Photo by Alex, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

“The bigger a project seems, the less likely you are to do it because it seems like too much effort. So if you really want to form better habits start really, really small—one pushup at a time.”  [Fast Company]

Whether it’s getting into the studio at a certain time of day or spending three hours a week on social media, good habits can make the difference between a flourishing art career and a part-time hobby.

Habits aren’t just important for completing necessary business activities, like generating invoices and responding to emails in a timely fashion. They also help you clear out tasks that, if not completed, can weigh on your mind and actually block your creativity.

Since building a new habit can be as daunting as a blank canvas. Here are three easy—and scientifically proven—ways to create habits that will help you stay focused and keep your career on track.

STEP 1: Celebrate Small Wins

You unpacked your kiln. You sent out an invoice. You purchased new supplies online. Say, “Done!” A recent study confirmed that breaking large or less-than-exciting projects into smaller components and then celebrating your wins is scientifically proven to make you more productive.

Think about a large or boring project and see if you can break it  into chunks that you can complete in 25 minutes. Use a tool like the tomato timer, which times your productivity for 25 minutes, and when the alarm sounds, say “Done!” out loud.

Here’s why it works: When you’re concentrated on a task, the brain’s electrical activity is heightened. You’re in the zone, you’re focused, you’re filled with anxiety. When you say “Done!” the electrical activity in your brain changes and relaxes. This new relaxed mental attitude allows you to take on the next task without anxiety and builds your confidence. More confidence translates into more productivity.

STEP 2:  Link New Habits to Old Habits

Do you brush your teeth every day? Good. You have a daily habit. What if you identified and attached a small, new activity to that existing habit?

Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, did just that.  Every time he goes to the bathroom at home, he does push-ups before he washes his hands. He attached an easily repeatable task onto an already ingrained habit. This routine didn’t start out tough—he began with one push-up. Over time, he added more. He changed his aversion to working out into a daily habit one push-up at a time, and today, he does 50 push-ups a day with little resistance.

Why does this approach work? Changing a habit or building a new one is not easy. To improve your odds, attaching a new habit to an existing one is your best bet at success. Your existing habit becomes the trigger for the new one.

Think about your time in the studio or your work space. What’s an existing habit that occurs during your work day that you can attach a new activity to? For example, every time you walk into the studio in the morning and turn on the light you sit down at the computer and spend 10 minutes scheduling tweets. At first, it will seem forced. You may even be annoyed by the activity. But over time, you will get used to this new activity and the resistance will decrease.

STEP 3: Overcome Excuses

Close your eyes and think about your ideal day or week. What’s holding you back from achieving that ideal? Chances are it’s the small things that make or break your habits. These are the moments where you know you want to (or should) do something, but there is an obstacle (big or small) in the way that gives you a reason to say, “Nah, not today.”

The key to overcoming excuses is to examine your behavior and find out exactly when, and more importantly why, critical tasks don’t get done. Author Ramit Sethi tried this approach to improve his gym attendance. He realized he liked the idea of going to the gym, but when his alarm clock sounded in the morning, the notion of getting out of his warm bed and going to his closet to pick out clothes was enough of a road bump to deter him. Once he realized the issue, he was able to fix the problem by laying out his workout gear the night before right next to his bed. That way, when his alarm sounded, he barely had to stand up to get dressed.

You may or may not have a challenge getting to the gym, but you can use the same technique to determine what deters you in the course of your day and eliminate it. Work around those excuses.

Get in the habit.

Once habits become ingrained, they’re the tasks you do without thinking. They’re easy. Building these habits, however, takes a little strategic approach. It may feel awkward at first, but over time, you’ll form habits that will become the foundation of a strong career.

Looking for more ways to get focused? Check out How to Stop Fearing Deadlines in Your Art Business.