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“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Jim Rohn was talking about getting things done in your life when he made that statement. Not just being active, but being productive. Getting results.
We’re all capable of earning more money, or improving our personal life. Most of the information we need is freely available, but the cost is consistent action. Some of the biggest improvements we can make are the result of simple habits practiced every day.
Here are 8 simple habits, that when practiced each month, will bring consistent improvement in a few different areas. See if you agree, or if there are any you can add.
1. Reviewing Your Budget
Many people resist using a budget, but it’s the main reason why three quarters of us live paycheck to paycheck our entire life. Whether your goal is getting out of debt, saving for a home, or just freedom from cubicle life, using a budget is the only way to ensure you’re spending less than you’re making. There’s no complicated math. It’s just, what’s coming in, minus what’s going out.
Remember, a budget shouldn’t be seen as something that’s limiting your life. It’s a tool that helps you to move closer to freedom, month by month.
2. Check Your Net Worth
Checking your net worth is like taking your temperature. It’s a quick, easy way to see if you’re ok, or if you need to dig a little deeper and see what’s going on. Did your net worth decrease this month? Why? Was it extra debt? Or what if it increased? Did your home value increase, did you deposit a bonus check or pay off a debt? Seeing your net worth each month is the quickest way to gauge the the direction of your financial health.
Here’s a quick and easy way to calculate your net worth:
3. Take Advantage of Tools Available
You don’t see many home builders pounding away with hammers, now that air tools are available. And when was the last time you pulled to the side of the road to check a paper map. Using the right tools, especially when they’re free, gives you a big advantage.
Staying on top of your finances doesn’t need to be a weekend project. If you’ve never setup a budget before, it’ll take a few months of monitoring and recording expenses. But once you’re getting a feel for what’s coming in and what’s going out, use one of the free tools available, like Mint or Personal Capital.
They’ll each make it simple to monitor your spending, notice any irregularities and check your net worth. And being able to see your progress is what’ll motivate you even more. It’s not often that tools come along to make our lives easier at no charge, but Mint and Personal Capital are two.
4. Think About Your Life Plan
We spend time planning everything from vacations, to parties or kid’s activities. But do you know where you’d like to be five years from now? Are the things you’re spending time and money on each week moving you in that direction? If not, why?
Having a plan will ensure you have no regrets later in life. So if you feel like you’re treading water each week, think about your plan and then consider where you spend your energy each week. Are they related?
5. Invest in Yourself
Education shouldn’t end when you graduate. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average person will work about 10 jobs by the age of 40, and 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime.
Even if you’re comfortable in your position now, don’t assume it will continue. Consider your next step. Things in your market or your local job site will change – people leave, departments reorganize or outsourcing happens. So when it does, be prepared.
What would you need to move to another level or make a transition? Some courses leading to a certification, having a mentor, self-study through blogs or courses? Many companies offer tuition reimbursement, but nobody will to coax you to take advantage of it.
“Control your own destiny, or someone else will.” -Jack Welch
6. Schedule Your Time
It might seem efficient to write to-do lists, but writing it down doesn’t ensure it’ll get done. And trying to multitask every day is inefficient and mentally exhausting.
The best way to make progress on several things simultaneously is to dedicate specific time blocks to tasks. Shutting out distractions and focusing on one thing for 30-60 minutes will ensure that it actually gets done.
Time blocking also forces you to prioritize. We have a finite amount of time each day, but if you start attaching tasks to time blocks, you’ll find that your must dos actually get done. And the less critical things can be scheduled for later or may not really need to be done.
Time blocking doesn’t need to be complicated. Google calendar works great, and I’ve outlined some tips on making it work in How to Own Your Day and Skyrocket Your Productivity.
7. Protect Your Time, and Know When to Say No
Steve Jobs said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”
If you don’t make an effort to protect your time, someone or something else will. Whether it’s meetings, email, phone calls or in-person requests, your time will dissolve 10 different ways and you’ll be re-writing the same to-do list tomorrow.
If you’re using time blocking, that should help to set expectations so people won’t expect an instant response to that email they sent 5 minutes ago.
In an office setting, we need to interact with coworkers all day, but there are ways to head off situations that monopolize our time.
- Unexpected People – How many times are you right in the middle of something when someone drops by and assumes you have the next 20 minutes to chit chat? Next time, try getting up to meet them before they get comfortable. They don’t know that you weren’t planning on going anywhere, but it’s a good bet that they’ll get to the point right away.
- Incoming Phone Calls – Instead of answering with an open-ended “what’s up”, use a more direct, “How can I help you?” It’s polite, but still gets right to the point. Or even better, if you can get away with it, is to return voicemails in batch mode.
- If You’re Busy – If you’re in the middle of a critical task, try updating your voicemail, messaging, or email greeting with a “I’m occupied but will get back to you by…”. Just make sure to follow up.
- Delegate – For the simple everyday time killers, is there a way to delegate or automate them? It’s hard to relinquish control, but the more time you free up, the more new things you can learn.
8. Take Time off to Recharge
When my Dad got the news that his cancer had progressed to a point where nothing else could be done, he knew he had less than a week left. Mentally, he was sharp as a tack. He knew what was going on in the world, he was curious and opinionated. But time was up.
Life has a way of speeding by, until suddenly we realize the trip is over. And we never took that trip to the Grand Canyon. We never strolled through the Museum of Modern Art, or worked on our photography skills. We never took the family camping, or experienced another country together.
As he lay in his hospital bed, my Dad wasn’t thinking about the projects at work, the presidential election, or even his beloved New York Yankees. He spoke to me about family – about me as a son, and about my children.
That spreadsheet, or that meeting tomorrow may be urgent, but try not to focus only on the urgent at the expense of the important.
How About You?
Are there any habits you’ve tried to be consistent with, that have made a real difference, either financially or personally? It’s easy to get swept up in the tide of work, family, friends and chores, but it’s surprising how small changes practiced every day can make a huge difference. Or as Jim says, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”