Real Productivity: How to Build Habits That Last | Thomas Frank | Skillshare

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Real Productivity: How to Build Habits That Last

teacher avatar Thomas Frank, YouTuber, Author, Entrepreneur

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Perfect is the Enemy of Good


    • 3.

      Determining Your Goals


    • 4.

      Setting Yourself Up For Success


    • 5.

      Using External Systems


    • 6.

      External Systems: The Hard Way


    • 7.

      Anticipating Pain Points


    • 8.

      Tracking, Reviewing, and Reflection


    • 9.

      What to Do When You Fail


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Build habits that will last you through 2020 and beyond!

Join Thomas Frank, productivity expert, author, and YouTuber, in this comprehensive class that will help you build sustainable habits without once feeling like a failure. Seriously! Through research, experience, and his own trial-and-error, Thomas has laid out the groundwork for lasting habits, and is here to share his experience with you and get your Impossible List off on the right foot.

Building habits isn’t just about discipline; there are real-world steps you can take to set yourself up for success and keep yourself on track! In this highly entertaining step-by-step class, you’ll learn:

  • How to set reasonable and realistic goals
  • What to do to reach them
  • How to handle failure without giving up
  • Thomas’ favorite habit tracking and reflection systems
  • A better understanding of habit formation, and how to take ownership of yours

Hit the ground running (for fifteen minutes at a time, at first) this year. No matter where you are in life, school, or your career, this class will provide you with the understanding and structure to go after your goals with gusto — and achieve them!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Thomas Frank

YouTuber, Author, Entrepreneur


I’m an author, YouTuber, and speaker who is passionate about helping students succeed. Most of my work today is done at College Info Geek – a site I created in 2010 in order to share my experiments in becoming a more effective student.

Today, College Info Geek is one of the world’s largest and best-loved resources for students, and includes a blog, podcast, and a YouTube channel with over 1 million subscribers.

