5 ways reading 'Atomic Habits' changed how I live and work for the better
- Dayana Aleksandrova is a copywriter and digital nomad based in Costa Rica.
- She read "Atomic Habits" by James Clear to improve her productivity and address distractions.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dayana Aleksandrova, a 30-year-old copywriter, mentor for online entrepreneurs, and digital nomad based in Costa Rica, about her experience reading "Atomic Habits." The following has been edited for length and clarity.
When I expanded my online business from copywriting to business mentorship for online entrepreneurs, I started getting a ton of questions from clients about building good habits and time management.
So I asked some of my high-performer friends who do 20 things at once and make it all look effortless what book they could recommend for improving upon this — and they unanimously said "Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones" by James Clear.
I decided to read it in order to best serve my clients. So far, the lessons I've taken away from the book have worked at an 100% success rate — especially when it comes to addressing procrastination.
Here are five ways that my life changed for the better after I tried Clear's principles:
1. I beat distractions in my space
According to "Atomic Habits," the first law of behavior change is to "make it obvious." In the book, Clear refutes the idea that we're organized due to our willpower or genes and argues that our habits are a product of our environment.
I'd been feeling very distracted at work, constantly jumping from one project to the next and leaving incomplete Notion tasks and half-finished emails. So, following the book's advice, I decided to upgrade my space.
My desk used to be a complete mess — sticky notes, pens, journals, and clementine peels everywhere, alongside multiple half-drunk takeaway coffee cups.
After reading "Atomic Habits," I set an alarm for 20 minutes so I'd get it done under pressure and separated everything into three piles: essentials, nice-to-have, and extras. The "essentials" on my desk now are my laptop, a podcasting microphone, a journal with a single pen, and a water bottle. I stashed all my "extras" — my Kindle and any hardcover books, pencils, business cards, and highlighters — in my closet.
Getting rid of the clutter has helped me focus, and I no longer lose ideas. Now everything that crosses my mind is in that one journal rather than spread across 20-odd sticky notes. Plus, all the tasks I start actually get done.
Clear's book inspired me to do the same inside my laptop, too. I grabbed all of my desktop folders and put them in one "Omega" folder, so now I enjoy a pristinely empty screen that doesn't give me anxiety.
Finally — this was the toughest — I began closing all my browser tabs before bed. I try to have no more than five open tabs at any given time now, which are my email, Canva, Teachable, and one or two Google docs.
2. I stopped dreading video calls
"Atomic Habits" advises making new habits attractive and dividing them into small increments that over time build up to produce massive changes.
One habit I wanted to improve upon was being comfortable on Zoom, especially after two years of video fatigue. So to emulate what the book said, I started asking people I admire to join me on 20-minute long "coffee dates." I would sit down with creators, CEOs, authors, podcasters, astrologers, and coaches — most of whom I met on Instagram — and just talk about work and life.
When my timer went off, we'd wrap it up. That way, I could look forward to the next conversation.
These calls went on for about two months. Finally, I'd totally forgotten why I started them, and Zoom no longer intimidated or drained me. As James Clear says, small habits generate big changes, as long as you don't quit.
3. I created more time and comfort in my day
When I read Clear's suggestion to "audit" my day by writing out every little thing I did for 24 hours, I found it painstaking, which is how I could tell it was going to be worth it.
First, it made me realize that waking up at 7 a.m. was too late for my sleep chronotype. I was shocked to find out how much time I wasted on Netflix every evening — close to four hours — and how many consecutive hours I'd sit in a chair without getting up for a walk.
After this eye-opening audit, I began waking up at 5 a.m. and immediately felt in control versus "late to the party." The extra two hours per day allowed me to get a headstart on writing, and by the time 10 a.m. rolled around, I'd get up for an hour-long walk. I incorporated two more walks into my day — one around 3 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. when my Netflix binge would have been taking place.
Adding these extra walks to my day has been a game-changer for my lower back, which hurts a lot less than before. My eyes feel less fatigued as well, as I'm spending less time looking at a screen, especially late at night.
4. I made chores and dreaded tasks more manageable
Clear teaches his readers to do something called "temptation bundling." This means marrying two opposing actions: something you dread and something you love.
I hate folding laundry, so inspired by Clear's idea, I "bundled" that task with listening to my favorite YouTube playlist. Whenever I feel too lazy to work out or do my daily walk, I pair that exercise with listening to my favorite podcast. I have two picks: one on manifestation and spirituality, and one on marketing.
I now also save voice notes I get from my coaching clients to listen and reply to while I'm on my walk. That way, time flies and I get work done in the process. Plus, many of my clients love hearing the waves when I message them from the beach instead of the hollow echo of my home office.
5. I built a new habit with the 2-minute rule
I've always loved the idea of picking up new habits — but the reality is that it's hard. One of my goals last year was to get really good at recording Instagram Reels and posting every day, and "Atomic Habits" gave me a tangible strategy that helped me achieve this.
Clear suggests practicing the "two-minute rule" — setting your alarm for two minutes to test-drive a new habit, which is the only time you're allowed to practice that new habit for the day. So just as you start getting into it, time's up, and it leaves you craving more.
This is exactly what happened. I'd sit down to shoot a Reel in just two minutes. Before I knew it, time would be up. The tight limit helped me stop overthinking and just speak authentically and with passion, which really resonated with my friends and clients.
The two-minute rule is also extremely powerful if you're a procrastinator. Since you know it's only going to take 120 seconds, you just start. There's no room for second-guessing, and you don't need to prep too much, either. So before you know it, the habit becomes second nature.
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