Habits and Projects

A (positive) habit is something you commit to doing on a regular basis – often indefinitely. A project is something you want to accomplish that has a distinct end point.

Developing habits is a strength of mine. For example, today is the 1,633rd consecutive day that I’ve run at least a mile. About 14 months ago, I started lifting weights 3 days per week, and I’ve been very consistent with it. I’m sure I haven’t missed 3 days of flossing in the last 25 years.

Finishing projects has not historically been a strength of mine, and I tend to beat myself up about that. A friend complimented me on my discipline a few months ago, and I was flustered by his praise: Me? Disciplined? … but look at all these things I haven’t done!” Of course, he was referring to the running and lifting and dieting and similar accomplishments. I, on the other hand, conflated habits and projects and only saw what I hadn’t accomplished.

Only recently have I noticed this distinction between habits and projects – and how they relate to each other. Now I’m trying to leverage my strengths with habit-forming to fix my weaknesses with project-completing. This began when I scheduled an hour each Friday after lunch (literally a recurring appointment in my work calendar) to work on my podcasts. After a month, it’s now become a habit. Slowly but surely, I’m completing a bunch of little podcast-related projects.

My boss, Harry, is not a project manager (far from it), but he’s really good at focusing on “one thing” … and that attitude permeates our entire company. We don’t have project plans – instead, each person just needs to know the one thing they’re working on outside of everyday support and sales. When you’re done with that little project, then you think of the next one thing and do it. It sounds simple, but I’ve often struggled with it. Now that I’m developing habits to support this approach – namely, setting aside time for my one thing (as well as additional time for recurring commitments like podcasting) – it’s finally starting to sink in for me.

At home, I have a ton of household projects that haven’t been getting done, which has been a source of stress for both Paula and me. About a week ago, we started talking about habits and projects and one thing. Ultimately, each of us can only work on one thing at a time at home, too – but I hadn’t been scheduling time to work on anything! (I’ve spent a lot of non-work time lately preparing Gus’s go-kart for the upcoming season, but c’mon … ya gotta have priorities.) We started scheduling some “project time” – for starters, just 30 minutes immediately after I’m done with work – and during each block of time, we work on the most important project in our household – whatever’s causing us the most stress. After just a few days, it’s making a difference. I’m very optimistic.

That’s it – I’m done with work for the day … time to spend 30 minutes on a home project.

4 thoughts on “Habits and Projects

  1. Steve poling

    Projects often have an asymptotic behavior at their end. A majority of the benefit accrues at the outset (by design), and all the niggling details (hard work/low payoff) get put off to the end. Often the benefits are small enough to blow off without any harm except to your peace of mind. In such cases you can give yourself permission to declare victory and leave the field. Every enterprise has a Pareto distribution of payoffs and we all naturally gravitate towards sequencing tasks in this order. But this does make it harder to finish.

    1. pfoley Post author

      I completely agree – and I think that’s a significant reason why I’ve always struggled with projects. Being more aware of these factors should help. Thanks for your input, sir!


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