Adding a Fourth Habit, and a New Approach to Work

30.08.2022 |

Episode #4 of the course Multihabit: A radical new approach to habit-tracking by John Robin


Welcome back to the course!

So far, we’ve worked on how to track 3 habits, and by now you’re getting the hang of where we’re going. Your life will change and you will learn so many lessons about time-management in the process, so let’s see now where adding a 4th habit takes us!


Discovering Your Fourth Habit

There’s something special about this step. For the first three habits, we relied on picking what comes up naturally.

This time, we’re going to pick something pretty universal:

If you haven’t already done so, try to get whatever you consider “work” also on the plate.

This will look different, depending on your lifestyle, and your particular profession or practice.

What will really help here is a surprise!

Meet Susan:

We had someone join our little group, leading a very different kind of life than any of us. Susan is a third-year university student.

When she joined us, Susan followed the process of defining her habits carefully. Her first habit was “homework”. She picked “reading” as her 2nd habit, and “studying” as her 3nd habit.

Wouldn’t reading and studying be the same?

Not to Susan. Susan recognized that “reading” involved staying on top of what her professors assigned her to read from textbooks and articles, whereas “studying” was more of a proactive habit, where she would strategically review and condense her notes or memorize concepts.

The most important thing to note: what matters most about the habits you choose is what the habit means to you.

For her 4th habit, Susan picked “lectures”.

Susan did this because when she thought of what “work” meant to her, it was the time commitment of having to be in classes or labs.

Now, let’s check in with everyone else.

First of all, me. I’d already defined the time-intensive habits that comprise my work, namely “writing” and “reading”. However, seeing Susan pick “lectures” got me thinking about what else I might be missing.

There was one part of my work life that I often just relied on to-do lists for. This was time related to addressing the business aspects of my work. These comprise mostly emails and messages to clients and editors on my team, or instructions on publishing decisions. This work being task-oriented, I’d never thought to track my time on it.

So, for my 4th habit, I picked “business”.

Here is where we come back to Susan’s definition of her habits.

To me, “business” defined a type-based habit, namely, that time when I channel my to-do list focus and streamline my time to handle whatever business-related things need my attention. To others who might be CEOs, for instance, this habit label would not work, since that’s too general—a CEO’s work-day might be broken into habits like “meetings”, “organizing”, “projects”, etc.

But for me, that business time is a small component of my day. It is necessary and cannot be ignored, but it isn’t the primary part of my work.

Now when I have my “business” timer on, I can channel single-pointed focus on the intention of dealing with business responsibilities, and this led to a powerful discovery…


The Sneaky Urgent-Not-So-Important Principle

Many things seem important because they are urgent. This urgency can be external. For example, someone is emailing you asking when their project is going to be done. It can also be internal. For example, you feel your website needs to be updated this week because it looks atrocious.

But these are all sneaky urgent-not-so-important tasks. Contrast this with urgent and important. For example, you have a deadline at 4 pm on a project and if you don’t meet it, you’ll lose $2,000 of profit.

What I found when I created my “business” habit and used a count-up timer when I was focused on my business, was a distinct awareness of those sneaky urgent-not-so-important tasks. I stopped typing unnecessarily long emails. I started using the star function in my email program to prioritize which emails absolutely needed my time. If I went into Slack to message an editor, the 100 unread notifications from author chat channels all got ignored as I only went in to deliver the message and stay focused.

Mary’s own sneaky not-so-urgent discovery:

Mary picked “email” for her work-like habit. This was somewhat related to why she picked “spider solitaire” for her 3rd: she realized she spent a lot of time answering emails to friends, or generally going through her emails, and never had a sense of how much time she spent on it.

Joe, on the other hand, decided to make a “producing” habit as his 4th, to cover the time he spent making the YouTube and TikTok videos that got him likes, fans, and patrons to support his music career.

Rod’s brilliant insight: A new approach to the evil day job.

Rod made a different kind of choice. When he thought of what “work” meant, he realized that so far, he hadn’t factored in the time at his day job. So, he called his 4th habit “day job”.

Rod was also inspired in part by Mary picking “spider solitaire” as a habit. It helped him think outside of the box.

Because Rod’s real aspiration in life was to quit his day job and run his own publishing company, he saw good reason to treat time at the office like a habit. So, from the time he arrived at work, until he punched out, he would put on his “day job” timer.

But he also was surprised by an unexpected discovery: Because he trained himself to turn a timer on and off when he was in “day job” mode, he found there were many times in the day when there was nothing to do. Whereas he used to take out a book and read to fill the time, his new approach to habits had him wondering if he could make progress during these dead times.

Rod’s discovery ties into the one I made when I created my “business” habit. It’s another important habit principle called top-bounding.

Top-bounding is where you set an upper time limit on your habit. In Rod’s case, 8 hours would be his upper limit, but he wanted to see if he could shrink it. In my case, I didn’t have a strict number, but more generally a sense that I wanted “business” to be as small as possible.

It’s worth saying that top-bounding should not be confused with rushing. In Rod’s case, he made sure to do his job and never neglect his duties. In my case, I never cut important items from my to-do list just to shrink “business” time down.

Rather, top-bounding is simply building an awareness, once you start measuring your time on a habit, that it has an upper limit.

What will your 4th habit be?

Pick whatever feels like “work” to you, and see how it adds up as another tap you now can control.

Where will the 5th habit take us? More lessons on the nuances of managing multiple habits await in tomorrow’s lesson. Stay tuned!


Your next spreadsheet

Tracking 4 Habits • 2 Weeks • Group of 5 (See first tab for instructions)


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