TIME technology

12 Questions To Ask Before You Hit ‘Send’ on Social Media

"How many times have I already posted something today?"

Before you hit the Publish button or send an update to the queue, what do you do?

Quite often, I find myself publishing instinctively and sometimes failing to consider all the necessary questions and guidelines for what makes a wildly successful, viral—and valuable!—social media update.

To do right by your audience, to deliver the utmost value and receive the maximum engagement, there are a handful of qualifications that every social media post should meet. From our experience and our research, 12 items stand out, making for a super slick checklist. We’d love to share with you how this looks.

The 12-Step Social Media Checklist

  1. Is the message educational or entertaining?
  2. Is the voice correct?
  3. Is it too long?
  4. Is the URL correct?
  5. Should I target a specific audience with this message?
  6. Did I use the right keywords and hashtags to maximize exposure?
  7. How many times have I already posted something today?
  8. Did I spell check?
  9. Will I be okay with absolutely anyone seeing this?
  10. Is this reactive communication or is it well thought-out?
  11. Did I make the most of visual content—images, video, slides?
  12. Did I make the most of my update text—headline formulas, polls, quizzes?

12 questions to ask before hitting send

The foundations for this checklist come from a lot of the learnings we’ve had with sharing and scheduling to the Buffer social media channels. Also, we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from some great resources on the topic of social media post checklists.

Forbes contributor Ilya Pozin passed along some great advice from marketer Lisa Goeckler, who suggested 12 questions to ask before posting on social media.

Similarly, marketing strategist Gerry Moran of the Marketing Think blog, shared 9 ways to think of social media sharing through the lens of content marketing—specifically how it relates to adding value for your audience with each social media post.

I loved this quote from Gerry:

No matter the marketing goal or how well-built the “rails” of the system are, it is content that is king and is the fuel that will make the “train” run and a strategy succeed. I have found that a social media filter is a useful before-you-press-that-send-button tool to make sure that you are delivering the best messages possible for your readers, customers and prospects!

So without further adieu, here are the questions that we settled on for thesocial media checklist for sending your next post.

1. Is the message educational or entertaining?

We’ve found that the most valuable content on social media—the content that gets the most interactions, engagement, and virality—has one of these two components. It’s either educational or it’s entertaining.

We tend toward the educational with our Buffer social media posts (and our content strategy in general).

Jay Baer shared some thoughts on content marketing and social media, two overlapping areas that share a lot of similarities for businesses. As you create content to share on social, you’re dipping into a form of content marketing also.

Content marketing is a device used by companies to educate, inform or entertain customers or prospects by creating attention or causing behavior that results in leads, sales or advocacy. Social media is used by customers and prospects to communicate among themselves, and occasionally with companies.

A few other questions that can be helpful at this stage to determine the educational/entertaining element of your social media post:

  • Is your content interesting enough that users pass it on and post about it?
  • Will anyone really care about this content besides me?
  • If you were to see this post in your social media timeline, would you pause to read or reshare?
  • Does your post add value for the reader?

2. Is the voice correct?

We’re big fans of finding a consistent voice and tone for your social media content. In our case, each social media message we put out seeks to achieve the following:

  • Positive
  • Helpful
  • Actionable

Another way that voice can make a difference is with the pronouns and words you use in the post. Are you using language that others can easily reshare?

For example, a message like: “How I Write 4x Faster Thanks to This One Small Tip” could be a great headline coming from you. When others share it, does the pronoun cause more confusion than it’s worth?

3. Is it too long?

There’s been lots of great research into the ideal length of online content. In general, these guidelines are:

  • Twitter – 71 to 100 characters
  • Facebook – 40 characters (we’ve observed the other end of the spectrum—quite long posts—doing well also)
  • Google+ headlines – 60 characters

The reason these recommendations are in place is because length matters greatly for posts that get viewed and reshared.

For example, tweets of 100 characters or fewer allow those who retweet to add their own commentary to your original message and stay within the 140-character limit themselves. And shorter posts on networks like Facebook and Google+ make it a bit easier on the reader to spend a quick second looking things over.

4. Is the URL correct?

There’re a couple parts to this one:

  1. Is the link accurate? Does it click through to where you intended?
  2. Is the link appropriate for the message and value proposition of your social media post?

