British author Samuel Smiles described habit as a transitory stage between an act (action) and an individual’s character, which imminently forms their destiny. Since your daily habits profoundly affect the outcomes, you can use them as an essential tool to achieve personal and professional goals!
So, whether you aim to lose weight, quit smoking, reduce stress or get that promotion, become more productive, or strike the perfect work-life balance, you can aspire to achieve it all through good daily habits.
Stick around as we walk you through how daily habits add more meaning to your life. We also list 20 simple but effective habits to make your life easier.
How are Daily Habits Formed
The idea of what forms daily habits was initially published in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. Charles propounded the habit loop, or the cue-trigger-reward loop, as the theory behind what forms (or breaks) habits. The almost cyclic process plays out as below:
- Cue/trigger: A specific trigger occurring at a particular time of the day initiates the habit loop. The trigger can be associated with an emotional state, a location, or an intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus
- Routine/behavior: It is the resulting action that follows the cue. It could be an established habit or a habit that you wish to inculcate
- Reward/punishment: Your reward is the outcome of the routine. If the reward is positive, it reinforces the habit, and negative emotions (punishment) deter such behavior
- Repetition: Repetition is the final element that reinforces the daily habit. The habit becomes deeply ingrained when the cue-trigger-reward plays out, and over time, your brain associates the cue with the routine and the reward to reinforce the neural pathways to act out the habit automatically
Consider this example of the cue-trigger-reward loop: When you feel stressed (cue), you drink coffee (routine). The caffeinated rush helps alleviate stress, stay focused, and complete the task (reward). Before you know it, you’ll make coffee whenever you are stressed (daily habit).
Benefits of Developing Daily Habits
We’ve already established that habits are a precursor to personal and professional success. Building the right set of daily habits attracts the following benefits:
- Increased stability: Daily habits add structure to one’s life. An established routine creates a consistent and predictable environment that adds stability and instills confidence
- Enhanced productivity: Daily habits are an excellent productivity hack. The automatic linking of cues and actions streamlines routine activities and frees up mental energy for more complex tasks
- Improved health and well-being: Habits like meal prepping, getting a good night’s sleep, journaling, physical activity, etc., pave the way for a healthier lifestyle while improving mental and physical well-being
- Focus and concentration: Daily habits help you train your mind to focus on specific tasks at dedicated times to improve performance and productivity
- Skill development: Incorporating habits centred around learning and skill development can help you grow professionally and personally, and doing this continuously makes you adaptable and agile
- Effective time management: Habits regulate how to spend time. Following a schedule, prioritizing essential tasks, and reviewing the time you spend on tasks minimize procrastination, help meet deadlines, and achieve goals faster
- Positive mindset: Starting your day with daily planning and affirmations and ending it with reflection and gratitude establishes a sustainable positive mindset
- Improved relationships: Use daily habits to improve your relationship with yourself or those around you. Blocking time to give undivided attention to your family members or conducting periodic check-ins on your physical and mental health will help you build stronger and more meaningful relationships embedded with positive interactions
- Financial stability: Daily habits surrounding budgeting and saving harnesses financial discipline. Soon, you will make smarter decisions to save money and attain long-term financial stability
- Personal discipline: Building daily habits requires a good amount of discipline, self-control, and self-regulation. The more you train these qualities, the stronger they become in shaping your personality
- Sense of achievement: Positive outcomes like saving time and money, leading a healthier lifestyle, having a sense of control, improving productivity, etc., contribute to the feeling of accomplishment. Achieving such short-term and long-term goals will make it easier to follow through on building daily habits, thus completing the habit loop on a positive note
20 Daily Habits to Develop to Improve Your Life
In his bestselling book Atomic Habits, James Clear emphasizes how daily habits transform one’s life. Apart from acknowledging Duhigg’s habit loop model, Clear talks about the 1% rule, which encourages small, incremental, and consistent changes to one’s day-to-day life. Doing so will have a compounding effect and catalyze habit formation.