See full profile

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1. Introduction: For me, living a creative life means, being able to learn and try new things every single day. I don't want to wake up and do the exact same thing. I want to constantly be pushing the envelope in all different directions, learning new skills, and putting those things into action. Hey, what's going on everybody? My name is Thomas Frank, and I'm a YouTuber, podcaster, and author, who focuses on helping people learn more effectively and become more productive. Today's class is all about building habits that turn into strong long-lasting routines which will in turn help you make progress on your long term goals. Habits are the absolute bedrock of productivity, of getting things done. When you deliberately take control of your own habits and how you design them, you're number one, less likely to fall into bad patterns of behavior, but you're also able to shape your own destiny. So what this class is going to be is at least what I think is a logical progression, starting from defining what goals are important to you and what you actually want to focus on right now, then moving to breaking these goals into smaller pieces that are more actionable that can actually be turned into habits, and then learning how to actually stick to those habits over the long-term. If you're the kind of person who is generally ambitious but doesn't know exactly what you want to do or if you have too many goals and you don't known which ones to focus on, I think this class is going to be useful for you. I am really excited that you've joined this class and have decided to take action in defining your goals and building your habits. Let's get started. 2. Perfect is the Enemy of Good: So before we get into the process of defining your goals and then creating habits to support those goals, I want to talk about something that really has the potential to derail your efforts, and that's been a big hindrance to me in the past, and that is perfectionism. Perfectionism, this feeling that you have to do everything right the first time or that you must finish, say, this course in one day. This can really derail your efforts and demotivate you. I want to talk about a research finding that pertains to another online course. So there's this guy named Jon Acuff who has a course called 30 Days of Hustle. There is a researcher from the University of Memphis who did a study to see when people quit this course. Their initial assumption was that people were going to drop off around the midway point. But what they ended up finding out was that people were actually quitting around day two and Jon Acuff's explanation for this, since he was a chronic self-starter, maybe not a great finisher, was that people were quitting due to perfectionist tendencies. They were starting the course but then they put this pressure on themselves to finish it as quickly as possible, and when that seemed insurmountable, they would end up quitting. So here's how this pertains to you and this course. I want to give you permission right now to take this course at your own pace. You don't have to finish it today because if you put that burden on yourself, you're likely to get overwhelmed and you're likely to quit. So maybe just watch this video or just watch one more video after this. Make some progress on one individual piece of the project and then come back later on. Because when you give yourself permission to not have to finish everything right away, and not have to create perfect work the first time, you make progress, and over time, that progress becomes something that is good enough. So remember this, perfect is the enemy of good. I know somebody said that, so it's a quote. I don't know who exactly to attribute, maybe we can put it on screen here. But it really is perfect is the enemy of good. So let your work just be good enough. So let's talk about giving yourself permission to work at your own pace. External systems and really external pressure can make us feel like we have to work in certain ways. We see other people on social media, on YouTube. We see our peers in our workplaces around our schools doing things a certain way, progressing at a certain pace and we feel like we have to keep up or we have to do it the exact same way, but we really don't. Getting to the destination at the exact same time as your peers or beating them, that's really not the point. The point is defining your own goals and then reaching them at your own pace, and at a pace that is sustainable. Making sure that you have sustainable pace that is built on habits and it's built on slow growth is really important to your professional development. If you look at anybody who is a great artist or has a great body of work behind them, you're going to see a sustainable pace if you go through their history. I'll use my own YouTube channel as an example. A few years ago when I started my YouTube channel, I realized that I had to put myself on a week deadline. So one video per week. The reason I did this was because before I put my first video out, I had this perfectionist vision. I thought I'm smart, I know about cameras, I can put out a perfect video. But as a result, I ended up scrapping a lot of takes. I didn't get anything out and I realized that this idea of putting out a perfect video was just resulting in no video being put out at all. So instead, I put out one video and then I said the next week I need to put out another video. I put myself on a weekly deadline with the expectation that I would get just a little bit better each time. That deadline helps me to make things actually happen, to actually get things up on my YouTube channel. Something interesting happened many years down the line. I realized after making over 100 videos, that my original idea of making a perfect video was a complete pipe dream because I literally didn't know all of the things that I now knew after doing 100 videos. So, had I actually kept trying to make the perfect video, there are all these techniques, there are all these tools, there are all these things that I would have never been able to put in to that video. Hence, it wouldn't have even been a tenth as good as what I had done after making 100 imperfect videos. Doing things gradually and putting out work or publishing on a regular basis is the key to actually learning and growing. The perfectionist mindset says that I can learn everything I need to put out something amazing and perfect the first time. But in reality, by making many, many, many imperfect things each time, you learn something new, and each time, you're able to incorporate what you've learned into your next project. So over time, your projects get better and better and better. So whatever the goal is that you want to pursue, and we're going to get really specific about that in the next lesson, keep this in mind: it doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be put out at a specific date. You don't have to reach a specific point in your progression right now. You just have to be good enough. You just have to make incremental progress. All right. So in the next lesson, as I just alluded, we are going to figure out how to pick the goals that you want to pursue. 3. Determining Your Goals: In this lesson, we are going to determine what your goals should be and which ones that you should pursue right now. I think that's really the question that we need to hone in on, which goals are worthy of your attention and your focus at this very moment. Now, I have always been the kind of person who has a ton of different goals. So I'm going to use myself as an example here and kind of show you, how I've number one listed out my goals and then number two, how I choose the ones that I want to pursue and hopefully you'll be able to follow along and do something similar. So I want to share the device that I have used for many years for both listing out my goals, iterating on them, making them even more difficult and ambitious but also honing in on the ones that I want to focus on at any given moment and it is called the impossible list. Now I cannot take credit for inventing this because it was actually created by a good friend of mine named Joel Runyon who runs an entire brand called Impossible. It kind of looks like a bucket list but it's a little bit different, it's a little bit different in its philosophy. So a bucket list is really just a list of things that you'd like to do before you kick the bucket. People love to make these and then they aren't very serious about them a lot of the time. By contrast, the impossible list is focused on active pursuit of your goals on iteration. So when you look through my impossible list here, you're going to see number one at the top a list of my current focuses and actually linked to a specific page called what I'm doing now. So it's just and I tried to update this page every once in a while. So I'm deliberately making a statement of what I'm focused on in my life and I can refer back to that to make sure I'm not getting distracted. I also list my last five completed goals and this is a device for me to make sure that I'm not resting on my laurels and that I'm actually progressing towards something in recent months. Then I have a category so we have fitness and health goals, we