It’s not all that helpful to have a catchy, clickable headline with a link that goes to the wrong place. And it also doesn’t feel great for your audience if the link doesn’t follow through on the promise of the tweet or post—or worse, if the link goes to a deceptive, salesy landing page!

When in doubt, click on the link in your social media post and see where it goes before hitting publish.

5. Should I target a specific audience with this message?

e.g., Who is my message for?

In most cases, your message will be intended for all your followers.

In some cases, the message might be better suited for a smaller group or an individual.

Facebook allows for audience customization with the messages you post from your personal profile. You can send to certain segments—friends, lists, or connections from a certain city, school, etc.—or you can send private direct messages as well.

On Twitter, you can point your messages to a particular person (or persons) by starting the tweet with an @-mention.

Also, Twitter direct messages can be sent privately to individuals who follow you (and whom you follow back) or sent privately to groups.

Good to know: For group messaging, those who are invited to the conversation can invite their followers also.

6. Did you use the right keywords and hashtags to maximize exposure?

In many ways, what this recommendation boils down to is this: Am I speaking the language that my audience understands?

  • Is this post too vague? Will everyone understand what I’m saying?
  • Am I using too many abbreviations in this post and starting to sound like a teenager?

You’re likely doing a great job of this already, if you have a sense for your niche and target audience. Focusing on the terminology that your audience uses will help your messages have maximum meaning and be easily found.

Adding hashtags to your messages can also help in terms of surfacing your content for those who follow you and for those who don’t. Users can search social networks for hashtags and click on hashtags to see other updates that use the same terms.

If you’re new to hashtags, we’ve enjoyed learning from one of our favorite browser extensions, RiteTag, which adds hashtag insight to the messages you’re composing.

7. How many times have I already posted something today?

Social media frequency is another area with a ton of great research attached. From what we’ve been able to find, these are some guidelines to consider when thinking about the volume of your social media posts:

  • Twitter – 3-5 times per day
  • Facebook – 2 times per day
  • LinkedIn – 1 time per day
  • Google+ – 3 times per day
  • Pinterest – 5 times per day
  • Instagram – 1 to 2 times per day

Of course, you’ll know best what is the right frequency for you and your brand. Feel free to use the above guidelines as a starting point for tests of your own.

8. Did I spell check?

It happens to all of us.

There’re some handy browser extensions and plugins to assist with spell check if it’s something that bites you often. (I might recommend starting with the Grammarly extension.)

9. Will I be okay with absolutely anyone seeing this?

Especially for those who post from a personal brand or profile, understanding the ramifications of this question can be huge. Not only do friends and family see your updates, so too might future employers, colleagues, teammates, and really anyone. Even one’s sharing history can be searched and found quite easily and screen captures taken of content that slipped out too soon.

10. Is this reactive communication or is it well thought-out?

Sometimes, it’s good to pause and reflect on the emotion behind a post. Is the post a knee-jerk reaction to something? If it’s real-time, did I take a moment to pause and re-read before hitting publish?

Here are some more questions to consider for this one.

  • Will I offend anyone with this content? If so, who? Does it matter?
  • Is this appropriate for a social portal, or would it best be communicated another way?
  • Am I using this as an emotional dumping ground? If so, why? Is a different outlet better for these purposes?
  • Is this really something I want to share, or is it just me venting?

11. Did I make the most of visual content—images, video, slides?

Images are the No. 1 most important factor in optimal social media content. This according to an ongoing research survey conducted by Software Advice and Adobe.

If there’s a way to work in visuals—be they images, video, slides, or otherwise—then it’s likely to be best for the success of your message.

And if you’re short on ideas, we shared a big list of ways to create Twitter visuals, including screengrabs, Canva templates, rich media, and more.

12. Did I make the most of my update text—headline formulas, polls, quizzes?

Sometimes I find myself writing a post off the top of my head and neglecting to consider the proven benefits of the formulas and post types that have done well for us in the past.

We shared some fun and interesting types of Facebook posts as well as a host of headline formulas that can work great for social media (copywriting formulas, too!).

Another way to look at this one: Can anything be removed to make the message stronger?