With this background, here are 20 small daily habits that make a big difference:
1. Establish a morning routine
A structured morning routine sets the tone for your day. Everything you do in the morning shows how your day will pan out. Spend your morning rushing around and stressing about getting things done, and this feeling will persist throughout the day. Stay calm and organize your thoughts; you will spend a day of clarity.
Here are some ways to build a positive morning routine:
- Plan for the next day, the night before. Set the alarm, go to bed on time, keep a bottle of water by your bedside, lay out your clothes, etc.
- Rise early, ideally at a consistent wake-up time, to calibrate your body’s internal clock. Avoid the urge to hit the snooze button
- Drink a glass of water to rehydrate your body after the night’s sleep
- Make your bed to check one item off your to-do list and kickstart the day with a feeling of accomplishment
Customize this routine to match your goals and preferences. Also, start small and gradually build up to a more comprehensive morning routine to avoid feeling overwhelmed right from the start.
2. Exercise regularly
Once you’ve started the day, it is time to move your body. Daily exercise improves your physical and mental well-being. Even a few minutes of physical activity, such as taking the stairs or walking to nearby places, strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular health, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
Besides avoiding diseases, exercising (especially outside in fresh air) improves mood, increases energy levels, and releases endorphins – the ‘feel good’ hormone.
You don’t have to be a gym rat to exercise regularly. You can:
- Pick simple, manageable, and enjoyable activities for your age and fitness levels (dancing, cycling, playing a sport, hiking, calisthenics, etc.)
- Aim to build endurance with time and prioritize consistency over intensity
- Keep things interesting by mixing up your exercise routine
- Find an accountability partner to stay consistent, measure progress, and celebrate milestones
Set aside a dedicated time for exercising. Treat it like an unmissable appointment.
3. Focus on nutrition
A balanced, nutritious diet should form the foundation of all your meals—from a healthy breakfast to what you eat for dinner and everything in between. Eating the right foods supplies the body with essential nutrients, improves energy and vitality, helps manage weight, and prevents diseases. Your diet also impacts your mental health and cognitive functioning.
Here’s how you can make eating well a priority:
- Use meal planning to follow a healthy diet and avoid falling prey to impulsive, unhealthy snacking
- Limit processed foods and minimize the intake of high-salt, high-sugar items. Instead, focus on eating whole, nutrient-rich foods
- Avoid skipping meals and eat consistently throughout the day to prevent energy crashes or binge eating
- Consume a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to get your dose of vitamins and minerals that combat heart diseases and other chronic conditions
Practice mindful eating so that you appreciate every bite and treat your body like a temple that it is.
4. Set clear goals
Daily goal-setting is an excellent way to break down larger, long-term goals into smaller, achievable chunks. Creating a clear, actionable day’s to-do list allows you to build a roadmap for success and focus your time and energy on high-impact tasks.
It also helps track progress, maintain motivation, and manage time. Further, it lends agility to your actions as you can recalibrate your goals based on changing priorities and circumstances.
Improve daily goal setting by:
- Defining your goals along the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) parameters
- Creating a to-do list that outlines your daily goals. Use tools like progress bars and checklists to visualize success
- Limiting the number of goals to avoid feeling burned out or overwhelmed. Celebrate wins and reward yourself for goal achievement to stay motivated
Start your day by setting goals and end it by measuring how you did.
5. Maintain a schedule
Defining goals is pointless if you don’t follow through with a robust plan and doable schedule. Following a work schedule lends structure and organization to your life. Effective schedule management optimizes your time, enhances productivity, and reduces stress.
You can maintain and stick to your schedule by:
- Planning your day in the early hours to set the tone for a focused and organized day
- Use tools like ClickUp to record tasks, appointments, and timelines. The ClickUp Calendar View grants a one-stop overview of your entire calendar, schedule, and deadline
- Prepare your schedule with reasonably spaced-out breaks and time-offs to recharge. Be realistic about your time estimates. A 10-minute lunch break is going to do more harm by leaving you more frazzled than rejuvenated
While following a schedule, get comfortable saying no to things that may not align.
6. Prioritize tasks
Prioritizing tasks helps you stick to your schedule, make smarter decisions, and achieve results. Most successful people follow the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) while prioritizing their tasks. According to this concept, 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities. Focusing on the critical tasks will help you get more done.
