Starting Points: A Balanced Productivity Approach to Habit Change

I’m going to do/build/create/improve ____________, as soon as I sort out ________________. “

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking or uttering a version of this sentence, you’re in good and plentiful company. You’re also not alone in feeling frustrated or despondent that this sentence doesn’t seem to come to fruition very often, if ever. And, there’s good reason for that. There’s a reasonably good chance that the second blank is not really where the root of your change needs to be, making the first blank perpetually out of reach.

Getting started is the spark for everything that follows and it’s important that your starting point be meaningful for you. Uniquely you. Or, you risk running at high speeds in a very small circle until you convince yourself – unfairly – that you simply aren’t capable. So, how do we know where to start?

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he explains that some habits simply matter more than others when embarking on personal or organizational change. “Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” Essentially, identifying and focusing on a few critical priorities, can subsequently trigger a cascading effect of results that are in service of your goals.

When I first read the phrase “keystone habits,” my educator muscle flexed and my mind jumped to ecologist Robert Paine’s keystone species theory. In a nutshell, the presence of a single species can be responsible for the healthy balance of an entire ecosystem. Some are simply more important than others.

So what do ecosystem-level thinking and keystone habits have to do with getting more productive in your life? Everything!

When it comes to balanced productivity:

  • Finding the right starting point is every bit as important as the starting itself.
  • Understanding where and how our resources are used is critical to knowing where, and even if, change is needed.
  • Honoring the interlocking nature of our habits helps us to realize the power that changing one key habit can have, resulting in a cascade of momentum that leads to more and better habits and behaviors, all in support of our larger goals…blank number one.

What’s in your habit ecosystem? Which habits define you? Should they? Where do you think your starting point is? I need to sort out ________________.

Declare your goals and set about balancing your habit ecosystem in support of those goals. What needs strengthening? What needs protection? I’m going to do/build/create/improve ____________. 

Take your time, set your course and then simply trust yourself enough to get started.

P.S. Want to nerd out on the keystone species theory? This Hakai Magazine article gives you a quick overview, along with the benefit of Sara Gravem’s more recent theory that both supports and questions the original, all while deepening the importance of ecosystem-level thinking.