If afforded the time, editing and revision can be a great asset to a social media post. Aim for simplicity. Remove a word here and there, if possible. It’ll make the meat of your message stand out even more.

Conclusion

Working from a social media checklist can be a helpful way to ensure the utmost quality for each post that goes out. And the more you share, the more intuitive this all becomes (until you might not even need the checklist any more!).

When posting, consider some of the following, or print out the checklist to keep by your side during social media marketing time.

  • Is the message valuable for my audience?
  • Is everything correct—voice, URL, spelling, length?
  • How many times have I posted already today?
  • Did I make the most of visuals and post styles?
  • How reactionary is this message? Would I be okay with absolutely anyone seeing it?

This article originally appeared on Buffer

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

7 Ways to Be More Inclusive

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Stop saying 'Hey guys'

I believe in the power of women to build inspiring careers in all types of fields.

At least, that’s what I thought I believed. It’s what my conscious mind thinks, at least.

My unconscious mind, however, favors traditional Western gender roles: men focusing on careers while women focus on family.

I learned about this dichotomy from taking an implicit association test, a social psychology test designed to measure a person’s unconscious or automatic associations between types of people and specific concepts or ideas.

And I’m not alone: The results of more than one million tests suggest that most people have these unconscious associations.

So I thought I would search for a few ways I could begin to correct my implicit biases and bring my unconscious mind on board with what the rest of me believes.

The book Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People (the authors are the inventors of the implicit association test) has a ton of fascinating science on this topic. One bit in particular stood out to me:

“Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously; he gave an estimate of 80 to 90 percent…

The actual number isn’t important or even possible to derive. The point is that experts agree that the ability to have conscious access to our minds is quite low.”

So it’s especially important to focus on inclusivity in our conscious minds, because our unconscious has already put most of us (me included!) in quite a deficit.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are a few things I discovered that might help us to counteract our own unconscious and get closer to the people we truly want to be.

1. Use inclusive language

One thing we’ve been working on lately in Buffer’s virtual workplace, where most communication is written, is to be mindful of the language we use and make sure it’s as inclusive as possible.

For example, many of us have been cracking down on our use of the colloquial “hey guys” greeting as we address the team. It was, of course, never meant to exclude the women on the team and has always been intended as a general greeting.

But we value clarity in communication at Buffer, and this greeting, friendly though its intentions might be, can be easily misconstrued.

Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou rightly gave us a little nudge on this recently, and we really appreciate it:

It’s a great reminder to keep going on this improvement, and being aware of all our language choices. Plus we occasionally get to reference this awesome flowchart from Tech Lady Mafia.

group-of-women-flowchart
Tech Lady Mafia

2. Expose yourself to counterstereotyping imagery (as simple as a screensaver)

Even the creators of the implicit association tests still “fail” them.

Blindspot co-author Mahzarin Banaji came up a simple and unique solution to combat some of her own “mindbugs:”

“She created a screensaver for her computer that displays images of a diverse array of humanity. She assumes that these images may do little more than keep her alerted to the actual range of diversity in the world, as opposed to that of the more limited set of humans she encounters in her daily experience. She also favored images that represent counterstereotypes. Short bald men who are senior executives is one of her favorite counterstereotyping images. Another is a drawing from a New Yorker magazine cover, of a construction worker with hard hat on, breast-feeding her baby.”

3. Consider your office furnishings

If you have a physical office that you want to make more inclusive for both genders, this study might be of interest.

At the University of Washington, Sapna Cheryan demonstrated that adding more feminine decor to computer science classrooms strengthened women’s associations of female gender with the possibility of computer science careers.

By changing out the objects in a computer science classroom from things like a Star Trek poster and video games to objects not considered stereotypical of computer science like a nature poster, the experiment boosted female study participant’s interest in computer science to the level of their male peers.

The study concluded:

“Environments can act like gatekeepers by preventing people who do not feel they fit into those environments from ever considering membership in the associated groups.”

4. Empower mentors for underrepresented groups

The researcher Buju Dasgupta has lots of interesting studies going on about implicit prejudice and stereotypes. One I really like is the Stereotype Inoculation Model.

This is her theory that successful people in your group who look like you, like teachers and peers, can function as a “social vaccine” that inoculates you from some of the self-doubt or alienation you might otherwise face in such a situation.