Going by this, prioritize work by:
- Scheduling crucial, complex, and demanding tasks in the morning when your energy levels are high
- Using an Eisenhower matrix to divide and categorize tasks according to impact and priority
- Breaking down larger tasks into functional units to make them less easier to prioritize
- Grouping similar, closely related, or interdependent tasks and tackling them in one go
So, use task prioritization to direct your time and energy into meaningful and impactful activities.
7. Use time blocking
Time blocking involves dedicating certain periods or blocks of time to specific activities. For instance, set aside the first hour of your daily work routine to check and respond to emails. As a result, you will stay focused on the task at hand rather than try everything at once.
To practice time blocking, you can:
- Take stock of your workload, associated tasks and activities, priorities, and daily goals. Then, curate a practically realizable schedule with designated timelines
- Use a digital planner to stay ahead of the curve. ClickUp’s Time Management tool is the easiest way to build schedules and block time for tasks
- Front-load deep work or focus sessions for complex tasks for maximum concentration and creative problem-solving
- Maintain flexibility to adapt your schedule as per changing priorities or unexpected events
While practicing time blocking, maintain healthy personal boundaries to prevent procrastination.
8. Limit context switching
How often have you started a task only to get sidetracked by a video or doomscrolling on social media? Pretty often!
Although attention is a precious resource, it is also limited and (somewhat) expendable. What’s worse is that some distractions can sneak under the guise of work! For example, you may have to put aside creating your report because a manager needs to discuss something. Or you stop in the middle of your code to respond to a work email.
Context switching hinders work, increases cognitive load, adds errors, and reduces efficiency. Here’s how you neutralize it:
- Focus on only one task, project, or context at a time. Prioritize tasks to identify the ones that require your instant attention
- Close all unnecessary tabs, applications, and programs on your computer or smartphone
- Follow the Pomodoro Technique to perform tasks in smaller sprints
- Communicate focused work periods to friends, family, or colleagues to minimize interruptions
Limiting context switching lets you enjoy laser-sharp focus and stick to your priorities.
9. Try to learn something new
Continuous learning is the path to constant improvement. A curious mind broadens perspectives and encourages personal and professional growth. Learning something new also stimulates the brain to promote the formation of new neural networks and heightens cognitive functioning.
To make learning and upskilling a daily habit, you can:
- Experiment with hobbies and activities that capture your interest
- Join online communities and forums related to your interests
- Utilize dead time like commute time to catch up on courses, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.
- Teach others about what you’ve learned or document the learning experience
In short, stay curious.
10. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness requires us to stay present in the now. In doing so, we become increasingly aware of our surroundings, thoughts, and emotions while dispelling judgment or criticism. It does wonders for your mental health. Deliberately prioritizing self-care reduces stress, improves emotional regulation, and increases resilience.
Follow the below tips to make mindfulness a daily habit:
- Incorporate mindfulness into your morning routine. Do it through mindful meditation, body scan, or gratitude
- Take time to focus on your breath—inhale and exhale with awareness a few times during the day
- Integrate mindfulness in everything, be it early morning walks or while doing the evening dishes
- Set reminders to practice mindfulness throughout the day
Join mindfulness groups or communities to stay consistent and share your experiences.
11. Incorporate power naps
Cat naps or power naps are a great way to revitalize your mind and body. When done right, they can leave you feeling well-rested, counter fatigue, boost energy levels, improve mood, and sharpen cognitive function.
However, power napping is a science that you need to practice with caution. Master power naps with the following tips:
- Sleep for a short duration, ideally in bursts of 10 to 20 minutes, and avoid the snooze button
- Schedule a power nap in the afternoon, typically between 01:00 and 03:00 pm, to match your circadian rhythm
- Sleep in a comfortable, quiet environment. Dim the lights, use a pillow, play ambient noises or white noise, the whole nine yards
- Follow up a power nap with some relaxing, self-care activities such as deep breathing or light stretching
Some expert cat nappers also recommend a nappaccino—a cup of coffee before a power nap that will kick in just when you wake up!
