The more I work with clients on their time management, the more curious I have become about Habits.  How do habits work?  What exactly IS a habit?  Why are bad ones so difficult to overcome? And, why is it so easy to let them "take over" and sabotage our day?

A majority of our actions throughout the day are habits.  A habit is the brain’s wonderfully efficient way of organizing activities, cataloging their effect (& its perceived payoff) and setting up a type of "hyperlink" so that we don’t need to really focus on the activity itself.  It’s an autopilot of sorts.  We reach that point in our day where we do that activity (think of your morning routine as a good example) and our brain simply says – "OK, here’s where we _______" and away you go. 

These habits then become the most accessible resource for our brain to turn to as it selects our actions (or reactions).  They get filed away in that top drawer that is within easy reach.  Our brain needs to make a choice about what to focus on – – pull open that drawer and see what’s there at our fingertips.  The question is, what’s in your drawer?

Our brain isn’t really factoring in the long-term payoff as it catalog’s the habit’s effect.  So, ALL our habits (good and bad) are in there with their little habit-hands in the air saying "Pick me!  Pick me!"  The one that will give us the biggest boost NOW will get chosen if we aren’t more conscious about selecting our actions.  The key is to put into that drawer those things that REALLY have a positive payoff – not just a "feel good now" result. 

If we continue that line of thinking, it’s like the organizing work I do with clients in their workspace.  We look at the prime real estate in their desk and office and strive to use it to its fullest.  Placing items there that you use and need regularly, making sure the space is functional and easy to access, and determining "what" goes where and "why".  Those items that support them the most in what they do are placed close at hand. 

Now, consider that junk drawer we all have.  It’s typically a catch-all for things we don’t know what to do with so we simply stick them there to get them out of the way (i.e. procrastination).  Or, it could be that the items are one we use but don’t take time to assign a real "home".  So it ends up housing both practical items along with a lot of junk. 

So, back to my earlier question "What’s in your drawer?"   Is your brain opening a drawer you’ve filled with activities that have value? Have you identified those actions that have a truly positive payoff?  Have you developed good habits to put on autopilot those activities that will have the biggest benefit?  Or, is it rooting around amongst the junk for that item you know is in there but can’t seem to find?  You might pull out something useful or you might grab a time waster.

Recognize those habits that are deceiving (i.e. junk).  What payoff are you getting?  Is it a way to procrastinate focusing on something more important?  Is it a task that could really be done by someone else but that you "like" so you keep on doing it?  Do you keep doing what you are currently doing so that you don’t have to reach out to try something new or difficult – or even scary? 

It’s hard to admit when something is a bad habit.  But uncovering why our brain has recognized it to have a good payoff will help you change your thinking and build new habits that are truly worthwhile.  Just be careful not to let your brain turn that brilliant grouping of habits into a "junk drawer".

**Join us for the "Habits" series over the coming weeks to learn more info and tips about developing healthy habits and understanding how they can impact your time management and organization!""

Cindy B Sullivan is a Time Management & Productivity Consultant and Certified Professional Organizer.  Visit to sign up for newsletter and social media updates and tips.  Cindy provides individual and group organizing, consulting, coaching, and training.  Contact her at [email protected] for more info or to schedule a complimentary consultation.