have professional goals, we have habit goals, creative goals all kinds of stuff. But the main thing you're going to see here, is that for most goals that are crossed out, there is a new goal underneath it as a nested bullet. So the idea there, is to complete a goal and then I usually try to link to some proof of that goal and put the date there as well. Then I want to put something that is an iteration or a next step beneath that goal if I still care about that. In doing that, I'm constantly pushing myself to keep improving, I don't want to just hit something and then call it good. So how do you create your own impossible list? Well, it's just as easy as creating a bucket list, there's no app for it, there's no website for it. I put it on my websites and I do this personally because I want it to be kind of like a public stake in the mud of what I'm going to do. I use it as both inspiration to myself and to other people but this could be something that is entirely private. So you could make a page on your own blog if you wanted to, you could make it a Word document or Evernote note on your private computer or you could even have it just be a piece of paper. But I do think it should be something that is easy to access and that you see often, that way it functions as a reminder. When it comes to the goals that should be on your impossible list, they can really be anything and I would encourage you to just list anything that comes to mind at first maybe on a draft of it on a piece of paper. But then when choosing what should be on the actual list, you should ask yourself why does this goal or each goal matter to you? Because a lot of people tend to pick goals for reasons that aren't really intrinsically motivating. They might be goals that they saw other people have on their own list, they might be goals that they just want to do for superficial reasons, I want to get strong so I look good to other people not so that I'm satisfied with my own level of strength. So ask yourself, what does my motivation for each of these goals? Is it a motivation that's going to help me sustainably practice this goal over the long-term? Or is it something that isn't going to provide me with a whole lot of motivation later on? Now, even once you've asked yourself, why for all these goals, you might still have a lot of goals on the list and that brings us to the next question. Which goals should you focus on? How many of them should you focus on at any one given time? That's really the crux here because the more goals you take on at any one time, the less time you're going to have during each day to put practice into them and a lot of practice is needed to make meaningful progress. I like to think about this in terms of like, a miner trying to mine for gold or jewels or something. So miners are looking for gold, silver or whatever in the ground but they almost never find it during the first like 15 minutes of a digging session, right? They have to dig deep and there's a lot of work that goes into getting to the point where you're close to the actual stuff you're trying to mine out of the ground. I think of this in the same exact way for writing or for music or literally anything else I'm doing. There's probably going to be 15 or 20 minutes of just sort of warming up or setting up or getting into the flow state that is going to be needed before actually gets to the point of a practice session where I'm actually making things happen. If I'm trying to juggle 10 different goals every single day, I'm trying to go to the gym and practice music and learn a language, write a book, then I'm not going to get to that deep part of the mines where all of the gold is. I'm just going to be excavating dirt and then putting it right back and coming back the next day and making no progress. So commit to selecting a small number of goals, I would say no more than three or four depending on how ambitious they are and what they are. Otherwise you're going to find yourself just sort of spinning in circles and not making progress on any of them. That brings us to a possibly apocryphal, possibly not true story about Warren Buffett and the story goes like this, one day Warren Buffett was talking to his private jet pilot and the pilot was asking him about achieving goals and Warren Buffett told him to do two things. Number one, to write down a list of the top 25 goals he had in his life, just get them on and lists just like we did with the impossible list and the pilot went and did it said cool. I got my goals Warren what's next? He said the next thing to do is, to circle the top five that are the most important goals to you. So the pilot goes off, beautifully circles the ones that are most important to him comes back and says all right Warren I think I got it. So you're saying the top five goals that I have circled are my most important, I should focus on them the most. Then the other 20 goals I can just sort of do in my free time, do a little bit over here but I really need to focus on these ones more often than not. Warren said, "No, the remaining 20 goals on your list are now your do not do list because anything that you've had an interest in doing before, is going to be a potential distraction to the things that you have deemed most important." This is a special true once you hit the dip and this is a term that Seth Godin made up. Seth Godin being a very famous marketing writer and author and essentially the dip is that point in your progress in any specific goal where things get hard, you get mired in the stuff that isn't fun and all the novelty from the beginning stages of the goal have worn off. So take playing guitar for example, you get the guitar, you get lessons, you're all excited, you learned to play your cowboy cards, you learn to play Smoke on the Water and now your teachers like all right, we're going to do scale exercises for 17 hours. Now, you're in the dip, that's not fun even as a guitarist who's been playing for 10 years and I can tell you scale exercises are not fun but they are important. But if you did not take the goals that were less important to put them on I do not do list, those are going to function as very strong temptations for things to distract yourself with. So if you're in the dip for playing guitar and you also had piano on your list, you also had vocal lessons on your list. You might be like well, "Guitar is hard now." I'm going to go take vocal lessons, I'm going to go try piano me, I mean this is difficult, maybe this isn't for me. You have to commit, to not letting these things that are interesting distracting from the ones that you have decided are the most important. Because the people who actually get through the dip, are the ones who commit, they're ones who dig their heels in and make a habit out of working even when they're in that dip. I want to put special emphasis on that word work. Because in my mind, there are three different types of progress for any given goal. There is gear acquisition, learning and then deliberate practice or in other words work. Here's thing, each of these three things, gives you satisfaction but they give you satisfaction on different timescales. Gear acquisition, it brings a lot of satisfaction right away. You can go out and buy a guitar as long as you have enough money and you're going to feel good about it. Learning, that takes a little bit longer, you can get a course, you can go through that course, learn a new technique and it's a little bit less impulsive, a little bit less like instant gratification than gear acquisition but it's still pretty quick cause you just kind of have to sit there and then take the material. Deliberate practice, that's where the most rewards lie but that's also where the most work has to be invested and where the gains are the slowest. Once people have acquired the necessary gear to get started, once they have gone through a few introductory lessons, they really have to start practicing before any more gear or anymore lessons are going to be very helpful and that's the tough thing. That's where people realize they have to put in a ton of extra effort to get the same amount of satisfaction that they got from just buying some gear, going through lessons and that's why it can be very easy to get distracted and to move on to something else. It's also why it can be very easy to fall into gear acquisition syndrome where instead of putting more deliberate practice in, you go on the Internet and you google top 10 guitar accessories and you're like, "Well, what if I just got a tuner and better strings and a better amp, then I'm going to sound way better." Yeah, you might but the amount of progress you're going to get from that, the amount of satisfaction you going to get from that, is not the same as what you're going to get by just putting in the hours and actually learning how to play the guitar. So before we move on to the action steps for this lesson, I do want to touch on a couple of common concerns that people often have and these seem opposite but I think they're both important to talk about. So the first one is the worry that you're not going to have enough time in your lifetime but also on a smaller scale, hours in the week to achieve your goals. The overall answer to that question is yeah, you're not going to have enough time to achieve all