As clinicians 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 four 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 making a specific plan for 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 boards this summer. Naturally, boards preparation jumped to the top of my list of habits, so I made a plan to do at least one unit immediately after finishing work for summer classes around 5.00pm every day. I knew if I took a break after finishing classwork, and then tried to start on boards, I would not follow through. Therefore, my actionable plan was “I will work on one unit of boards preparation immediately after school work at 5.00pm.” This method ended up working really well for me, and now boards preparation has 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 boards” becomes “open my book and read one page”
  • “Read current optometric literature ” 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. 

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 more about it, I would recommend BJ Fogg’s free Tiny Habits course. 

© Productive Break