There are many ways you can conserve energy when forming habits so that you don’t deplete your resource of energy needed to maintain self-control. And as we mentioned in past articles in this series, habits themselves, once formed, conserve energy.
Piggyback a new habit onto an established one. To more easily form a habit, anchor it to an old one that is firmly entrenched. For example if you are already in the habit of walking first thing in the morning, and you want to spend 20 minutes every day learning a new language, you might take your books with you in a backpack when you walk and spend 20 minutes studying at a coffee shop on the way home.
If the walking route is safe and doesn’t require your full attention, you can also listen to language recordings or course materials as you walk.
I use this technique to keep up with my blog articles and e-books. It’s difficult to salvage enough time during the day to spend adequate time writing, and I had already established the habit of walking for about 30 minutes each morning. So I targeted a coffee shop about 15 minutes from home and made it my location for writing. A break at the coffee shop before resuming my walk allowed me to write dozens of books and hundreds of articles over the past 10 years. On busier days I limit the time I spend writing to about a half hour, and on other days I stay longer at the coffee shop.
My goal is not to write an article or a chapter at each sitting. My goal is to spend the 30 minutes or more writing each day. The articles and the books are a by-product of this time spent writing.
You can piggyback on any established habit. If you always read for a half hour before retiring, you could add an extra 10 minutes in order to study, memorize or meditate. If you eat breakfast every morning at 8 o’clock, you can spend 10 minutes before breakfast every morning to make a daily to do list or review your agenda for the day or reply to your email messages. And so on.
It takes a lot less mental energy and willpower to attach another activity onto an established habit than to form a completely new habit.
Use the batching method when working on tasks. Batching refers to scheduling blocks of time in your planner to work on tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources as opposed to just switching back and forth from one type of task to another.
Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another, which puts demands on your energy supply. This frees up more energy for self-control. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.
For example, I schedule chunks of time to work on projects in a relatively interruption-free environment. For instance, after a half hour or more of early morning start-up time, where I get rid of minor but essential tasks such as checking email, voicemail, requests for information etc., I might have a 90-minute block of time scheduled for writing articles for my newsletter and blog, material for my teleseminars, courses or website – all requiring writing. A batching session could also involve communicating with various people by phone, text or email, whether that be business or personal related, at a particular time in the day.
Use the buddy system. Whether you are trying to lose weight, read a book every week or exercise every morning, you have a better chance of achieving your goals or forming good habits if you do it with others. You are getting support and reinforcement from others, sharing the responsibility, and becoming more motivated to stick with the activity until it becomes a habit. In effect you increase your chances of success with a smaller consumption of energy.
Weight watchers have found that people who use a support group are three times more likely to lose weight than folks on their own, according to author MJ Ryan. Have someone to be accountable to when you apply organizing and time management principles to your work or home life. The” buddy system” can be applied to job and lifestyle changes as well.
Build an energy reserve through adequate sleep. Self-control requires energy, and if you want to maintain your energy get plenty of sleep. Well-slept people have greater self-control than tired people, just as hungry people have less self-control and tend to buy junk food instead of healthy snacks. A rested will is a stronger will.
Self-control is higher in the morning and lower as the day goes along and your energy reserve is depleted. Few people break their diets in the morning. So besides getting seven or more hours of sleep each night, take regular breaks, avoid marathon work sessions, and don’t skip lunch.