of your goals. But neither am I, neither is the singer of my favorite band The Deer Hunter but you know what? The deer hunters have put out like eight albums and they're all amazing and I've put out a pretty good amount of work in my career that I'm pretty proud of and I'm still putting out work every single day. So what you have to realize is that, you're never going to be able to achieve every single ambition you have. That's just the reality of having a limited amount of time on earth. But with that time, you can focus in on a limited number of goals, you can really go hard on them and you can make things that really impact the world and that's a great thing. The other concern is well, what if I don't have any goals? When people asked me this, it's not as common as the I have too many goals question. But sometimes I will get emails from people who are like, I just don't know what I want to do, I'm ambitious but I don't really know what to focus on, I can't really think of anything. For those people I would say, go look at my impossible list, go look at the bucket lists of other people, go look at people you admire and ask yourself, do any of the things that these people have done or that they have on their lists do these resonate with me? Because when people don't know what they want to do, it is often a manifestation of just not having tried very many things. I'm not having a whole lot of experience, I remember in college a lot of my friends were like I don't really have any interests, I don't have any passions and I would ask them, how do you try going to different clubs? Have you tried going to events? Often the answer was no. So really, the problem of having no goals is often a symptom of having very little experience. You need to go out and get that experience, just to test the waters in different areas. So before we move on to the next video, first sit down and create your rough draft impossible list, list out all the goals that you would like to achieve. Then go through that possibly apocryphal Warren Buffett's exercise and circle or identify the goals that are most important to you right now. When we're talking about daily practice, it's probably a good idea to limit yourself to one to three goals otherwise like we said you're not going to make a whole lot of progress, you're not going to get deep enough into the mines for any one of those goals. Even if you do have three or two goals that you're going to pursue after this class for the purposes of the lessons that are coming up next, identify one goal to focus on and use that goal as your own personal example for implementing the rest of what we're going to talk about. For my part of the goal that I'm pursuing right now and I'm going to be focusing on in these lessons is improving as a guitar player but we'll also use examples from my past including how I built my YouTube channel and also how I wrote my book Ten Steps To Earning Awesome Grades. So let's get into it. 4. Setting Yourself Up For Success: So now that you have your number 1 goal picked up for the rest of the course, let's talk about how to set yourself up for success by defining a daily or at least regular habit that you're going to go through to make progress on it. The number 1 thing you need to do before defining the habit is to get specific about the goal. So my personal goal that I picked in the last video is getting better at guitar. There's a problem with that goal. It's not very specific and it doesn't have any actionable steps that I can take other than to play the guitar which is pretty general. If I was really casual about guitar, that might be fine because if I just sit down and move around and get a little bit better each day and I'm cool with that, then that's all I'm going to do. But if I had grander ambitions, if I want to record music, if I want to put out an album someday, or if I want to go to an open McKnight to play and sing at the same time, I need to get more specific. So what I'm going to do is narrow my goal down. Instead of just getting better at guitar, I'm going to set a smaller goal of writing a song, and I can keep breaking things down from there until I get two a point where I can define a daily habit that's going to help me achieve something tangible. So I know personally one of my weaknesses in guitar right now is that I really like to noodle around, I love to play improv, but I'm not very disciplined when it comes to actually writing segmented verses, choruses, and things like that, or even just creating riffs and memorizing how to play them instead of just noodling around. So my goal might be write a riff and then spend a week practicing that riff. Practice playing it, make sure that I can do it standing up, make sure I can do it sitting down, and make sure that I can record it cleanly into my microphone, and that's now my habits. So I'm going to wake up, I'm going to spend maybe 30 minutes working on a riff that I've written practicing it, making sure that it's clean, and polished, and good to go. So whatever goal you have, you want to do the exact same thing. Make sure it's not just a super general goal that doesn't have something specific in mind, but get specific and make sure that that specific end point is something that can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. Again, if you're specific but it's something that's really difficult like build a rocket ship or make an entire album, that's hard to get actionable about on a daily basis. So ask yourself, what's the first step to that? If you don't known, go ask people or go study people who've done it before you and see if you can break down there process. From there, you can start to define a habit. So in the next lesson in this series we're going to talk about sum of the systems that I've built up to ensure that I stick to my habits over the long term. But before I move on from this lesson I want to talk about something that is incredibly important and that is your environment. We are hugely influenced by our environment, the people, the objects, the spaces around us, and that's true for basically all life. All life forms are influenced by their environment and they're changed by their environment. The decisions they make are changed by their environment as well. So I want to talk about a concept called the 22nd rule. This is something that was talked about in the book The Happiness Advantage by a guy named Shawn Achor. Essentially, the 22nd rule is all about reducing the amount of time it takes to get into a positive habit so that takes less than 20 seconds, and on the flip sighed if you're trying to break bad habits, you want to do whatever it is you can to make it really inconvenient to do that bad habit. So maybe you want to play your video games during work hours if you work at home. Well, if you took the power chord out of the back of your PS4 and you put it in like a lockbox and you gave it a combination that you had to write down somewhere else, it would take like 10 minutes to plug your PlayStation in and actually play it. So you're increasing the amount of time and effort it takes to do that. Again, going back to the first side of that equation there, if you say I want to play guitar, the best way to encourage yourself to do it every single day to make it as easy is possible to do it every single day is just to have that guitar sitting right out in the middle of your living room or behind me. I can pick up this guitar right here and I can start playing it in less than five seconds, and this is actually a bass guitar because I wasn't able to fly my own guitar over to New York City, but I don't know, it's really easy to pick up. This four strings not six but I can still play it in less than five seconds. So I'm going to. But if this is sitting in the case and the cases in my closet and I have to plug it into an AMP, then I'm less likely to go through everything that I need to do to actually play it every single day. As a result, I'm probably going to practice less often. So tailor your environment to encourage the habits that you want to build and you're going to make quicker progress without a hole lot of extra effort expended. Sun-filled theme. So let's talk briefly about what a habit is because this really ties into building your environments to encourage habitual behaviors. A habit again is a shortcut, it's a mental automation essentially. For most decisions, actually most decisions are habitual if you really think about it; breathing, eating, most of your daily routine is habitual. How you cross the street, all those things. But when you think about your decisions, most of them are consciously made, you decide what to have for lunch, you decide what to say to people. But those decisions take self-discipline especially if they are not on the path of least resistance. It very easy to sit down and watch TV, very hard to sit down and spend time writing if you're writing a novel and you've already put into full day of work. So if you can make these decisions that are right now fueled by self-discipline and conscious thought and acceptance of what to do, if you can make them habitual or automatic, then they take a whole lot less self-discipline and willpower to complete. Now, habit has essentially three different stages. This comes from