Our user Henry had this to say about Clockify in his review on Capterra:
“The most challenging thing about using Clockify is really building the habit to track everything you do; but the more you track, the more productive you become.”
“This time, it’s going to be different”, you tell yourself. “‘I’ve set the goals, made the plans, and have it all written down. There’s no way I can’t keep up with this schedule”.
*️⃣ We read and appreciate every Clockify comment sent our way – sometimes, we even feel inspired to share user’s ideas on how they use Clockify and expand on their ideas for others to replicate.
In this blog post series, you’ll learn why and how people use our free time tracker Clockify to the best of their benefit, and how you can too.
How many times have you set yourself up to form a good habit, though you had a foolproof plan and actually managed to form a brief streak – only to watch your efforts fall through after a little while.
If this has happened to you, there’s no need to worry.
It’s all too common, and a modern struggle eating away at personal improvement.
You’ve downloaded apps, started countless journals and habit tracking lists, but somehow always wound up back at the start.
Ever wondered why that happens? Would you believe us if we said it’s possible to regain your motivation once and for all?
Here at Clockify, we’ve made a guide through your motivation (or lack thereof). Our aim is to help you realize where you’ve been making mistakes, and how to get in the habit of, well, habit tracking.
Now, let’s begin.
Why do we track habits?
Writing down your goals and means to achieve them signals the willingness to commit to a change in your life.
“I’m going to start eating healthy on Monday” sounds like a good idea, but a very vague one.
And it gives us this sneaky little option of abandoning the idea as soon as an inconvenience pops up.
Now consider this:
“I’m going to start eating healthy on Monday by eating at least one piece of fruit after breakfast, and two vegetables at lunch”
Sounds much better, right?
Habit tracking gives us the opportunity to simplify otherwise big goals – thus making them seem more achievable.
Visually, checking off each day you’ve eaten an apple and some vegetables will give you a confidence boost.
And even the smallest encouragement goes a long way.
With habit trackers, we’re more likely to commit, as the idea materializes and it’s a written proof of how disciplined we can be.
Why are we more likely to fail than succeed at forming habits?
The habits we’ve deemed bad are usually those that are the most satisfying.
It’s how they’re designed: binge-watching a really good show, eating highly processed foods (made that way to taste better), drinking alcohol to alleviate stress or any kind of social anxiety or awkwardness.
They reward you for doing very little.
And, in a sense, we’ve forgotten that most things good for us require some effort.
So it’s no wonder we fall back to routine behaviors more often.
Without comfort food, for example, getting a dose of the feel-good hormones requires more effort and dedication.
And our brain is not too happy about doing more demanding work for a reward that won’t come instantly.
Let’s see how that works in real life:
|Immediate, effortless reward||Delayed, difficult reward|
|Eat half a chocolate cake(releases dopamine quicker, tastes good)||Spend 40 minutes at the gym(takes longer to release dopamine, is tiring)|
|Go out drinking with friends(alcohol works fast, helps extroversion)||Go hiking with friends(requires overcoming discomfort)|
|Scroll through Twitter/Facebook/Instagram(requires short attention span, rewards with colorful posts and amusing videos)||Read a book(requires more focused attention, has no visual stimuli aside from words)|
Positive change has the element of temporary discomfort, and our brains are designed to protect us from discomfort and harm.
We need to teach our brains that discomfort is sometimes okay and necessary to achieve a higher goal.
How to rewire your thinking
There are several reasons why our brains fail to overcome the discomfort we just mentioned.
Recognizing these reasons is the start of our journey to better habit tracking.
Step 1: Recognize the problem 🤔
All habits, good and bad, can be seen as behavior loops – and your habit loop failed.
Here’s how an established habit loop works:
This is the event that causes you to take action.
Eg. A stressful day at work.
This is the part where you perform the habit.
Eg. Buy a chocolate cake.
This is the final part of the loop, where the brain gets a reward for the action.
Eg. Sugar rush and dopamine.
In the above example, the loop can rarely be broken: we inevitably get a rush from eating something delicious.
However, if we substitute cake with going to the gym, the loop is more likely to be broken.
Not many people feel as good immediately after a workout as they do after cake.
The solution: introduce outside rewards for performing good habits.
Eg. After a stressful day at work, go to the gym, and then reward yourself for enduring the workout with some dark chocolate. Or make a delicious protein shake.
The goal is to rewire your brain with a reward system. After some time, you’ll notice that you no longer need it, but the habit stuck.
Goals are set too high or too vague
Let’s say you want to become a better conversational partner.
You want to be able to hold an interesting conversation and make friends more easily.
Worded like this, the goal is really vague, and your motivation can drop even before you began.
Solution: To keep yourself disciplined and motivated, you’ll need to break down your end goal into different little steps.
In this example, you’ll want to, let’s say, spend five minutes a day reading an online newspaper.
So you formulate your goal as:
“Every morning I’ll take five minutes to read the papers during breakfast/morning coffee.”