So far she has found a strengthening of “female = leader” and “female = math” associations in women college students after they received sustained exposure via their college courses to women faculty members.

“Results from several lab and field studies revealed that exposure to female STEM professors and experts enhanced women’s positive implicit attitudes toward STEM, increased their identification with STEM, their confidence in STEM, and effort on tests and exams.”

This could means that having even a few visible members of underrepresented groups on your team could have a compounding effect, if your organization can encourage and support mentoring relationships.

5. Use social media to amplify new voices

Did you know, in its analytics section, Twitter will tell you the gender split of your followers?

I was a bit surprised to discover my followers are majority male (though there is a bit of uncertainty about how Twitter figures out those genders).

 

I was even more surprised by my results from Twee-Q, a tool that analyzes the gender of the voices you amplify through retweets. I have a lot of work to do in amplifying smart female voices!

Of the 107,966 Twitter accounts that have been input into Twee-Q, there’s an immense tendency to amplify men more often than women:

twee-q-totals
Buffer

After discovering that he followed a nearly equal ratio of women and men, but retweeted men three times as often as women, the blogger and entrepreneur Anil Dash tried an experiment.

For a year he attempted to amplify different kinds of voices than he normally would by retweeting women exclusively. He ended up enjoying the experiment and recommending it to others:

“If you’re inclined, try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others… we spend so very much of our time on these social networks, and there’s so much we can do to right the wrongs we’ve seen in other media, through simple, small actions. This one’s been a delightful and fun place to start.”

6. Find members of underrepresented groups that you admire

This is a really fun and simple one. What if you could fight your brain’s unconscious bias simply by admiring others?

Another study from the very busy Dr. Buju Dasgupta found that when people are exposed to admired members of disadvantaged groups (African Americans, gays and lesbians, elderly, women), they express less implicit bias against these groups.

In this study of racial implicit bias, participants revealed less bias after being shown “black examplars”—pictures of famous and admired people like Martin Luther King Jr., Colin Powell, Michael Jordan and Denzel Washington.

This means one easy way to work on unconscious bias could be to simply seek out more admired members of underrepresented groups and focus on those people’s work more often.

7. Use your imagination: Counterprogram your brain

Possibly the simplest way of all to retrain your unconscious mind? Use your imagination.

At the University of Colorado, researcher Irene Blair discovered that simple imagination exercises were enough to weaken some implicit stereotypes.

She asked a mixed-gender group of college students to “take a few minutes to imagine what a strong woman is like, why she is considered strong, what she is capable of doing, and what kinds of hobbies and activities she enjoys.”

The participants came up with all sort of images, from bosses to athletes:

srtrong-woman-study
Irene Blair/University of Colorado

No matter what their image was, participants who engaged in the mental imagery exercise produced “substantially weaker implicit stereotypes” compared with participants who engaged in neutral mental imagery or no mental energy.

So if you happen to be challenged by a particular implicit bias, discovered either through taking a test or your own intuition, you can try counterprogramming your brain with some simple visual exercises like this one.

Over to you

Being empathetic and inclusive to those of all walks of life is a skill it seems that most of us could work on for a lifetime.

I’m looking forward to putting these strategies into practice to see if I can move my unconscious mind in the right direction.

This article originally appeared on Buffer

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Remember What You Read

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Train your brain

A great place to start with book retention is with understanding some key ways our brain stores information. Here are three specific elements to consider:

  1. Impression
  2. Association
  3. Repetition

Let’s say you read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of our favorites here at Buffer. You loved the information and want to remember as much as possible. Here’s how:

Impression – Be impressed with the text. Stop and picture a scene in your mind, even adding elements like greatness, shock, or a cameo from yourself to make the impression stronger. If Dale Carnegie is explaining his distaste for criticism, picture yourself receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace and then spiking the Nobel Prize onto the dais.

(Another trick with impression is to read an important passage out loud. For some of us, our sensitivity to information can be greater with sounds rather than visuals.)

Association – Link the text to something you already know. This technique is used to great effect with memorization and the construction of memory palaces. In the case of Carnegie’s book, if there is a particular principle you wish to retain, think back to a time when you were part of a specific example involving the principle. Prior knowledge is a great way to build association.