the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. We're going to have a whole reading section in the description for this course where you can checked out some different books on habit formation if you want to really dig into the science. But essentially a habit is composed of three different parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is essentially a trigger, it's something that you see in your environment or maybe it's a time of day or maybe it's a feeling like hunger that makes you want to perform a specific routines, specific sequence of actions and those actions all lead up to some reward. It could be feeling full and satisfied, it could be having some mental satisfaction for having written 500 words in your book, it could be checking something off on a calendar where you're tracking your progress. Either way, that reward eventually becomes a craving, it eventually becomes something that you deeply want on an unconscious level, and that's why when you are exposed to the cue once a behaviorist become truly habitual, you just do it automatically. So to summarize this lesson, number 1 ask yourself what is your goal and what is this specific iteration of your goal that gives you something tangible, something that can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time? Then what is the daily habit or the daily amount of practice you can put in to make progress on that goal? Lastly ask yourself, how can I tailor my environment to make it easier to get into practice every single day? 5. Using External Systems: We are finally in my favorite part of this course. This is actually why I wanted to make the course because I geek out about external systems. So when people think about achieving goals, they often see two methods in their heads. They see using external systems like coaches or habit trackers or some of the apps we're going to talk about here or relying on self-discipline. I've got tons of snarky YouTube comments over my YouTube channel for people who are like, "You don't need external systems, you don't need an accountability partner, all you need is grit and self-determination. That's all you need. If you're not achieving your goals then you are not driven enough and you're not passionate enough." Here's the thing, self-discipline and external systems, they can go hand in hand. The main idea that I want to share with you here and drive home is that using external systems like tailoring your environments, like getting coaches, and using apps, these can be used to augment and build your self-discipline over time. I think of these as training wheels for your brain. You don't ride a bike from the get-go or maybe you do. Maybe your some prodigy who was able to ride on two wheels from the time you were two years old, but personally I had to have training wheels on my bike before I learned how to ride it properly. I think that this philosophy is really good to apply to any habit that you've had trouble building on your own. Find a way to use external systems or as I like to call them, commitment devices to augment and help your self-discipline grow in a controlled environment. So that's what we're going to talk about in this lesson. We're going to talk about both what I call the soft way and the hard way. The soft way is just using things that encourage you lightly and gently to do the things you're supposed to do and then the hard way is setting up systems that literally like hang a sword of Damocles over your head. They threaten actual real-world consequences for not doing what you have committed to do. So first let's talk about the soft way. So when it comes to soft systems, the main one that I like to use is habit tracking. There are a ton of different habit tracking apps out there and you can also just track habits on a calendar or a white board or even a piece of paper. But the general idea here is to get a visual written record of your progress over time. There's a great story about the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, who made this technique famous. It's called the Don't Break the Chain technique. So Jerry Seinfeld, obviously one of the most famous, well-known comedians in the world has talked about the way that he honed his comedic skills. The way he did this was by printing out a huge year-long calendar on one sheet that had every single day in the year on one piece of paper. He committed to writing new jokes every single day and when he did, he would mark off that he did so for that day on the calendar. As he says, over time you start to see this chain of marked off days on your calendar and because you have this chain, you don't want to break it hence the name that Don't Break the Chain technique. Habit tracking apps take advantage of this technique by having you check off your habits every single day and then showing you your streak in the app. So the example that I want to give you is of an app called Habitica. This is my absolute favorite habit tracker out there. There are other ones that you could check out, I'll have a link in the description section of this course but Habitica because my favorite. The reason Habitica is my favorite is because well, as you can probably see from my laptop, I'm a little bit of a video game nerd and I love RPGs. Habitica really plays into my interests because not only do you track your habits but you also get a little character where you can gain experience, points in gold, and get gear, and also go on quests with party members. I really like this because you can actually pair up with other people and go on quests together and if you don't do your habits, you'll actually damage the other people in your party. So this was actually one of the apps that really helped me to embrace the mindset of a professional when I was building my business and trying to get my YouTube channel up off the ground because I literally had goals for writing, for getting work done in my Habitica and I had my best friend in a party with me. He would say, "You know, you're not going to make me lose gear, you're not going to make me get damaged so you better do your habits." That accountability was really, really powerful. So just to give you a brief overview of how Habitica works. Number 1, I'll note that there is a website so you can use it on your desktop. There's also mobile apps for Android and iOS. Just like with any other habit tracker, you can open the app up on your phone which is right here and then you can just check off your habits every single day. So I've got things like wake up on time, check my calendar, read for 20 minutes, take care of my plants which someone else is doing for me today because I'm in New York City, but I could also add something and I'll do that on my computer right now. So say I want to write a book and this is an example from my life because I literally used Habitica to write my book 10 steps to Earning Awesome Grades. In Habitica, I created a daily which is just a habit that you do once per day, you can also use this regular habit column over here to add habits that you do multiple times a day or to add negative habits. So if you want to stop doing something, you could define a habit that actually would damage you if you did it and then you'd have to mark off if you did it. But to create a daily, I would just say write 500 words and that would be in there. I can also come in here and I can define some different options for it so I can add notes, I can mark how difficult it is and I believe that actually will influence how much experience you gain from checking it off. You can define how often it repeats so I can make it daily, I can make it weekly, I could define the days of the week that happens. So maybe I don't want to write on Sunday and Saturday, I want to have my weekends for downhill mountain boarding or something but weekdays I'm writing. I can give it tags. So let's say this is a productivity tagged habit and then I'll save it. Then every single day, I would come in here and I would check off that I wrote 500 words. This is actually how I got my book written by having a daily goal either in output-based goal like write 500 words or input-base goal like write for 20 minutes, you put in daily progress and you eventually have that add up over time. That's what Habitica or any other habit tracker can really help you do. To give you an example of the power of a system like this, just this gentle nudging, not wanting to break the streak, I remember a specific night when I was writing this book. I was at my girlfriend's house for Thanksgiving break and it was like 11:45 PM and I hadn't yet written my 500 words because we were eating dinner and watching movies all day. So I went into a spare bedroom, I took out my phone, didn't even have my laptop with me and I wrote 500 garbage words. Seriously, they were garbage words. It wasn't like the word garbage 500 times, I probably could have done that but I just tried to get something out. But the point was that I got the 500 words done. Here's the thing, they didn't have to be perfect, they didn't have to be great, I just needed to put in 500 words a day. If I kept doing that over the long term, I would eventually have a rough draft that, yes, would be a mess but that I could edit down into something usable. That's exactly what I did. To stick with the writing example, there are