Then after about two weeks, you can make an upgrade:
“Every other day I’ll watch a TED video that interests me, and write down my thoughts.”
You keep this going until you’ve formed a habit to actively read and listen to media that helps expand your interest and engages your intellect.
Remember to keep the wording of your habits precise. Leave no room for loopholes. If you think an everyday commitment will make you break a streak, then do every other day or three times a week. Know how much you’re willing to do to achieve bare minimum at first.
Doing too many things too soon
Another common mistake is that we start with too much on our plate.
For example, you want to turn over a new leaf: eat healthier, work out, read every night and wake up at 6 AM.
If you’re not already doing two of these things, odds are you’re not going to make it past a week.
Your brain needs time and patience to adjust to one habit, let alone four.
And if you spend more time thinking and planning and being cautious about slipping up, your brain will get overwhelmed, causing a relapse.
Solution: Introduce new habits only after an older one has formed.
There is no shame in tackling one habit at a time because the old habits give your brain a chance to get used to the new change gradually.
Remember, you’re teaching it that some discomfort is okay, so don’t stress it out by altering everything about your habits.
🔹 Problem 4: Going for perfection
Unless we were taught otherwise from a young age (or through a lot of trial and error), most of us are perfectionists.
Not being able to perform a task to our own high standards is the motivation killer.
Solution: When planning your habit routines and the tracking process, count in for possible slip-ups. Prepare for them. Treat them as a learning opportunity. Observing where you failed and why gives an insight on how to improve.
Step 2: Build the habit of tracking time ⏲️
We jump into the whole habit forming process without wondering if we even have the habit of tracking our progress regularly. We just assume we do.
For some, this could be the sole reason why they go off track.
So to test out if you have the habit-tracking tendencies, or just need practice before diving into a new habit, try dipping your toes in the water first.
List easy things to track as a starting point:
- Wash dishes every night (even if there’s only one dirty fork)
- Read a magazine article (online or offline)
- Brush teeth
- Take out the trash
- Walk the dog at least half an hour
- Drink a glass of water every morning after waking up
- Write at least one line in your journal
Then up the ante by tracking everything you do – life and work-related.
With apps like Clockify, you also track the time it takes you to perform the new habit (like reading regularly, learning coding, etc.)
To make it even more intuitive, get the phone app to make tracking easier with a swipe of a finger. Do this until it becomes second nature.
Don’t be embarrassed to track something that is easy or that you’re already doing on a daily basis.
You want to make a habit of tracking your habits, whether it’s through filling out a journal or opening up an app on your phone.
Make a conscious decision to mark down your habit the moment you finish it. If left for later, the odds are you’ll forget it.
If you manage to do two weeks of tracking one or several already formed habits, you’re all set to bite bigger.
Step 3: Set a timeframe 📅
Don’t give up too soon or because you haven’t seen the change immediately. As we’ve said, your brain takes time to adjust. In fact, we know scientifically that it takes around 66 days for a new habit to form, according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.
During that period, you’ll have to learn to deal with both good and bad days, and how to build a perfect habit streak. Setting this timeframe as a deadline will already give you something to look forward to, maybe even ease some of the pressure of being perfect. Because 66 days is a lot of time.
Step 4: Go easy on yourself 🧘
Modern media has popularized the idea of making enormous life changes by taking very small action: “Doing this small thing, I’ve managed to earn my first million in under a year!”
Those are some pretty high expectations to set for yourself, no?
What these spokesmen often omit is the reality of how much work and self-discipline goes into forming new, life-changing habits.
Because it sounds less appealing.
And once people realize this, it leaves them frustrated, feeling like they’re not good enough or not trying enough because the results are slow to come.
We’ve forgotten that good habits take time to become rewarding. So treat your new habits as shifts in behavior, not drastic life changes. That way you’ll set your bar a little lower and just focus on the process itself.
Without focusing on the process of habit tracking, you’ll constantly chase short-term solutions while remaining annoyed at yourself and feeling incompetent.
Step 5: Establish a habit-tracking-friendly environment 🌳
It’s already familiar how difficult it is to keep disciplined. In order to boost your motivation and feel proud of achievements so far, find a way to alter little things in your everyday.
Here are some tips on how you can create a motivational environment to keep you on track:
- Find your “tribe” – people who are trying to form the same habit, or are introducing a change of their own. A support system can make a world of difference;
- Accept less than perfect results – the first week didn’t go too well? Analyze your mistakes and try better next week. Learn to be okay with “just good enough”, rather than quitting;
- Visualize – use mood boards or reminders of what your end goal is. Keep them close by whenever you feel unmotivated or ready to give up;
- Find outside help – there are many habit tracking apps and websites designed with procrastinators in mind. Each has a different approach, and one of them just might suit you.
How to prevent demotivation
Habit tracking doesn’t have to be a chore in and of itself. Actually trying various approaches, you might find out that all this time it was the ordinary way of tracking that didn’t suit you.
