Recently, I wrote an article for the website ODs on FB about starting new habits (check it out here!). Although that particular post relates to clinicians and students, the strategies are relevant to everyone. For my loyal readers, I’ve added a few more tips to help you start a new habit with a hectic schedule. I have also tied in previous concepts to put a bigger picture together. Enjoy!

As professionals and students, our lives are undoubtedly busy and overwhelming. We all have certain habits we hope to implement, but it can be hard to figure out how to get started and make those new habits stick. Add in a pandemic and a chaotic schedule and those goals can seem nearly impossible to reach.

In this article, I’ve outlined six practical strategies to help you follow through with your goals, no matter how crazy your schedule is.

Use the 80/20 Rule to Prioritize Your Habits

Ideally, a good habit will bring value to your life in some way. First, write a list of all the plans you have in mind. Consider every routine you’ve ever thought of starting, whether it is small-scale or a large-scale one.

After writing this list, ask yourself, “Which of these habits will give me the most return on my time and energy, especially since I have a hectic schedule?”

The best way to answer this question is by using the 80/20 rule for perspective. Essentially, 80% of our outcomes are a result of 20% of our efforts. This is true for habits too. So, 20% of the habits on your list will lead to the most benefits.

Make the Habit Specific

Many people think that they lack motivation to start a new habit, but all they really lack is clarity. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, suggests creating a specific plan which outlines when and where you want to perform a new habit. People who do this are more likely to follow through with what they set out to do. Instead of saying you want to work out more, make a concrete plan — “I will work out for one hour after work at 6.00pm at LA Fitness,” for example.

To use a personal example of how to put this into practice, I will outline how I went about making time to study for classes this summer. Naturally, class preparation jumped to the top of my list of habits, so I made a plan to complete at least one unit immediately after finishing other work around 3.00pm every day. I knew if I took a break after completing work, and then tried to start on classes, I would not follow through. Therefore, my actionable plan was “I will work on one unit of class preparation immediately after work at 3.00pm.” This method ended up working really well for me, and now summer classes have become part of my routine without having to actively think about it.

Make the Habit as Easy as Possible

When building a new habit, start with the two-minute version.

  • “Go to the gym” becomes “put on my workout clothes”
  • “Study for class” becomes “open my book and read one page”
  • “Read current literature for work” becomes “save articles on my desktop where I can see them”

Anyone can read one page of a book or put on workout clothes, so making a habit as easy as possible will inspire you to stick with the endeavor.

Instead of starting a new habit perfectly from the start, do the easy version of it consistently. Then, work to improve and master the final details.

Build One Habit at a Time

Establish the habit you’ve picked based on your 80/20 analysis, and make yourself work hard to get it down, before considering moving onto another one. Once you think the habit has been established, give it another week or two before you move on to the next one. It gives you time to “settle in” with the new habit when you have a stressful schedule.

Process Tasks in Bundles

Making a new habit stick can require a lot of energy, which is usually in short supply if you are busy. Therefore, it is important to streamline as many high-energy tasks as possible. Bundle as many small tasks and decisions into confined periods of time. Meal prepping is a great example of processing a task in a bundle, but here are some other ideas…

  • Email bundling: instead of checking and responding to emails whenever they come in, dedicate between half hour and an hour each day, and refrain from checking your email outside of that designated time.
  • Chore prepping: choose just a couple of hours each week when you bundle all your house chores together.
  • Communication bundling: if you make regular phone calls each week, try to schedule all of them within a specific timeframe.

Relax!

When we think of relaxing, we usually turn to social media and reading the news. Although those can be fun to look through, both activities actually require a lot of subtle social and analytical processing. Thus, our brains do not relax deeply.

Aim to do things such as looking through the photos you have taken on your phone, practicing meditation, and performing deep breathing exercises. Five minutes of any of these things will restore our minds more than our default relaxation activities.

Our minds and bodies all have a fixed amount of energy, and we need to be smart about how we spend that energy.

Stay consistent and be patient with yourself. Starting a new habit takes time, however, with dedication to small and manageable tasks, you will reach your goals.

Making habits stick is tricky business, so if you’re interested in learning even more about it, I would recommend BJ Fogg’s free Tiny Habits course.

Which strategy was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!