morning
- Read for 30 minutes each day
- Watch a TED Talk once per week
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Listen more than talk
- Weekly date night
- Quality time with my children
- Call Mom/Dad
Types of Habit Trackers
A habit tracker can be analog or digital. There are pros and cons to each method. The critical success factor is that you find a system that works for you. It is essential that you do it consistently. So, whichever method you choose, stick with it.
Analog Habit Tracker
Motivation: Don’t Break The Chain
The most basic form of tracking habits is known as Don’t Break The Chain. It is a habit tracking method credited to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The idea is simple.
- Choose one good habit you want to build related to an overarching goal.
- Complete the habit every day to build the habit.
- Mark an “X” on your calendar for each day you successfully complete the habit.
- Create a chain of daily wins as you accumulate consecutive days with an “X”
- Don’t break the chain
In the case of Seinfeld, his goal was to perfect his stand-up comedy routine and his daily habit was writing or editing the content of his routine. Each day when he completed the task of writing, he would draw an “X” on that day of the calendar. Eventually, it builds a visual chain. The habit-building mission is “don’t break the chain.”
1. Journaling to Keep Track of Your Habits
The Bullet Journal Method is a journal-based productivity system developed by Ryder Carroll. It can be used for project planning, time-management, a calendar, and a daily schedule. It is also useful as a habit tracker. In a bullet journal, a dedicated space to keep track of your habits is called a “spread.”
The bullet journal community is very active, so it is not hard to find examples of habit tracking spreads for almost anything – weight loss tracker, sleep tracker, exercise tracker, and hundreds of other daily habits. Of course, if you are a creative person, you can create your own design.
2. Download a Printable Habit Tracker
The is no shortage of printable habit tracker templates. Many are available as a free download. For those who love pen and paper, it is an ideal solution. With this method, you can search for a free template online and simply download and print it. Another option is to create your own with a pen and paper. For artistic people, it is a great way to express your creativity.
Once you find the version of habit tracker, you can place it in a place you will see it every day. I have mine taped to the inside the door of my closet. Every day when I am choosing my clothes, I see it. The habit tracker itself serves as a visual reminder to make progress on my daily habits.
3. Productivity Planner Page
Many daily planners will include a page designed to be a habit tracker. However, even without a focused space, planners usually have enough white space for you to use as a habit tracker. A habit tracker does not need to be complicated to be effective.
Digital Habit Tracker
For some people the best habit tracker is digital. A quick search in the Apple app store or in the Google Play store will render hundreds or thousands of results. The options are almost limitless. Habit trackers are one of the most popular categories of apps across all platforms.
All of these are great options for a digital habit tracker.
iOS Habit Trackers
- Productive – Habit Tracker
- Done: A Simple Habit Tracker
- Today Habit Tracker
- TickTick (not strictly a habit tracker, but the best integration of a habit tracker in a task manager I have seen so far)
Android Habit Trackers
Get Started Using A Habit Tracker
Regardless of how busy you are in life and work, the right habit tracker can transform your productivity.
4 Simple Tips To Track Your Habits
- Choose a habit that will support one of your important life goals. You may have ideas for more good habits you want to start, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by tracking one good habit.
- Choose your habit tracker (digital or analog). Download a habit tracker app for your computer, smartphone, or tablet. If you use a planner or bullet journal, dedicate a space to track your habit.
- Position your habit tracker in a prominent place where you will see it. If it is a printed habit tracker, place somewhere visible. If it is an application, consider placing it on your home screen.
- Start tracking your fist habit.