other purpose-built tools out there for this goals so you don't have to use a general-purpose habit tracker, you could use a site like 750 Words which has been around for many years and which just gives you a place to write 750 words every single day. It looks like there are 463,000 other writers all logging in and doing this exact same thing. That's the point, you want to log in and put in your time every single day. This reminds me of a quote from the painter, Chuck Close, who said that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work every single day. Hopefully, I didn't bash that quote. But he has a great point. Amateurs just work when they feel inspired and that's not going to be on a regular basis whereas people who have adapted a professional's mindset, they show up every single day and they get to work even if they don't feel inspired because again, they know that inspiration might come when they get deeper into the minds. So try to adapt the mindset of a professional and try to use tools like 750 Words or like a habit tracker because they can encourage that. 6. External Systems: The Hard Way: So what if the soft way isn't working? What if you have a tracker set up, get your 750 words account? You're all set up with all these systems, but you're still not making progress. You're still sleeping in. You're still only working when you have inspiration, and that inspiration is becoming more and more sparse. Well my friend, it is time for you to look into the hard way. Yes, these systems have consequences. These systems will cause you to actually lose something if you fail. But that's the point. Think about having a coach, right? So in my example, I actually have a vocal coach, and I go to him once a week, and we practice songs, and I pay about 65 bucks an hour. So there's a literal real-world consequences for not going home and practicing my songs. There's actually two. Number 1, I'm going to waste money by going to lessons and not practicing in between and making very little progress. Number 2, if I don't practices and I don't show progression, my coach is actually going to yell at me because he's a good coach. He just doesn't yell at me, he is going to be disappointed. The thing is, you don't need another person to setup consequences. Because I've actually set up systems in the past that have held like a metaphorical Damocles over my head, and I guess this Damocles was actually metaphorical because it was just a story. But anyway, I've set these things up that have actually made real progress in my business. They've really helped me to make progress on my own. So I want to go through a couple of them that have helped me to build my own business. In 2013, and I alluded to this earlier on in the course, I got into what I would call a rut. I was really not riding on a consistent basis. I wasn't making a whole lot of progress, and crucially I wasn't on a schedule. I was just blogging when I felt like blogging. I hadn't written my book, even though I had tried and intended to do it for a couple of different years. I hadn't started a YouTube channel yet. I was just listlessly resting on my laurels, and I didn't like it. So I red this book called The Motivation Hacker by a guy named Nick Winter. That book mentioned an app called Beeminder, where you can actually essentially bet money that you're going to do what you say that you're going to do. So I want to show you this app, and it doesn't mean saying you have to literally bet money that you're going to do things. But I want to use this as one specific example of setting up a consequence that will happen if you don't stick to your work. I would like for you to use this as inspiration to maybe do something similar. You could do it in a different way. You could use a system like this, or you could maybe get an accountability partner and tell them, "Hey, if I don't put in 200 words a day in my book, I'll do your laundry for a month. Please hold my feet to the fire on this." In fact, I've actually done that. I had a spreadsheet that my roommate was able to check for my reading progress. But let's look into Beeminder here. So this is my blogging chart here on Beeminder. As you can see, for about three years, I actually tracked the blog posts that went up on my blog College at using a combination of Beeminder and RSS which I'm going to show you how to use in a second here. But essentially, Beeminder would look at my blog's RSS feed, and it would make sure that three things are published on it every single week. If not, I would have to pay $90. To do this and I will actually mention that you can basically track almost any goal because not only can you add manual data to Beeminder, but you can also connect it with all of these apps here. Strava, if you want to use it for cycling or Habitica or your habits, or email if you want to make sure you get to inbox zero over day. There are a ton of different integrations. There are many many more because you can hook it up to IFTTT, which is one of those services that lets you marry different apps together. So that's exactly what I'm going to show you how to do. You would create IFTTT, and you would hit continue here, and you would commit to a certain amount of units. So I'm going to say let's do three per week and this is going to be posts because I'm going to have it look at my blog's RSS feeds. So I'll just call it blog posts, me writing blog posts. That's the best description ever. It can't contain spaces. There we go. So you can set it to $0, and it may even be useful to use Beeminder just to get the graph there because it's an automated version of the don't break the chain rule. Because if it's looking at your RSS feed or if it's looking at an automated tool through integration, it's going to give you that graph over time. So you may not even need to pledge money, but you can if you want to. I'm just going to pledge $1, and I'm going to hit Finish. So now that goal is created and I need to connect it to IFTTT. So we're going to click over here. So here you can see the Beeminder integration on IFTTT. I'm going to go up here. I don't known why they're not showing my profile picture. I'm going to hit create. So now you have this formula. If this, then that. So this is going to be RSS, new feed item. That's all it's going to be. It'll always be Most Wordpress blogs have a slash feed for their RSS. Some might be slash RSS. So we'll create a trigger there, and then we'll go that Beeminder and add a data point. Send, hey look, blogposts is already selected. That's nice. We're going to say is one for one blog posts. EntryTitle, EntryUrl is probably fine, and create action. So now we can receive notifications when this applet runs. You can hit finish, and it is going to be active. So now every single time a new blog post is put up on my blog, my Beeminder graph is going to get another data point. As long as it receives enough data points to match the goal I've set up, I'm not going to get charged and I'm not going to feel bad, and have a smaller wallet. Now just to give you a bit more inspiration and some more options, I do want to share a couple of the other uses that I've found for Beeminder. A probably, the one that got the most attention a few years ago is when I hooked Beeminder up to a tweet scheduling app called Buffer, and every single morning, I would schedule a tweet that said "Hey, I'm being lazy. Please, charge me $5 Beeminder," and I would hook that to an IFTTT app, and have Beeminder look for my my tweets with a specific hashtag. I will have to get up every single morning and delete that tweet before it went out. So it essentially forced me to get out of bed, go downstairs, and turn on my computer, which was great because I hit the snooze button a lot. The other thing was I set up a geofence for my gym. So I wanted to do an experiment where instead of tracking my workouts, I just tracked how many days I went to the gym. I found this to be pretty useful because it can be hard to when you're sitting at home and think I have to go to the gym and do X, Y and Z workout, it's much easier to go to the gym and just say, "I went to the gym." So I literally put a geofence around my gym and I can't remember exactly the app that I used this for. But I put that up to Beeminder, and I would just get a data point every single time I went into a specific area, which was where my gym was on GPS. So there's a lot you can do. Your imagination is the limit given that you can hook all these applets up with IFTTT. So use these if you want. Now that being said, there are some drawback to this system. Yeah, there are a lot of benefits. It can be really, really powerful. But I do want to talk about the drawbacks. Number 1, in my experience, I found that using hard way systems like this, putting actual consequences above your head can tempt you to set up too many goals. You can really run yourself ragged. Because when you're in the mindset that, "Oh, I will comply because there is a consequence." You can get a little overzealous and commit yourself to too many things. A lot of people do this with college. They do this with the real world, and it's the same with this app as well. So again, try to be deliberate about number 1, only committing to a certain amount of goals, so you can put the necessary time into each one to make the progress that needs to be made. Number 2, leaving at least a little bit of flexibility for the unexpected to come up and for you to be able to handle it. So that is going to wrap up this lesson. I'm just going to point you to the resources tab where you can found a list of all the apps that I've mentioned and some alternatives, which you might want to check out as well. In any case, if you're finding it a little bit difficult to rely purely on self-discipline to do your habits every single day, consider either using a soft system like Habitica or habit tracker, or a more hardcore system like Beeminder or an actual coach or accountability partner to augment that self-discipline with a commitment device. 