“First, forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habits will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.”
Welcome to a brand new year and a shiny new decade. Don’t tell me: you have big goals for this year, right? Uplevels and launches and projects, oh my! Looking around on the internet lately, I don’t really blame you. All signs seem to point to the mythical land of Somewhere Bigger & Better Than Here. If we’re not setting huge goals and planning to 10X our results, it’s easy to feel like we’re doing it wrong, or missing out on our potential.
And yet as you look forward to the blank slate of the year ahead, I’d encourage you not to overwhelm yourself with goals and projects that feel daunting. Goals are great! I’m a huge fan of them. But I also believe that before we can make massive change happen, we need to build strong, productive habits to support us. Goals are accomplished on the foundation of our good habits. Healthy habits are how we ensure that our businesses are sustainable for the long haul.
If you find yourself struggling to get things done on time or make space for your big goals, chances are you might need to revisit & optimize your business (and personal!) habits. Here are five of my best suggestions for healthier business habits to build this year.
1. Create communication boundaries
I could talk about this until the proverbial cows come home. Yet even though I have taught workshops on it and wrote a whole course devoted to getting better at managing email, I still found my communication boundaries slipping towards the end of last year. As we move into a new year, it’s been helpful for me to recommit to better structures to support me and reduce the constant communication that drags me away from my most important tasks.
We don’t do better work after we’ve answered every message that needs answering. We do better work once we realize that we need limits despite not every message being answered yet. Uninterrupted work time is the only way we do our deepest, most important work. It’s how we move big projects forward and get key things done. In my experience, constant connectivity is a bad habit if we want to be growing a business that can thrive.
Ideas for Boundaries: You don’t need to do all of these! Try picking one or two.
- Set email “office hours” after which you don’t check at all
- Set up down time & limit app usage on your iPhone or Android
- Delete the email app from your phone & check only on desktop
- Choose designated times to reply to business-related DMs
- Do a “social media sabbatical” once a week (I’m choosing Sunday!)
2. Get tasks out of your head
For the love of all that is holy, can we please all stop trying to remember things in our heads? Why would you use your already-limited bandwidth to keep track of things that a robot or a simple paper notebook could easily do for you?
If you already use a system that works well for you: bravo! Yay. This is great news. I would prompt you to set aside 20 minutes this week to clean it up a bit: make sure your projects are organized properly, delete any tasks that are no longer relevant, move forward tasks from last year that are still outstanding. I promise you’ll feel better afterwards.
Ideas for Task Management: If you don’t have a system yet, here are some of my faves!
- Asana: this is what I use to manage all my business and personal tasks
- Todoist: what I used to use. I still love their interface & setup and is a great place to start if you’re new to these kinds of systems
- Basecamp Personal: the new free plan from Basecamp made it more accessible to solopreneurs! This is an intuitive system that might work well for you.
- Bullet Journalling: I also love the analog method of using a bullet journal! I just find it limited in terms of planning big projects.
Disclaimer: Don’t waste a lot of time choosing a system! I know it can be hard to pick, but the best way to find out if one works for you is to start using it.
3. Reflect regularly
One of the best things I’ve ever started doing in my business was to build a habit of reflection. As mentioned in an earlier article, my philosophy is based on this quote from Peter Drucker: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
It’s a mistake for us to act blindly without pausing to consider what effect our actions had. We may still get things done, but there’s no guarantee that those things will be the most efficient or helpful tasks for our businesses. It’s important to build in pauses to take stock of what you tried, what you learned, and what you want to do differently.
I am now a reflection junkie. I reflect annually of course, but I also do a brief weekly review and a more thorough monthly one. And then I’ve built habits into my life to support even more reflection, such as my monthly mastermind meeting and my regular business retreats. There’s a reason those habits are so helpful. I always leave with a much clearer sense of what I should be working on.
Ideas for Reflection:
- Do an Activity Audit
- Choose a set of standardized questions to ask yourself each time (I use modified versions of these ones from Get to Work Book)
- Fill out an Eisenhower Matrix with all your tasks & to-dos (as explained here)
- Plan a quarterly DIY business retreat for yourself (or come to mine!)
4. Optimize your daily routines
This “habit” is of course actually many habits, so be careful not to take on too much here! Be gentle with yourself, and remember that optimizing your routine is a work-in-progress. Choose one area to focus on at a time so that you can stay committed and actually build the habit.
With all that said, I think now is a great time to re-assess whether you’ve been fully supporting your work life lately, and if not, what you can do about it. As always, start with the (not-so-basic) basics: making sure you get enough sleep, water, healthy food and movement. When that feels under control, check in with your physical work environment: do you have enough light? Quiet? Plants? Finally, don’t forget about your mental wellbeing! Ensure you are getting enough social stimulation throughout the day, giving yourself treats, and celebrating your wins.
As I said, this habit is a work in progress and is really another form of reflection! It requires cultivating the habit of checking in with yourself and making sure you have what you need to do your best work each day.
Ideas for Routines:
- Create a morning routine that makes you feel calm & grounded
- Map out a route near your office to go for a walk
- Find a water bottle or system for drinking more water throughout the day
- Experiment with packing different kinds of snacks
- Try a coworking space, or alternately, try working from home
5. Be in supportive community
One of the best ways to build your business this year is to find ways to regularly be inspired by and connected to others. I say it’s a habit because it really does take some practice! My best business community experiences are habits at this point: they are regular, recurring and structured. This doesn’t take the fun out of it, I promise! In fact, it makes these practices even more valuable since I know what’s coming and what to expect.
Being in a supportive community is helpful for so many reasons. Other people help you to grow, since others can usually see blindspots we cannot. You’ll also gain so many concrete skills, since others know things we do not. And of course you’ll be inspired and feel motivated simply by being exposed to new ideas and seeing what other people are doing in their own businesses.
This may be last on the list of habits, but I truly believe it’s one of the most beneficial things you can possibly do to create a business that feels sustainable.
Ideas for Community:
- Start or join a mastermind group
- Start working with a coach you admire (psst, check out my program, The Foundery!)
- Try going to local inspiring events like Creative Mornings
- Join a local networking group like TuesdaysTogether
Better Habits, Better Business
I’ll sign off by leaving you with another beautiful quote, this time from Will Durant: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Isn’t this a relief? It can feel like so much pressure to “achieve excellence” (whatever that means) or complete our goals, because oftentimes outcomes lie outside of our control. Luckily for all of us, our habits are absolutely within our control.
I’d love to know: What habits are you hoping to establish in your own business life this year? What are the best habits you’ve ever cultivated in your business? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram @stephpellett!
PS. Need some support in establishing stronger habits for the rest of the year? Click below to download my Business Habits Action Plan, a completely customizable guide to building good habits this year!