Foundational Habits

Foundational Habits

“All great achievements require time.”

-Maya Angelo

I have a brilliant girlfriend, Denise, who is an expert in organization.  She has grown into this skill out of necessity – where life became her teacher.  Her quest for constant improvement and a wonderful self-awareness led to an intense analysis of what was working in her work and her life and what wasn’t.  She identified organization as a culprit that was keeping her from being as efficient and effective as she wanted to be.  Her solution became learning how to master her habits leading to greater mastery in many areas of her life.

She tried many things along the path to being better organized.  She went back to a system which had worked for her in the past – a paper system.  She identified colleagues who could check in with her on tasks. She coordinated with administrative staff to confirm the flow of appointments and tasks to complete each day.  All of which contributed to refining her approach.  It was however a combination of her growing organizational talents and her commitment to developing ‘habits for routine tasks and practices’ which combined has propelled her into mastery.

Denise, like so many of us, found herself juggling a long ‘to do list’ filled with a mixture of daily accomplishments and longer term tasks supportive of achieving bigger dreams.  The conundrum, of course, was how to wrangle all on the to-do list into the usual work day without the urgent items completely crowding out accomplishing bigger objectives. An educator at heart, Denise always seeks meaning in her work and naturally seeks a way to describe what she learns – so she can teach it to others.

The day arrived when Denise’s passion and enthusiasm bubbled over into an announcement.  She was teaching a workshop on organization in her community.  All of her efforts had finally coalesced into a program she could offer. She had developed strategies, tools, and a way to deliver her organizational resources to others in a package she knew would change lives.  At the heart of it was establishing sustainable habits; habits employed daily, weekly and monthly which were anchored so deeply into her routine that she eventually could be freed mentally to trust they would be accomplished and not fall through the cracks. The result was that her conscious attention could shift – to focus on other organizational details attached to strategic tasks and projects. This freed her mind to be more aware of additional information, emotions and intellectual inputs.  The latter allowed her thinking to be better, deeper and more complex because it included more nuances.

Essentially, she discovered that when habits were so deeply embedded into her approach for managing time/projects/tasks each day that her mind was freed to focus on other details.  My key take away is that at the heart of true mastery lies solid habits.  According to Daniel H. Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, mastery requires flow.  Denise achieves ‘flow’ when she doesn’t have to stop and wonder or worry about a routine habit.  Denise made a habit list and then over a 30 day period stuck to her list.  As she mastered a habit, she added other ‘to do’s’ to the list, some of which were more habits to embrace and other items were strategic to her bigger objectives.  Since the learned habits were already part of her day, she didn’t need to re-list them.

Over time the volume of Denise’s accomplishments has been great.  It makes me wonder how much I could get done following her example.  I think I will…what about you?  Here is my take on Denise’s process:


Take no more than 20 minutes to write a habit list. Include:

Daily items
Weekly items

  • Each day track your accomplishments also include 3-5 strategic tasks to achieve specific to that day
  • Each night record results for both habits and strategic tasks; cross off accomplishments an add new for tomorrow (or carry over)
  • When you’ve achieved 30 days of victories with a habit remove an item from the list and replace with new ‘to do’. Continue with the acquired habit and the new ones.
  • If a habit falls off or you stop doing it, put it back on your list

Mastery equals doing and doing until you’ve got it. It is a mindset. It requires grit and tenacity. The result is deliberate persistence.  When you get your habits down you more easily get into the flow of mastery – what do you have to lose?

Accomplishments equal many when you free yourself to do more. Think about it.

Check out this tool called WorkFlowy to assist with your organization.

When you get, give.

When you learn, teach.

            —Maya Angelou

Cheers! And thanks to Denise for being the inspiration for the Maya Angelou quote.

Get clear, gain confidence, make it happen – live your true calling. At Work, At Play, Everyday