7. Anticipating Pain Points: So now that we've talked about external systems and augmenting your self-discipline with them, I want to talk about pain points and complications, because part of the reason a lot of people fail to make long-term progress on their goals is that, they get derailed at some point in the middle. This could be because it gets too painful for them to go on or because something comes up and makes it difficult to do it. Just an unexpected thing or because there's just too much friction. Like we talked about the environment part. You have to tailor your environment to make it easy to get into the habit especially when you get into the dip. So I want to cover several things you can do to deal with pain points and unexpected occurrences. The number one thing is to just "Embrace the suck," as they say in the Marines. Now this isn't super actionable but I want to mention up front because when you feel like you don't want to go on, when you feel like you just want to quit, be lazy, you have to realize that that doesn't actually limit your choices. Feeling like you want to quit, doesn't force you to quit and when you can affirm that to yourself, you can gain a little bit more self-discipline, a little bit more of motivation to go on. So that's just a philosophy thing but now I want to move on to dealing with schedule interruptions, dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Because no matter how well you plan out your life, no matter how diligently you wake up every single Sunday morning and look at your to-do list, look at your calendar, just like I talked about in my first course which you should watch if you haven't, there's going to be things that are going to come up that you couldn't have anticipated. If your entire day is blocked out with practice sessions and habits, and you have no way to deal with these interruptions, then something has got to give. If interruptions are important enough, then your habits are going to have to give. So my main tip here is to commit to smaller goals and then to allow yourself to push past them. Here are a couple of examples. Instead of saying, "I'm going to practice guitar for an hour a day," instead say, "I'm committing to 15 minutes of practice every single day." Maybe I even have that at B Minor. But if I'm in the zone, I'm going to allow myself to go past that. So maybe I actually do practice for a full hour on Tuesday, maybe on Wednesday I practice for 30 minutes, but on both days I have at least hit my 15-minute minimum. Same thing for writing. When I was writing my book, I could've committed to a 1,000 word per day goal. In fact, I'm very capable of writing a 1,000 words in the day. There have been days in the past where I've written in 2,000 words. But I know that not every day can that happen, there's going to be days where something comes up and really 500 words is all I can realistically do. I know I can probably write 500 words in about 15 minutes. So again, I'm hitting a minimum threshold and then I'm allowing myself to push past that anytime that I have the ability to do so. But if I can't, I have at least hit that minimum. The other thing is that you want to be observant of things that cause friction in your process. Anything that is inconvenient that you can improve, you should. So here's a great example. When I was making YouTube videos, in the beginning I was committed to making one every single week. But one part of the process that I had to do every single time, which got really annoying, was setting up all of the camera gear. I have to set up a tripod, I had to set up the camera, I had to frame it perfectly, and get the posters in my background all lined up and straight up and down. I had to figure out where the lights were going to go, where the microphone was going to go, and then I'd get the microphone out of frame. It could be like a 20-minute process before I was sitting down shooting that video and that was every single week. Then I had a realization. I can just leave some of this gear up. Now, I was using a bedroom at the time, so I couldn't just leave it up exactly where it was, because I wouldn't have been able to get into my bed or get to anything else in my room, but I was at least able to leave the light stands and the lights built. I just had them shoved into a corner. Instead of messing with the soft box every single time I film a video, I could just put it where it needed to go. I noted where it needed to go for every single video and then I put pieces of tape on the floor, so I could just easily place it there instead of having to experiment every single time. So do this for whatever your goal is. Find ways to automate parts of the process, to leave things up, to basically do things in one bulk batch instead of having to repeat them every single time. If you can batch these things instead of doing them every single time, then you reduce the amount of time that it takes to get into the actual practice. You make more progress during each session and you also reduce the resistance that you have towards getting into it in the first place. Finally, don't be too hard on yourself if you fail on a given day. If something unexpected comes up, if you have to randomly go to the hospital or something and you're not able to put in this progresses, practice time, that's fine. But you really want to make sure that you're doing it's not derailing permanently, not letting one point of failure make you just think, "What the heck. I failed and I'm just going to give up." Just get back on the horse and keep making progress, and forgive yourself if something happens. We're going to talk more about that in the failure video in this course, but I didn't want to mention it now. So before I move on to the next lesson as an exercise for this one, try to list out 3-5 potential pain points that might come up in your practice sessions. Try to anticipate them. Then if you do come up with ideas, try to brainstorm some ways that you can mitigate them, and if you can, you're going to save yourself a lot of actual pain in the future. 8. Tracking, Reviewing, and Reflection: So the famous management consultant, Peter Drucker, once said what gets measured gets managed, and this applies to your goals just as much as it applies to all the big data analytics of any business you can think of. If you're not tracking your progress over time, then you really don't know what all this effort is getting you. So in this lesson, we're going to talk about how you can potentially track your progress, how you can review it, and reflect on it, and potentially make changes or tweaks going forward. So in a minute, I'm going to show you a tracking system that my best friend Martin has been developing for the past year and that works really well for him and I like it as well. But first, I do want to mention that tracking doesn't have to be elaborate, and really, the form that it's going to take is really going to depend on the work that you're doing, and I mention this because for a lot of creative work in particular, the body of work that you are creating, specially if you're publishing on a regular basis, can act as its own tracking system. My YouTube channel is a great example. I don't feel the need to build some sort of manual tracking system for my YouTube channel because the videos themselves act as the record and I can easily go through them, and I can watch them over again, and I can see, "Oh hey, my cadence has improved over the last few videos. I want to focus on that one. Keep working on that. Or my animations have improved, I was really focusing on audio quality here, let's keep doing that." So if you have a goal that ends up creating a body of work that acts as its own record, then you could use that as your tracking system. But for other goals, you may want to add in some kind of external system, and the one that I'm going to show you is a pen and paper system which he calls the two week system. It's called the two week system because each iteration of it only lasts for two weeks. I'll just show it to you right now, kind of create a little re-creation of his October first week. So if you look at the page here, you can see that it says October 1st, 2019 and we have 1 through 15. So basically, he splits his months in two and has one tracker page for the first 15 days of the month and then a second one for the 16th through the end of the month, and he doesn't care that it's a variable date based on whether it's 30 days or 31 days. It's really just about the philosophy of resetting every single two weeks and using the end of the two-week session