Repetition – The more you repeat, the more you remember. This can occur by literally re-reading a certain passage or in highlighting it or writing it down then returning to it again later.

Practicing these three elements of remembering will help you get better and better. The more you work at it, the more you’ll remember.

Focus on the four levels of reading

Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, identifies four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary
  2. Inspectional
  3. Analytical
  4. Syntopical

Each step builds upon the previous step. Elementary reading is what you are taught in school. Inspectional reading can take two forms: 1) a quick, leisurely read or 2) skimming the book’s preface, table of contents, index, and inside jacket.

Where the real work (and the real retention begins) is with analytical reading and syntopical reading.

With analytical reading, you read a book thoroughly. More so than that even, you read a book according to four rules, which should help you with the context and understanding of the book.

  1. Classify the book according to subject matter.
  2. State what the whole book is about. Be as brief as possible.
  3. List the major parts in order and relation. Outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

The final level of reading is syntopical, which requires that you read books on the same subject and challenge yourself to compare and contrast as you go.

As you advance through these levels, you will find yourself incorporating the brain techniques of impression, association, and repetition along the way. Getting into detail with a book (as in the analytical and syntopical level) will help cement impressions of the book in your mind, develop associations to other books you’ve read and ideas you’ve learned, and enforce repetition in the thoughtful, studied nature of the different reading levels.

Keep the book close (or at least your notes on the book.)

One of the most common threads in my research into remembering more of the books you read is this: Take good notes.

Scribble in the margins as you go.

Bookmark your favorite passages.

Write a review when you’ve finished.

Use your Kindle Highlights extensively.

And when you’ve done these things, return to your notes periodically to review and refresh.

Shane Parrish of Farnam Street is a serial note taker, and he finds himself constantly returning to the books he reads.

After I finish a book, I let it age for a week or two and then pick it up again. I look at my notes and the sections I’ve marked as important. I write them down. Or let it age for another week or two.

Even Professor Pierre Bayard, the author of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, identifies the importance of note-taking and review:

Once forgetfulness has set in, he can use these notes to rediscover his opinion of the author and his work at the time of his original reading. We can assume that another function of the notes is to assure him that he has indeed read the works in which they were inscribed, like blazes on a trail that are intended to show the way during future periods of amnesia.

I’ve tried this method for myself, and it has completely changed the way I perceive the books I read. I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten. I store all the reviews and notes from my books on my personal blog so I can search through them when I need to remember something I’ve read.

(Kindle has a rather helpful feature online, too, where it shows you a daily, random highlight from your archive of highlights. It’s a great way to relive what you’ve read in the past.)

It’s not important which method you have for note-taking and review so long as you have one. Let it be as simple as possible to complete so that you can make sure you follow through.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

5 Ways to Read More

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How many books do you read a year?

“I just sit in my office and read all day.”

This is how Warren Buffett, one of the most successful people in the business world, describes his day. Sitting. Reading.

He advises everyone to read more, and that’s certainly a goal we can all get behind. Our personal improvements at Buffer regularly come back to the books we read—how we aim to read more and make reading a habit. I imagine you’re in the same boat as well. Reading more is one of our most common ambitions.

So how do we do it? And what are we to do with all that information once we have it?

Reading more and remembering it all is a discussion with a lot of different layers and a lot of interesting possibilities. Let’s set some baselines.

How fast do you read?

One of the obvious shortcuts to reading more is to read faster. That’s likely the first place a lot of us would look for a quick win in our reading routine.

So how fast do you read?

Staples (yes, the office supply chain) collected speed reading data as part of an advertising campaign for selling e-readers. The campaign also included a speed reading tool that is still available to try. Go ahead and take the test to see how fast you read.

(My score was 337 words per minute. Yours?)

The Staples speed reading test includes data on how other demographics stack up in words per minute. According to Staples, the average adult reads 300 words per minute.

