Illustration: Ashley Siebels
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Some of the smartest people in history lived by those words long before they adorned Instagram posts. But in today’s busy world, we need to consider the most effective ways of incorporating daily habits into our already-packed schedules — especially when it comes to longer-term goals like learning new things. It’s all about small, daily changes that can make all the difference.
So if you want to become smarter without taking a full course or reading dozens of books, embrace these six daily habits, below. They’ll help increase your focus, fast track your learning and boost your brainpower in as much time as reading an email or scrolling through your feed.
Taking a few minutes to visually illustrate your thoughts on a piece of paper or whiteboard — a great daily habit to implement — will flex your intellect and make you better at taking in complicated concepts and new knowledge. “Mind mapping is a powerful tool that helps simplify complex issues for easier understanding, boosts retention, ignites creativity and enables meaningful learning,” says Adrian Shepherd, best-selling author and productivity expert, and consultant.
You’ve heard all about the health benefits of meditation. But did you know it could also make you sharper? “Our world today is noisy, which is why it pays more than ever to have quiet time to reflect. Meditation helps reduce stress, improves focus and memory, lengthens attention span and puts us in the right frame of mind to succeed,” he says.
You may think that there is no point in exercising for five minutes, but getting your blood flowing first thing in the morning with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks or burpees has cognitive benefits. “Not only are [these exercises] effective to build muscle, but they also release endorphins into the bloodstream, which helps our brain operate at optimum levels,” says Shepherd.
Using a notebook
Shepherd says there is magic in writing. “Every successful person I know loves to work on paper. Later, those ideas should get digitally transferred to allow for ease of distribution, back-up, and alteration.”
Carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas as they come up and you’ll find yourself feeling more inspired and creative over time. Make quick lists as you think of tasks and action items: Putting looming to-dos on paper declutters your mind, giving it more space for processing new learnings. You’ll see that this daily habit can have a great effect.
Apps like Blinkist provide condensed book summaries focused on key takeaways and insights that you can get through in less than 15 minutes. “There are books that are filled to the brim with powerful ideas. However, some contain just a few nuggets of wisdom. That’s why I have invested in getting book summaries,” says Shepherd.
You can also use book summaries to inform your evergrowing reading list and select which reads are going to be worth your time and attention.
Timing your work
Using a timer takes a second, but it can save you hours of work in the long run — time that you could spend on attending a compelling conference, having a thought-provoking conversation or listening to an insightful podcast. Shepherd recommends setting a countdown timer for 60 minutes and aiming to focus on a single item of work during that hour.
“In today’s world, we are distracted on average every three minutes. However, it takes 11 minutes for us to regain concentration. That means we are never able to get into a state of concentration. That’s where a timer comes in handy.”
Incorporating these daily habits into your busy life might be what you need to level-up, become smarter and make your day-to-day much more efficient. Try it out for yourself.