as an opportunity to evaluate how things went. So what he'll do is he'll draw boxes for each of his goals and he limits himself to just four goals here. He'll draw boxes for only the weekdays because he wants to give himself the weekends off, and then for every single day, he will put a plus sign if he managed to hit this goal. So meditation for three minutes Monday through Friday, his health goal is to bike for 20 minutes, his language goal is to study, Japanese Monday, Wednesday, Friday, French on Tuesday and Thursday, and I couldn't fit it here but it's specifically Duolingo challenges, and then reading for 20 minutes or to finish a chapter. He didn't note that this goal here is both input based and output based because he meant to finish the book, The Hobbit. So for him, he was either put in 20 minutes or finish a chapter, and that will get a plus. Zeros or circles are failures that were out of his control. So he will also write the reasons for failure. So number two he's got on the second day of the month, I failed health because I was sick, couldn't really do anything about that, and then minus signs are inexcusable failures. I stayed out too late with friends and got home too late, couldn't study language, that was my fault. But he didn't note that he doesn't put an X here, he puts a minus because he doesn't want it to be marked as failure, he just wants it to be a reminder that he is hurting himself by not making progress on his goals, and a reminder to get back on the horse essentially. So just as a demo if I meditated today, I will put a plus sign here and I will mention that he makes these on grid paper which makes it a heck of a lot easier to make the boxes equal size and to fit all the numbers in here, I did it on line papers. So if you're gonna do something like this, I would recommend using grid paper and in fact, in the resources section for this course, you're going to find a printable templates with dots and a place to write down each goal that you can use at least as a starting point. So finally at the end of this two-week period, he would turn the page and he would redraw this out for the rest of the month, but crucially, he would ask himself, did this configuration of goals work? Was I meditating for long enough? Did I feel like it wasn't long enough? Maybe I'll go for five minutes next time. Was my language practice a goal too ambitious? Maybe I'm going to scale that back or maybe I want to do something different, and I realized that I need to cut one of these things to make room for that? That's the beauty of the two-week system. It gives you a regular interval twice a month to re-evaluate and ask yourself, is what I'm doing still working? Of course if you didn't want to use a paper and pen system, you could use apps as well. Like I've talked about earlier in this course, you could use Habitica. Like I said, you get that don't break the chain effect here. I will say that one of the benefits Martin has mentioned about his paper system over habit trackers like this is that there's no threat of building up a huge chain and then feeling compelled to keep the chain going even if you don't feel like the goal is worth it anymore so that's something to keep in mind. But again, you could use Habitica to track your progress here and you get that street number or if you want something a little less nerdy, there is another app called Habitify and I like this one over all other kind of normal non video game me habit tracking apps just because the UI is really nice. You can easily come in here and check off all of your habits every single day, and then you can go in here and you can get some interesting data about how close you are to your weekly goal. You can actually have a time goal if you want to track how many minutes you putting in to things like reading or writing things like that, or you can go down here and see your streaks and your completion rate, things like that. So check that out if Habitica is not for you. So for this video's exercise, simply track your routine for the next two weeks. Use a pen and paper system like this, use the print out, use a habit tracker, whatever it is, find a way to track your routine then reflect on it. If you think about it, go to discussion section and share any changes that you may have made that could provide some extra insights for people who are also tracking their goals. 9. What to Do When You Fail: So we are getting near the end of the course. We can't end things without talking about failure because failure is inevitable. Anybody who has ever pursued a goal has at one point in their lives failed their own expectations. For a lot of people, one point of failure is the point at which progress on their goal ends, and I don't want you to be one of those kind of people because there is a huge difference between a graph like this where we have one little point of failure and then we recover and keep going up, and a graph like this where we let a single failure completely derail us and end our progress. So to borrow a phrase from my friend James Clear, who wrote the book Atomic Habits, which I'll also have linked in the resources section for this course, highly recommend that book, "Don't make the second mistake." When you fail at your daily habits for some reason or you just have a really bad two-week period or whatever it is, recommit and find a way to get back on the horse. Secondly, you may find that when you're trying to re-establish a habit after you've failed once or maybe you failed for a while, and you're trying to get back into it, you have to start smaller again. You can't go back to exactly where you were. This is a concept again from the Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter, he calls, success spirals, as you prove to yourself that you can hit a certain standard on a daily basis. So let's say you can read for 15 minutes or practice guitar for 15 minutes, you're able to spiral up over time. So maybe you've gotten to a point where you're now practicing for an hour a day consistently. You've proven to yourself over the weeks that 15 minutes is doable, 30 minutes is doable, and then, for some reason, you fail. You get into an international dogs sledding competition, you have to travel to the Yukon, and you can't bring a guitar. When you come back, you just find that doing an hour practice every single day is not working. You're not able to be consistent on it. As he says in the book, you need to go back to the beginning of the spiral. Reset your goal back down to 15 minutes of practice a day, and prove it to yourself once again that you can spiral up. It'll probably take less time than it did the first time, but it's sometimes unrealistic to expect that you can just jump right back into the goal at the exact same level of difficulty that you have built up to over time. Finally, when you fail, take some time to work and pinpoint the cause of that failure. Figure out what caused it and what you could do in the future to avoid that from causing you to fail again. If you don't do this, then you remain vulnerable to the same exact thing that made you fail in the first place. Of course, this is mainly for things that are within your control. So like if your dog ran away and somehow went to space, and you literally can't go to space to get your dog back, you can't control that, and that's probably going to make you sad. You can't practice guitar because your dog is orbiting somewhere between Mars and Earth. But if it was something that you have control over, like your guitar string broke and you didn't have a backup, so your guitar was just sitting there useless for week. That's something that you have control over. You could buy a pair of backup strings, and you can easily restring your guitar and get right back to practicing. Anyway, to wrap all this up, failure is inevitable. It is going to happen sometimes, but it doesn't have to be the thing that ends your progress on your goal. If you can recover, if you can reset, if you can pinpoint what happened and come back smarter, then you're going to get past any failure that happens. 10. Final Thoughts: So we're at the end of the class. We've talked about a lot so far, we've talked about listing out your goals, identifying the most important ones, and developing habits and systems to support them. So to really wrap this up, let me summon as much inspirational energy as I can to tell you, "You got this." I also want to say that I have another course here on Skillshare called Productivity Masterclass, Building a Custom System that Works, and this class takes you through the entire process of nailing the fundamentals of your productivity system, your to-do list, your calendar, your note-taking system, the way you organize your files, and if you can get this nailed down, then you're going to have a lot less surprises that come up and derail your progress on your habits and your goals. So check that out if you're curious. Otherwise, I would love to see you down in the discussion section of this course. Ask questions, share your tips with other people, and maybe add a project where you talk about your own system, your own habits, and your own to techniques for ensuring that you stick with those habits. Thanks so much for taking this class with me, and I hope you got a lot out of here.