Should you include daily habits on your to-do list?

Afterthoughts: The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi

The t-shirt is a blank canvas

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When the Covid-19 quarantine started, I felt compelled to design the perfect day for myself. Given the unique circumstances of the lockdowns and the fact that I was unemployed, it presented as an opportune time to try. Among the things that I dreamt for myself included: journalling, meditation, exercise, writing for my personal blog, inbox-zeroing my email, writing fiction, and a daily reflection.

One thing I did was put each of those as a recurring daily task for me to complete on my to-do app of choice. From my research around habit formation, this was an effective method early-on in the process. The simple act of ticking off these activities day after day gives a powerful dopamine hit helpful in cementing them as habits. The research varies in terms of how long you have to do something until it becomes a habit, from 21 days to 67 days.

It is some three months on now, and as much as the habits feel ingrained, so does the dopamine-hit from ticking them off. Recently, I feel as though that I am hurrying through the writing for example, even though I know it is something that takes time and care. For the last few weeks, I feel myself racing through all of the different habits in order to get that hit of dopamine of ticking them off instead of actually spending the requisite amount of time to do each well. For example, my 15 minute meditations turned to 10 minutes, turned to 5. My writing is more stream-of-consciousness and more haphazard, always opting for the lowest-hanging fruit versus writing about what would be most interesting (which would take a lot longer).

To counter this malaise, I have removed all but one off the to-do list: writing for the blog. In the couple of weeks that I have done this, it changed my attitude tremendously. The habits have stuck so I still find myself doing everything, but now I don’t care so much about about rushing through especially the creative work since the dopamine-hit from ticking it off has been mostly eliminated except for writing on my blog. It has resulted in the writing of longer and more thoughtful articles.

So perhaps the answer to my initial question is yes … and no. It helps to put daily habits on a to-do list if they are not yet cemented into one’s life. But once that is the case, it hurts more than helps for it to be explicitly listed. I suppose an analogous example is eating. When we are younger, we had to learn to eat everyday, but after we did, there’s really little point in keeping it on the to-do list.

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