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Becoming More Centered By Forming Better Habits

2011 August 17
tags: Getting Things Done, GTD, Habits, Productivity, Self-Care, Time Management
by Andrew   

mental retreat

Photo by CJ Roberts

Becoming more centered?! Building better habits?!? What the heck does that have to do with productivity?! First off, who said productivity was all I could write about? It’s my blog and I’ll wax philosophical about centeredness if I want to. But, it will still be about productivity…this time. And how you can break bad habits and form better ones reliably.

Bad habits hurt

So, let’s take a quick look at a not-so-atypical start to the morning’s work for some people:

  • Arrive at work
  • Spend fifteen minutes saying hi to everyone you haven’t seen since yesterday
  • Go out to get the morning giganta-coffee with a few of those hello-buddies
  • Get back to the office and agree on when to meet for lunch
  • Make it over to your desk and start warming up the computer
  • Go to the restroom
  • Go back to your desk and get ready to start preparing to do some message checking

OK. We just spent an hour getting ready to waste at least another half-hour. Seriously…is it really this bad? Seriously…yes. With minor variations.

So, what do we do? We have to have coffee! We have to have friends! We have to take bathroom breaks! And we absolutely, positively have to start the computers. Undeniably, most of those things do need to happen. You have to decide what the right order, length, and frequency is for you. But there’s an effective way or two, and a lot of ineffective ways.

We haven’t even talked about ingrained habits about getting home, exercising, reading your work journals, paying bills, or anything else. And we aren’t going to. We are, however, going to talk about forming good habits and breaking bad ones.

Where do good habits come from?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard it takes twenty-one days to form a habit or replace a bad one. Now, put your hand down. People are likely staring at you. Some people form habits faster, some slower, and all dependent on frequency of repetition and the perceived pleasantness of the habit. It’s a lot easier to turn eating a small piece of chocolate after lunch and dinner into a habit in three weeks (or two days) than it is running three miles a day before you get dressed for work. Regardless, consistency and repetition are the keys to forming good habits. And good habits are as essential to calmness, focus, and peace of mind as are time to meditate and reflect.

Selecting habits to change

They’re your habits. You can select as many as you like in any order. But experience has borne out for many people that this approach doesn’t work well. In fact, it often dooms the effort to failure and forms fertile ground for worse habits. Think of it as an unhealthy consolation prize.

It’s usually better to select a single habit to focus on, whether it’s one you want to change or a new one you want to develop. It’s entirely up to you which one that is, unless coworkers or family members are hiring skywriters to implore you to fix something.

So, identify a desired outcome (run a mile a day, drink more water, read more daily, etc.), identify the frequency you want to practice at, clarify form yourself what your motivation is (better health, broader knowledge, more relaxation, and so on), and write these goals down where you can see them often, review them, and record progress. You might even want a goal “advertisement” where you can see it often, while keeping the tracking separate.

Benefits and tools

The better your habits are overall, the better your health will tend to be, the easier you will be able to respond to new stressors, and the less likely you will be to fall prey to bad habits as coping mechanisms. The more good habits you have, the fewer areas exist to become bad habits.

Centeredness is as much a state of being as it is a state of mind and body, and it must be cultivated. Good habits, such as standing tall, breathing deeply from your core, eating healthy, and seeking forward-looking approaches to self-reflection, reinforce centeredness and contribute to achieving and maintaining it. Bad habits accrue momentum in the other direction. And centeredness improves your ability to respond to shifts in expectations, emerging challenges, and daily stressors without becoming unproductive.

There are quite a few apps for tracking and reinforcing habits available in the Apple app store, but three really stand out due to a combination of features, total user reviews, and the ratings given by those users. I’ve also run these three apps in parallel for about five months, so I have a fair bit of experience with the various features of each. Here’s a quick rundown.

Habit Factor is my favorite by far. It opens (toggleable) with any one of a large selection of inspiring habit-related quotes, many from classical writers and philosophers. It provides the ability to record goals (with fields for motivation and a photo, start date, completion date, and social site integration). You can record progress against the goal manually and you can also associate related habits so they’re linked to the goal).

