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Starting a new habit by linking it to an existing one

I wrote a lot about habits in Time Management For System Administration. If there is something you need to do a lot, turning it into a habit means you are more likely to do it and less mental effort is required when doing it. To paraphrase the Java (programming language) slogan "Write once, run everywhere": Habits let you "Think once, do always."

One tip I realized after finishing the book was the power of linking one habit to another. If you need to add a new habit, linking it to an existing habit helps develop that habit.

Here's an example: Problem: I forget to put my wedding ring back on after I shower. Why? I'm not used to wearing jewelry. Being recently married it just isn't a habit for me yet. (Yeah, this is an excuse to brag that Chris and I got married this summer.) When I take off my ring I put it in a safe place far from any drains or other places it might disappear into. Out of sight, out of mind. I forget to put it back on. Solution: I do have a habit of putting my watch back on after I shower. My wrist feels "wrong" without a watch. Therefore, when I take my ring off I always put my watch in the same place. By linking the established "put my watch on" habit with the new "put my ring on" habit I don't forget either.

Another example relates to a wedding gifts we received. It is a Neato Robotics robotic vacuum. We love it. We've programmed the schedule to wake up and clean the house when we're at work. It is luxurious to come home to a freshly vacuumed house. While it is good at avoiding obstacles there are certain things we need to move out of the way before it starts. I was having difficulty remembering to do this pre-cleaning on the days the robot is scheduled to clean.

The solution again was to link this new habit to an existing one. I need to take the trash out Tuesday and Friday morning. Therefore I changed the Neato's schedule to clean on Tuesday and Friday. Now when I take the trash out, I also take a moment to remove any debris from the floor.

If you are trying to develop a new habit I highly encourage you to think about the other habits in your life and linking the new habit to one that is already established. There is a bigger discussion about routines and habits in chapter 3 of TM4SA. The book is available in paper, e-book, and you can also read it on the web thanks to Safari Books Online.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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I didn't realize there was a name for this phenomenon. When I'm not being an infosec guy or a sysadmin I'm an airplane pilot. We use a sort of linking too and although less physical the idea is still to create habits: Entering pattern on downwind? Put the gear is down. At glideslope intercept? Put the gear down. On final with runway in sight? Check gear down. And of course we use checklists as well to back this up.

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