12. Dedicate time for networking
While practising time blocking, set aside some time for social networking. Use this time to tap into your professional network, discover opportunities, exchange ideas, obtain career advice, and gain visibility within your industry.
On a personal front, use it to connect with your friends and family members and strengthen your interpersonal relations. Make networking a habit by:
- Joining professional organizations and contributing to the community. Try to attend the occasional virtual/in-person networking event
- Initiating one-on-one sessions over coffee or through video conferencing
- Staying connected with those around you with a simple message or celebrating achievements
- Practicing active listening, display genuine interest, and asking thoughtful questions
Doing the above creates a solid support system for yourself and those around you.
13. Communicate effectively
Effective communication is a skill. The more you practice, the better it will manifest as a habit.
Clear, intentional, and value-focused communication helps teams and individuals grow in various ways. It builds understanding, improves collaboration, fosters trust, resolves conflict, and facilitates the exchange of ideas.
Making effective communication a daily habit is possible when you:
- Select an apt communication medium depending on the context—email, phone, instant messaging, face-to-face, etc.
- Ask questions to engage the listener and understand where they’re coming from
- Stay mindful of non-verbal cues such as tone, facial expressions, body language, etc.
- Schedule regular check-ins with friends, family, and team members and express gratitude and appreciation
Finally, combine effective communication with active listening. This combination will have you jumping on fewer calls, exchanging fewer emails, and getting more done!
14. Establish healthy boundaries
Do you often feel like a pushover or someone who struggles with maintaining a healthy work-life balance? Then, it’s time to establish healthy boundaries as a daily habit.
Building healthy boundaries involves defining limits to what you will and won’t do, expressing your needs, and prioritizing self-care above all. As a result, you will feel less stressed, enjoy cordial relationships, cultivate greater self-respect, and focus on what truly matters.
Here are some tips on setting healthy boundaries:
- Practice saying no when necessary to avoid feeling burned out, resentful, and overstressed
- Communicate your boundaries clearly and assertively
- Delegate tasks and responsibilities wherever possible to lighten your workload
- Set aside time for self-care rituals like exercising, mindful meditation, or anything that relaxes you
When we speak about boundaries, it also includes setting boundaries for technology! Find ways to limit your screen time, turn off notifications, and enjoy an occasional digital detox to take a break from technology.
15. Daily reflection
Daily reflection generates self-awareness, improves decision-making, assesses progress, and recalibrates goal alignment.
Typically, individuals schedule daily reflection at the end of the day to review how it played out and what they could have done better. However, you can sprinkle quick sessions of just a few minutes throughout the day where you take a breather and take stock of where you stand. Such reflection is made easier by:
- Using a habit tracker automatically logs digital activities such as time spent working, surfing, etc.
- Identifying the key highlights of the day and using them to set intentions for the successive days
- Considering challenges, setbacks, opportunities, and areas of improvement that could have changed the outcome
- Celebrating progress and developments that helped you achieve your project objectives
Regardless of when or how often you carry out self-reflection, try to make it a ritual by practising it consistently according to a fixed schedule.
16. Gratitude journaling
Gratitude journaling helps you relax and appreciate the finer things in life. It is especially potent in fixating your mind and all the thoughts on the positives so you feel happier and more fulfilled.
You can cultivate gratitude journaling as a habit by:
- Dedicating a consistent time of each day (early morning, during a break, at the end of the day) to reflect and journal
- Use prompts to guide your gratitude journal entries
- Acknowledge even the micro-moments that brought you joy and celebrate the small wins
- Adopting mixed medium and diverse approaches to gratitude journaling—from writing detailed paragraphs to bulleted lists to drawings or even photographs
Gratitude journaling makes you realize it may have been a bad day, but it’s not a bad career or life!
17. Sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene relates to a series of habits and practices one follows to develop a healthy sleep routine.
Getting a good night’s sleep ensures you’re alert and well-rested to take on the day’s tasks. It enhances performance and improves overall health, emotional well-being, and cognitive functioning.