  • Third-grade students = 150 words per minute
  • Eight grade students = 250
  • Average college student = 450
  • Average “high level exec” = 575
  • Average college professor = 675
  • Speed readers = 1,500
  • World speed reading champion = 4,700

Is reading faster always the right solution to the goal of reading more? Not always. Comprehension still matters, and some reports say that speed reading or skimming leads to forgotten details and poor retention. Still, if you can bump up your words per minute marginally while still maintaining your reading comprehension, it can certainly pay dividends in your quest to read more.

There’s another way to look at the question of “reading more,” too.

How much do you read?

There’s reading fast, and then there’s reading lots. A combination of the two is going to be the best way to supercharge your reading routine, but each is valuable on its own. In fact, for many people, it’s not about the time trial of going beginning-to-end with a book or a story but rather more about the story itself. Speed reading doesn’t really help when you’re reading for pleasure.

In this sense, a desire to read more might simply mean having more time to read, and reading more content—books, magazines, articles, blog posts—in whole.

Let’s start off with a reading baseline. How many books do you read a year?

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that adults read an average of 17 books each year.

The key word here is “average.” There are huge extremes at either end, both those who read way more than 17 books per year and those who read way less—like zero. The same Pew Research study found 19 percent of Americans don’t read any books. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from 2013 showed that number might be even higher: 28 percent of Americans haven’t read a book in the past year.

Wanting to read more puts you in pretty elite company.

5 ways to read more books, blogs, and articles

1. Read for speed: Tim Ferriss’ guide to reading 300% faster

Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek and a handful of other bestsellers, is one of the leading voices in lifehacks, experiments, and getting things done. So it’s no wonder that he has a speed-reading method to boost your reading speed threefold.

His plan contains two techniques:

  1. Using a pen as a tracker and pacer, like how some people move their finger back and forth across a line as they read
  2. Begin reading each new line at least three words in from the first word of the line and end at least three words in from the last word

The first technique, the tracker/pacer, is mostly a tool to use for mastering the second technique. Ferriss calls this second technique Perceptual Expansion. With practice, you train your peripheral vision to be more effective by picking up the words that you don’t track directly with your eye. According to Ferriss:

Untrained readers use up to ½ of their peripheral field on margins by moving from 1st word to last, spending 25-50% of their time “reading” margins with no content.

Images from eyetracking.me show how this concept of perceptual expansion might look in terms of reading.

You’ll find similar ideas in a lot of speed reading tips and classes (some going so far as to suggest you read line by line in a snake fashion). Rapid eye movements called saccades occur constantly as we read and as our eyes jump from margins to words. Minimizing these is a key way to boost your reading times.

The takeaway here: If you can advance your peripheral vision, you may be able to read faster—maybe not 300 percent faster, but every little bit counts.

2. Try a brand new way of reading

Is there still room for innovation in reading? A couple of new reading tools say yes.

Spritz and Blinkist take unique approaches to helping you read more—one helps you read faster and the other helps you digest books quicker.

First, Spritz. As mentioned above in the speed reading section, there is a lot of wasted movement when reading side-to-side and top-to-bottom.

Spritz cuts all the movement out entirely.

Spritz shows one word of an article or book at a time inside a box. Each word is centered in the box according to the Optimal Recognition Point—Spritz’s term for the place in a word that the eye naturally seeks—and this center letter is colored red.

Spritz has yet to launch anything related to its technology, but there is a bookmarklet called OpenSpritz, created by gun.io, that lets you use the Spritz reading method on any text you find online. The Spritz website has a demo on the homepage that you can try for yourself and speed up or slow down the speeds as you need.

Along with Spritz is the new app Blinkist. Rather than a reimagining of the way we read, Blinkist is a reimagining of the way we consume books. Based on the belief that the wisdom of books should be more accessible to us all, Blinkist takes popular works of non-fiction and breaks the chapters down into bite-sized parts.

These so-called “blinks” contain key insights from the books, and they are meant to be read in two minutes or less. Yes, it’s a lot like Cliff Notes. Though the way the information is delivered—designed to look great and be eminently usable on mobile devices so you can learn wherever you are—makes it one-of-a-kind.

I’m sure we can agree that it’s a lot easier to read more when a book is distilled into 10 chapters, two minutes each.

3. Read more by making the time

Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street blog read 14 books in March, and he tackles huge totals like this month-in and month-out. How does he do it?