Habits can be created to occur a minimum number of times per specified period or a minimum quantity of time to be spent can be specified. Again, space to record the motivating reason(s) is provided, and the tracking period, active days, and category (mind, body, spirit, and social) may all be specified. The point of this app is to track and reinforce the repetition of the habit in discrete periods, which provides richer measurements in the charting and graphing function; however, infinity can be specified as the period.

Tracking is accomplished by tapping a single button on a swipable screen of habits, which includes an option to add comments. The overview tab provides tracking by goal (bar chart), habit (bar chart), sustained streak (colored calendar), or a line chart of actual against target.

Due to its flexibility and functionality, this is definitely the habit-reinforcing app I use the most.

Habit Maker Habit Breaker makes entering habits quite easy, with all of the entry on a single screen (notes open in expanded views). Habit names, optional nicknames, whether it’s a make or break type of activity, and goal periodicity are all entered on the main add screen, and motivation and reward notes are entered in standard comment/note boxes accessed by arrow buttons. Photos may be added, along with reminders for completing the activity. Progress is also tracked by “levels” in addition to statistical tracking, but I found the levels to be time-based and completely unrelated to any proficiency with the habit, which is counterintuitive given their names.

Reporting is by cartoon-y bar charts that are often difficult to comprehend unless you’ve slavishly recorded activity in the app, and moving backwards through prior dates to record progress is doable but prone to miskeying and having to correct. On the plus side, daily recording of accomplishment is easy, with a single tap for each habit sufficing.

Habits: A GTD Companion is a great habit tracking app. While initially lacking in the visual pizzazz of the other two, entering and recording progress of habits is incredibly easy, and a simple rotation of an iOS device will produce a great chart that readily depicts lateness, accomplishment, and skipping of planned repetitions. Also, this app has the most flexibility of all three in setting recurrences with no hassles.

So, pick a good habit to make, or a bad one to break, and get started!

Take care, and enjoy life,


Photo Credit: Flickr: CJ Roberts

7 Responses Post a comment
  1. December 27, 2012

    Andrew. Thanks! We also have a new app "Resolutions 2013" out that you might like. Same concept, but with some new stuff focused on Resolutions/Goals.

  2. December 27, 2012

    12/27/12 – UPDATE: Our Habit Maker Habit Breaker app got a major update… just in time for New Year's Resolutions. Along with an updated look and UI improvements, the free version now offers unlocks all the premium features for changing any 3 habits.

    • December 27, 2012

      Thanks for letting me know about the update, and for all the hard work! I look forward to trying out the new version!

  3. August 17, 2011

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for reviewing one of our apps! We always love to hear from users. We are the creators of Habit Maker Habit Breaker which was our first app. Our goal was to make an app that was useful, yet fast and simple to use. We have a major update that should be live within the month so I hope you will check it out when you see it.

    I would also love to have you take a look at our newest app "Healthy Habits"… which is rated very well.

    We still have room for improvement… but we continue to incorporate user feedback to make our apps better. I will be adding your review to our user comment database to help us improve this and future apps.


    • Andrew permalink
      August 17, 2011

      Hi, Jo! Thank you for your comments! I definitely will check out the update and the new app! I appreciate you pointing me to it.

      Take care,


  4. August 17, 2011

    OH! you are so funny! Your description of the morning routine was almost play by play of my second career job. I did everything to avoid working. Then add to that all the need for organizing with lovely labels to take even more time away.

    I also love the 21 days to set a routine. It is true that it depends on the habit.

    Thank you for pointing that out.

    I have yet transitioned to smart phones and such (and I'm still in my 30s, I should have one tied to my hip … lol) The apps look cool.

    Take care, Julie

    • Andrew permalink
      August 17, 2011

      Thanks, Julie! I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

      What computing platform do you use? I can recommend a couple of desktop/laptop applications for Mac or PC.

      Take care,


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