🔷 Bullet journaling
If you’re relatively new to alternative time and habit tracking methods, you may be wondering: “What is bullet journaling”?
Endearingly shortened to “bujo”, bullet journaling has gained significant attention in recent years, online specifically. It’s a more creative way to keep track of your progress where you make a personalized calendar of your habits. The aim is to turn habit tracking into a creative outlet, and to motivate you through the effort put into the journaling process.
You’ve probably encountered examples of these bullet journals online. For the visual types, they seem to be the most motivating. Coloring in the boxes or marking down successfully performed habits that day complete the picture one piece at a time. It’s a good visual representation of progress.
But, if you’re not the traditional notebook journaling type, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same effect.
Certain apps, like Clockify, allow you to customize your data entries. So even if you prefer having a clear, number-oriented habit tracker, but still want to give it some pizazz, you can! Take a look at the example below:
By choosing a custom color for each habit (you can create a separate “project” for each habit), you can make your own visually appealing progress graph. Like the one below:
Allow yourself to be playful with the tracker you choose – make your own color scheme, match colors to the habits themselves, or come up with a green-good / red-bad system for monitoring how well you do on specific days. The options are endless. And when tracking is made fun, there’s less fear of losing motivation for it.
🔷 Define fears, not goals (avoid self-destruction and self-paralysis)
There will be those who are so afraid of failing their habit tracking, they’ll postpone starting anything. It’s the imperfection that scares them, of exposing their own flawed determination.
The good news is, there is a way to overcome that fear.
Instead of letting your hypothetical failure dangle in the air, prepare for it. In his wildly popular TED talk, Tim Ferris explained in depth the concept of fear-setting, as opposed to goal setting. He suggests making a list of the worst things that could happen if you strive for a goal. Every possible way things could go wrong. Then in the next step, you write out the ways in which you can prevent these things from happening or, if they do happen, ways in which you can fix them.
Let’s say that you want to start tracking your healthy eating habit.
You’ve made a tracking plan, have some recipes under your belt, and promise yourself this time will be different. However, the doubt starts to creep in – maybe you won’t be able to make it?
Tim Ferris illustrates a method to apprehend your fears and anxieties the following way:
- DEFINE the worst case scenario IF you take up clean eating;
- In what way can you PREVENT each of these scenarios;
- If the worst case scenario happens, how can you REPAIR the damage?
|What if I start eating clean?|
|It’s more expensive, since fruit and vegetables are pricier.||Spend an afternoon looking for the most affordable brands and store prices.||Buy frozen instead of fresh produce, use fruit and veggies for smoothies rather than meals.|
|I’ll slip up for one meal, and throw off my whole schedule.||Plan out meals in advance, and always keep emergency healthy snacks in case of sudden hunger.||Admit to yourself that you made a mistake and make your next meal healthier.|
The list can go on, depending on all the doubts you have concerning a particular decision. The second list you should make is the one addressing the results if you decide not to follow through.
|The Cost of Inaction|
|6 months||1 year||3 years|
|I won’t fit in my clothes anymore.||My appetite will increase, and I might completely stop eating fruits and vegetables.||I’ll lack the necessary vitamins, which will affect my health. Might develop some illnesses.|
Why does this method work for some?
You might be tempted to answer: “fear mongering yourself into action”. But it’s not. This exercise demands you take a logical, objective look at where your current lifestyle is headed. By acknowledging the risks, you’re increasing the odds of making more sound future decisions.
The third and last list is about all the benefits from taking action.
|All the benefits of eating healthy regularly|
As a complete package, Tim Ferris’s method provides a great insight into ourselves, which we often neglect when looking for solutions to our lack of motivation.
In order to conquer the fear of failure, we need to stare it right in the eyes. And once we know there’s a backup plan for every scary scenario, tracking habits and staying on a good path seems less of a trouble.
How to stay motivated when you break a streak
Missing one day is an honest mistake, but missing two is a conscious decision.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, we tend to treat habit forming as an all-or-nothing game. But in reality, it’s a fluctuating one where you might fall over one hurdle, but jump perfectly over the next one. Our brain is easy to convince that, if we don’t do something perfectly, we’re a failure.
Challenge this kind of thinking by simply avoiding the second mistake.
In the long run, a mistake here and there won’t make a difference. Just how a gym visit every two weeks won’t make you an athlete. Habt tracking is all about doing your best to stay consistent. The sooner you understand that, the lesser the odds are of you being demotivated after a mistake.
In the end…
The biggest mistake we make with motivation is thinking it is this mystical emotion obtained by very few. We look at successful career men and women and think they’re motivated powerhouses that slay every goal in their path.
Hopefully, this article managed to shed some light on the illusion on motivation, and reveal what it actually is: a path of progress. Habits are built on consistency and resilience, which often fall through when we don’t feel motivated to track them. We’ve delved into the very causes for the lack of motivation, how to explore and find the best motivator for you, and lastly, what you can do to make habit tracking more interesting.