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How do you feel at the end of the day? Can you look back and say you were productive or focused on the things that matter most to you? Most often, daily routines are consumed with habits (good and bad) instead of intentional design. If you’re feeling a misalignment between your daily activities and your goals, learning how to build a productive routine can help close this gap. 

First, let’s acknowledge that the struggle with intention versus action is a universal human experience. The intention-action gap was noted by behavior scientists who discovered the disconnect between what people wanted to do and their action. Good behavior design leaves clues about how to follow through on your intentions and build a productive routine that sticks. 

Begin to habit stack

Behavior science helps us understand how habits are formed and how to make them more sticky. Building habits that stick means attaching new parts of your routine to old ones that are consistent and currently a productive part of your day. For example, when you get out of bed (a productive part of your day!), follow that with working out (your desired new productive habit). Soon, the workout will become routine. Waking up is automatically followed by working out. A productive routine includes as many of these “if this, then that” rhythms as possible. 

Make your new routine rewarding

You repeat what is rewarded. Whether you’re trying to break a bad habit, build a new one, or build a productive routine, if you are rewarded for your behavior you will repeat it. When you make your routine or habits rewarding, you begin to crave it. Often this happens very quickly. For example, if a daily work expectation is to clear your inbox, schedule a snack break right after your inbox hits zero (or whatever number is reasonable for you!). You will soon begin to associate opening and responding to emails with the reward of a snack. The promise of a reward will provide motivation to stick with this new routine as craving sets in. 

Start early

Begin your day with the things that are most likely to lead to a positive impact or ripple effect on the rest of the day. If you wake up late, skip your shower, and race to your first meeting of the day, you are not set up for productivity. Alternatively, create a morning routine that leads to a positive mood and feeling of success. A productive routine might include waking to an alarm (and not hitting snooze!), working out or stretching, taking a leisurely shower, eating breakfast, or taking time to meditate. When you do these good-for-you things at the start of your day, you will feel more energized and motivated to tackle the rest of your day.

Use these three tips to build a productive routine that supports your physical and emotional wellbeing. BetterYou can help by nudging you toward your personal and professional productivity and wellbeing goals. To date we’ve helped thousands of people get an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night, improve their talk time with friends by 10 minutes each day, or get another workout in every week. Take back your time for the things that matter most.