2018 was a banner year for OfficeNinjas HQ. We doubled our team’s headcount, added new Admingling events across the country, expanded our roster of vendor partners, and began planning our-first ever OfficeNinjas Conference.
As the year came to a close, OfficeNinjas co-founder Nancy Chen-Salgado was thrilled to see the global community of Ninjas thriving — but she realized her crazy-busy travel schedule had taken a major toll on her personal habits.
“Traveling knocked me out of my routines. On the road, I didn’t make as much time for fitness, and my healthy eating wasn’t consistent,” she says.
Other areas that took a hit? Stretching, sleeping, drinking enough water, and making time for learning through articles and podcasts — all things she considered the bare minimum self-care required for a healthy, well-rounded life. She had to give herself a reality check.
“I know that I can’t do my best professional work if I don’t take better care of myself,” she says. So she set out to create a daily habit tracker.
One thing you should know about Nancy: a regular fitness practice has been an important part of her life for the last 20 years. She enjoys training hard and watching her body — as well as her mental strength and confidence — transform. She’s also competitive as heck; a few years ago she decided to enter her first bodybuilding competition, and she won it.
If you want to build a habit (or win a fitness competition), you’ve got to practice daily. And if you want to stay focused on a goal, you’ve got to track your progress. Back then, Nancy used a notebook (a real one, with actual paper!) to track her daily weight, diet, and fitness. This time around, she’s designed a system that’s slightly more sophisticated and a whole lot easier.
Habit-tracking is well-researched territory
There’s a ton of available tools, methodologies, and slick apps out there (we devoted an entire Admingling series to habit-tracking, and often include the topic in our weekly newsletter) — but Nancy opted to create a simple, color-coded spreadsheet tracker that she likes to keep open on her laptop.
Each row within the tracker is dedicated to one of her specific daily goals — like drinking one gallon of water over the course of 24 hours, completing a cardio workout, or simply remembering to take her vitamins. As she completes a goal, she fills in the day’s square with its designated color.
She also included a helpful percentage calculator; so, at the end of the month, she has a clear snapshot of how well she stuck to her plan and where she may have veered off course.
Although basic, her tracker is in line with what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, identifies as the three-step loop of habit formation.
- First, there’s the cue; Nancy opens her tracker every morning at the start of her day. She uses the timer on her phone to schedule additional cues, like reminders to work out or power down her computer before bed.
- Second, there’s the routine, a.k.a. all the healthy habits she’s working on establishing.
- And, lastly, there’s the reward: a sense of accomplishment… and a color-filled square.
Do not underestimate the power of a color-filled square. It turns out that building and maintaining an unbroken chain of colorful cells is surprisingly motivating. “If it’s the end of the day, and I still need to drink 24 ounces of water, I will go to the kitchen and start chugging just so I can get that blue square!” she says.
Here are a few of Nancy’s pro tips for using a tracker:
- Keep it simple to start. There’s a reason she went with a simple goal like “Food Prep” instead of a complicated dietary plan or calorie count. “I wanted to avoid getting bogged down by that level of specificity, just focusing on eating healthy is enough for now.”
- Give yourself credit, even if you only do a little bit. In the past, she had strict rules for what “counted” toward her daily goals, and in some cases, it set her up for disappointment. For example, a cardio session wasn’t “legit” unless it lasted at least 30 minutes. Now, even if she only has 15 minutes for cardio, she gives herself the credit. “I’m trying to create the habit first. As long as I get on the machine, I’m going to reward myself for it.”
- Adjust your expectations. If you find you’re frequently leaving one row empty, you may need to be honest with yourself and adjust your goal. Early on, Nancy realized that being asleep by midnight just wasn’t going to happen during her busiest weeks. So she pushed back her bedtime to a more achievable 12:30 am (and she makes up the difference by sleeping 30 minutes later when possible).
- Continue the momentum. Celebrate the wins, but also look for opportunities to challenge yourself to avoid plateauing. “I like to reassess every few weeks. If I find I’m filling up all my squares for, say, the goal of listening to 30 minutes of podcasts — next month, I can try to level up by listening to 45 minutes.”
- Get a success partner. Nancy is pretty self-motivated, but anyone can benefit from a little healthy peer pressure. She encourages sharing your tracker with a friend or scheduling weekly check-ins.
What habits are you interested in developing?
Let us know in the comments what habits you want to start or improve. Will you use this habit tracker, or do you have your own tracking system?