How One Habit & One App Increased My Productivity

From Procrastinator to Proactive by Adopting One Habit!

I am writing this article because I was a serial procrastinator. Now, that’s not saying I didn’t get things done, I just wasn’t utilising my time right. I always said I would do this, or do that with no structured organisation. Time just went by, wasted. Time is a precious commodity, so it shouldn’t be mismanaged. All of that changed. With a combination of timing, brotherly advice and coincidental choice of reading material, I have been able to up my productivity tenfold in the last few months. How you ask? Well, that’s what I want to share with you and anyone who is willing to listen. This one, easy-to-implement habit has really transformed my life. It’s so simple, yet so undervalued and under-used. In short, it is the simple task of writing down a to-do list. Emphasis on writing down. This not-so-secret secret was introduced to me through a book I was reading called ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. I paired this newfound knowledge from the book with an app my brother introduced to me called Notion. Notion compliments this habit perfectly as it helps track and organise your time.

Now I know what your thinking, everybody knows this already… But do they put it into action and are they using it correctly? Is there accountability? I will highlight some techniques I used to improve upon my to-do lists, and steps to build this into a powerful habit. I will also show how I utilised Notion to support myself building this most basic yet powerful habit.

Building Stong Habits with To-do Lists

I recently came to the realisation that to-do lists are one of the most powerful habits that can be nurtured. When utilized to their full potential, to-do lists passively build additional robust habits that improve quality of life.

A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic — James Clear

Building habits requires time and energy, but there are a few tricks to make it seem like less work. I asked myself four simple questions. Live by these questions and those habits you have tried multiple times to stick by, will become a part of your identity.

1. How can I make it obvious?

2. How can I make it attractive?

3. How can I make it easy?

4. How can I make it satisfying?

So how did I go about creating the habit of writing and implementing to-do lists using the above laws? With Notion. This app answered all four of the laws for me.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to promote Notion. It just so happens this was the first application that worked for me, so I am drawing from my own experiences. The laws above can be applied to any form of to-do list medium/habit.

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How can I make it obvious?

By having access to Notion on my laptop and phone I was able to have access to my to-do list 24/7. I wanted to make the cues of good habits obvious and visible. Before I adopted Notion I would write my to-do lists on scrap pieces of paper which would end up lost in the debris that was my desk. Notion kept my to-do list visible.

Another useful technique I used to create my to-do list habit and make it obvious was called habit stacking. Habit stacking is identifying a current habit already done each day and stacking a new behaviour on top. For me this was breakfast. Every morning while having my breakfast I would write out my to-do list on Notion. Now it’s muscle memory! Without fail, I write my to-do list every day while having breakfast.

When I used to write my to-do lists, I would jot down a few things I wanted to achieve that day, with no clear instruction or direction. This would lead to achieving only a fraction of what I wanted to achieve that day. I had no clarity.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity — James Clear

A great way to do away with time wastage and add clarity to my day was to use a technique called implementation intentions. This is where I wrote down the behaviour I wanted to do, with a time and location. When writing my to-do list on Notion, I specify what I need done, what time (I can also stack it on another habit) and where. Not only does this make it obvious, but it also adds accountability.

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Having a ticker on Notion adds accountability. At least for me it does. There’s nothing more I hate than finishing a day and seeing more boxes unticked than ticked off. Accountability almost turns into a sport. I want to get through as many tasks as possible, hence, increasing productivity. Notice I always write my to-do list at breakfast, and each task has a time and location. It really does help with time management and giving my day clear intention and clarity.

How can I make it attractive?

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming — James Clear

So how do I make a habit more attractive? For my to-do lists, Notion answered that question. Compared to a scrap piece of paper, Notions user-friendly, clean and crisp design was lightyears ahead. With Notion, I can import other peoples template builds, use Notions default builds or build my own from scratch. This made it fun and attractive to me. With each new habit, I designed an interactive chart, kanban, table, or checklist which I would update daily on Notion. Below is a snippet of my Medium kanban board which I use to monitor the progress of certain articles I want to publish. This helps make my blogging habit attractive.

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Another way to make a habit irresistible is by rewarding myself upon completion of that habit. I have recently taken up blogging and running. I try to schedule these new habits by pairing them with activities I find rewarding. Whether it’s running before my favourite TV show comes on, or by finishing my blog before I sit down to a glass of red wine.

How can I make it easy?

There are a few ways I can make my habits easier. I start off by reducing the number of steps needed to achieve good habits. Reduce friction! As I mentioned earlier, I used to write my to-do lists on scrap pieces of paper which I would leave lying around. The amount of effort it took me to even find my to-do list eventually turned me off from even writing one. There was too much friction! Notion makes life easy. Frictionless. There is only one step from me being able to update my to-do list, and that is taking my phone out of my pocket. Keep things easy.

You can also prepare your environment to make future actions easier. For example, when I built my running log or my to-do list, I built a template which I re-use every month. I simply archive my old months' info and click ONE button to refresh the entire month. Easy peasy.

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How can I make it satisfying?

Notion is essentially a habit-tracker among other things. A Habit-tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress. Who doesn’t love to see that they ran X amount of days a month? Who doesn’t love to see that they achieved X amount of tasks? Notion provides that outlet. I find it super satisfying ticking off my to-do list. It reminds me of the time I wasted by having neglected time management. By having no clarity. But it also reminds me of how far I’ve come and all of the habits I’ve built along the way unintentionally. How productive I have become. All thanks to a simple to-do list.

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Maybe I’m just rambling. Maybe I’m the only one not in on the not-so-secret secret. I just want to share my experience and hope that I’ve inspired even one person. This really has helped me go from procrastinator to proactive. From unordered to ordered. I have built habits that I hope will last a lifetime, by simply adopting a to-do list. But why not make life easier on yourself, and use Notion (or any medium that ticks the four essential questions for you) to make habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying! Ditch the pen and paper… in this case.

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you all have a lovely day. Stay happy and healthy peeps! 再见

A data scientist & blogger residing in China who enjoys travelling, programming, improving productivity, reading & above all else, learning.

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