A note from Rach Smith's digital garden.

How I implement Atomic Habits

Added: February 3, 2021

Tags: productivity books

I first read Atomic Habits by James Clear in December 2018. I thought it was a good book and had helpful advice. Still, I didn’t really implement it because I wasn’t convinced that little daily habits would really amount to anything impressive. For most of my life, once I’d decided I was going to do something, I would just go hard at it and make it happen with a bunch of discipline and willpower. I’d achieved most things I really wanted to in my life until that point using that method.

After having a baby, this was no longer working for me. I had limited time and energy resources. The “go hard or go home” approach just resulted in me giving up and “going home”, reminiscing about the days when I had all that free time to complete my goals. Atomic Habits made such an impression that I kept thinking about it all year. I finally decided that maybe James Clear had the right idea, after all.

In early 2020 I decided to give the Atomic Habits approach a try with 3 goals: journaling, learning German and meditation. By committing to doing a very brief 5-minute journal exercise in the morning, two lessons of Duolingo and 5 minutes of meditation, I was able to keep up these habits for most of the year, aside from a 2-month wallow in a pandemic-induced pit of despair. My Duolingo streak is currently at 262. Although I don’t know many German words yet, I am confident I know way more than I would if I had tried to do anything more than 2 lessons a day. I would have run out of time and given up. After sticking with the meditation for several months, I have given it up in 2021 as I don’t think it was serving me. There are other ways I prefer to build mindfulness in my day. The morning journal habit went so well; I brought a 5-minute evening journal into my routine. For tracking my habits, I used to use the Streaks app. Now I just put it in a Notion table, so I can roll that data into my weekly and monthly reviews.

This year I wanted to start the habit of writing every day. So I commit 10 minutes minimum of my time to write something, whether it’s for this blog or just for my own personal notes collection. Some days that looks like me tapping out very average prose on my phone while the baby feeds, but I have to do something. Little by little, the words add up to something worth sharing.

I keep a checklist of all my daily habits front and centre in Things and have it auto-repeat every day. This is because opening up Notion just to check something off is too slow, so I use Things to remind myself of and check off the day’s list as I go. I then add that day’s habit data to Notion when I do my evening journal. This is my current habits list in Things.


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