Here are some ways to cultivate better sleep hygiene:
- Calibrate your internal body clock and the circadian rhythm by following a consistent sleep schedule
- Limit browsing on digital devices an hour before bed. Instead, follow a relaxing routine like light reading, a warm water bath, or stretching
- Create a relaxing environment by investing in good bedding, humidifiers, dimmers, blackout curtains, temperature regulators, etc.
- Be mindful of what you eat or drink before bed. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, excessive fluids, or heavy meals around bedtime
You can only seize the day if your night’s been worth it.
18. Periodic self-check-ins
We’re so tied up checking in on our friends, family, peers, colleagues, etc., that we forget to check on ourselves. Skipping over this stage keeps you out of touch with your feelings. Such discordance can cause us to ignore the discreet signs of stress and distress, leading to an avalanche of emotions, sometimes to the point of a breakdown!
So, do yourself a favor and check in on yourself using simple habits like:
- Leveraging techniques like mindfulness, gratitude journaling, daily reflections, etc. Follow it up with self-care activities like eating nutritious food, exercising in fresh air, getting good sleep, and more
- Performing body scans by internally monitoring signs of stress or anxiety like rapid breathing, muscle tension, elevated heart rate, etc., and addressing them through deep breathing, mindfulness, and more
- Assessing your energy levels and responding accordingly, like taking breaks, grabbing a quick meal, catnapping, or hydrating
- Acknowledging your actions, emotions, and misgivings without judgment and practicing acceptance
Being kinder and compassionate with yourself can work wonders!
19. Express creativity
Creative expression keeps things fresh in your personal and professional life. It is a channel for expressing yourself and developing a healthy self-image and a complementary skill to learning new things. At the same time, it promotes creative problem-solving, broadens new perspectives, and challenges comfort zones.
Few things you can do to express yourself more creatively:
- Explore different creative outlets and find what resonates with you; start with smaller projects
- Embed creativity in your everyday tasks. For example, add art pieces to your workspace, try new recipes, or listen to music in a new language
- Join creative classes and workshops. Connect with the creative community and ask for feedback on your progress
- Set creative challenges for yourself to branch out further and experiment with things
Finally, remember to treat your creative project as the outcome of your passion, not as an extension of yourself.
20. Review regularly
No habits, no matter how effective or powerful, must be set in concrete indefinitely. Your daily habits must be flexible to adapt to changing conditions. Even if you don’t overtly reform or replace a habit with another one, there is always room to refine and improve it. As such, reviewing your habits should also be a part of your habits!
Review your habits by:
- Use a digital or physical habit tracker or the time tracking feature of tools like ClickUp to maintain a record of your habits. Review how much value it brings to your life and how much time you spend on it
- Accounting for seasonal changes. For instance, you’ll have to adjust your exercise regime from running to bodyweight exercises when it starts snowing outside
- Eliminating ineffective habits that no longer offer value or do not match your goals. You can also seek suitable replacements for such habits
- Reflecting on how the habit helped you achieve your goal or your progress towards it and celebrating the achievements along the way
Try documenting your findings, learnings, and observations while reviewing your habits so that you can always come back to this to validate your decisions and during future reviews.
Make Success a Habit With Successful Habits
James Clear called daily habits “the compound interest of self-improvement,” and we couldn’t agree more.
Cultivating successful habits births successful people, and the cycle continues.
Of course, the specific habits may change depending on the individual’s personality and personal or professional growth. A workaholic can try to develop habits of taking things slow. A disorganized person may seek organization. The goals change.
However, there are specific common themes that you may have noticed in this pursuit of developing healthy and beneficial habits.
First, you have to stay consistent. You have to practice that one habit persistently until it becomes second nature to you. Second, you have to get smarter about managing your time.
Whether following a morning routine, meal prepping, networking, practicing self-care, or establishing healthy boundaries, everything will crumble if you cannot manage your time.
Thankfully, with the wonders of technology, you have schedule and time management tools like ClickUp at your fingertips. Use it wisely to build and nurture healthy habits and stick to your routine. ClickUp is your one-stop destination to ramp up productivity and grow.
Try it now to feel the difference!