He makes it a priority, and he cuts out time from other activities.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season where I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

If you look at it in terms of raw numbers, the average person watches 35 hours of TV each week, the average commute time is one hour per day round-trip, and you can spend at least another hour per week for grocery shopping.

All in all, that’s a total of 43 hours per week, and at least some of that could be spent reading books.

4. Buy an e-reader

In the same Pew research study that showed Americans’ reading habits, Pew also noted that the average reader of e-books reads 24 books in a year, compared to a person without an e-reader who reads an average of 15.

Could you really read nine more books a year just by purchasing an e-reader?

Certainly the technology is intended to be easy-to-use, portable, and convenient. Those factors alone could make it easier to spend more time reading when you have a spare minute. Those spare minutes might not add up to nine books a year, but it’ll still be time well spent.

5. Read more by not reading at all

This is quite counterintuitive advice, and it comes from a rather counterintuitive book.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, written by University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, suggests that we view the act of reading on a spectrum and that we consider more categories for books besides simply “have or haven’t read.” Specifically, Bayard suggests the following:

  • Books we’ve read
  • Books we’ve skimmed
  • Books we’ve heard about
  • Books we’ve forgotten
  • Books we’ve never opened

He even has his own classification system for keeping track of how he’s interacted with a book in the past.

  • UB: book unknown to me
  • SB: book I have skimmed
  • HB: book I have heard about
  • FB: book I have forgotten
  • ++: extremely positive opinion
  • +: positive opinion
  • : negative opinion
  • : extremely negative opinion

Perhaps the key to reading more books is simply to look at the act of reading from a different perspective. In Bayard’s system, he essentially is counting books he’s skimmed, heard about, or forgotten as books that he’s read. How might these new definitions alter your reading total for the year?

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Overcome Creativity Roadblocks

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The riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back

I have a lot of ideas in my head. And for the most part, that’s where they used to stay.

In my head. Where other people couldn’t see them, interact with them or build upon them. Where they were safe and untested and uncriticized. All mine.

Sure, I’ve created some. Some might say I’ve created plenty. But that’s only because they can’t see what I’m not creating. For example, this very post sat dormant for at least a month while I pondered, waited and nitpicked at it.

Because the riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back. I would pin them down like butterflies on a mat, like art at a museum. They were in spreadsheets, in notebooks, on scrap paper around my desk.

And while it might feel creative to think of these ideas, they were dying a lonely death when I wasn’t doing anything with them. They didn’t get their chance to add anything to the world. To affect someone. To spark something.

I lost out, too, with this arrangement. I didn’t push myself to think deeper and harder. I lost out on the feedback or insight or even criticism of others. I missed the chance to discover uncharted territory within myself. I stopped before I could start.

It wasn’t the best life I could give my ideas—or myself.

So I decided to change. To find a way forward, I cataloged all the things that had ever stopped me from creating so I could shoot them down, one-by-one. It turned out to be a helpful exercise, so I thought I’d share.

1. Because the ideas aren’t finished

The No. 1 thing that keeps me from creating is that the idea doesn’t feel complete yet. It lacks something, or I need more examples, or I’m not sure if it’s clear.

A former editor of mine called these “glimmers”—a little spark of an idea, not fully formed but on the cusp of being something. Sometimes you need to let a glimmer sit for a while before it becomes a fully formed idea. Sometimes you can smush it together with a few other glimmers to make something.

The main thing is that idea glimmers need nurturing, which can be hard to do. When ideas are still developing, they can feel embarrassingly incomplete or tough to explain to others. What if my little glimmer is misunderstood or turns out to be nothing at all?

How to fix it:

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve learned that this is the time to talk about ideas most, so they can grow from a glimmer to a real idea. You can even post it on social media to give it a quick test. So what if the idea might fail? I’ll be able to get feedback right away and know whether to keep thinking on my glimmer or let it go.

2. Because it’s too hard

Although I’ve been writing most of my life, it never exactly comes easy to me. Occasionally the words flow, but more often it feels like a struggle to pull them out of me.

And sometimes I don’t want a struggle. Sometimes I want to lay around and watch Orange Is The New Black.

As the incomparable wit Dorothy Parker put it, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

How to fix it:

The best fix I’ve discovered here is simply to start. Start somewhere, anywhere. As soon as I put down an outline, a headline, or even one sentence of the piece, the rest begins to flow much more easily. You can also do this with a timing structure. Close down all the distractions and force yourself to focus on just 20 minutes (or whatever time period feels right to you) of writing and no more. The bite-sized task can jumpstart your focus for the bigger project.

3. Because I’m focusing too much on other people’s stuff

I’ve always loved reading. And there’s really never been a better time to be a passionate reader. I get great stuff all day every day from my Twitter stream, my gazillion RSS feeds and the newsletters in my inbox, plus there’s the Sunday Times (yup, I still get a printed paper), everything I haven’t quite gotten to yet on Pocket and the many books on my Kindle.

Nothing makes me happier than spending time reading great stuff.

But if I’m not careful, it can also paralyze me into thinking all the good ideas are taken and all that needs to be said already has been. It’s kind of like a specific, content marketing version of Imposter Syndrome.

How to fix it:

There’s always going to be space for reading, curating and cheering on others’ work. But there should also be a space for building on it and creating stuff of one’s own. Each of us has something to say, and we have the responsibility and privilege of adding to the discourse. It’s up to us to find and nurture the right balance and feel inspired by—not intimidated by–the work that others do. After all, everything is a remix.

4. Because I’m too busy with other work

Even as I type those words I realize what a flimsy excuse they are. Sure, I have lots to do at work and at home. We all do. But you always make time for what’s important to you, one way or another. I could wake up earlier or stay up later. I could cut out all TV. We all have the same number of hours in the day—it’s up to us to use them the best way we can to achieve our goals.

How to fix it:

What I discovered about feeling too busy for writing is that this is generally a symptom of needing to readjust my priorities to make sure creating doesn’t fall too far down the list. The things that have worked the best for me so far are to block out time in my schedule for creative work. I can write on the weekends, or in the morning before I check my email. If it turns out I’m really and truly too busy to execute an idea, I can always give it away to someone who has time to take it on. Because in the end, it’s more about the idea than it is about me.

5. Because I get distracted

From the time I decided to write this until the time I finished it, I did the following: Walked the dog, ate breakfast, thought about searching Amazon for a new rug, checked Twitter, read two articles. And that’s me on a really focused day. Distractions are always going to be present—that’s the world we live in.

How to fix it:

I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different ideas to help me here. The best solutions so far keep me focused by creating artificial pressure: setting a timer that goes off every 30 minutes, creating a deadline (either real or self-imposed), working until the power runs out on my laptop. I also try to realize the difference between productive distraction (walking the dog often leads to new ideas or “writing in my head”) and non-productive distraction, like idly checking Facebook and Twitter.

6. Because I’m afraid

Now we get to the big one—the real reason that underlies all these others. The biggest reason my ideas used to live only in my mind instead of out in the world is that I was afraid they might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

In essence: I’d rather abandon an idea, bury it forever, than have it potentially fail on me.

Possibly an understandable instinct, but a misguided one for sure–especially when you think of it like this:

aom-idea-execution-2
Buffer

Execution is what makes things happen–not pristine, flawless ideas.

Not to mention, if I thought about everything in my life the way I used to think about ideas, I’d be missing out on some pretty amazing experiences. Risk is what makes life interesting.

Luckily, Buffer’s culture creates an incredibly safe space for ideas and thoughts from every team member. Here, I’ve learned to share early and often and to offer and receive feedback with a positive spirit. It has made all the difference. You can do the same by finding a group of peers or a mentor with whom you can practice growing more comfortable sharing around.

How to fix it:

I still haven’t entirely cracked the code on this one, but writing this post is a beginning. Here’s what I’m trying right now:

  • Doing other creative things: My house, at the moment, is littered with construction paper from an art experiment gone awry. That’s OK! Part of my new strategy is spending more creative time, even if there’s no direct result to it just yet.
  • Sharing more with others: In the past I would have been petrified to push publish on this post. This time around, I let my husband (himself a seemingly fearless creator) look at it right away. Feels much better!
  • Creating more meditative time: On bike rides, dog walks and quiet moments alone, I’m letting my mind wander more freely. No headphones, no logistical work thinking. Just wandering. A habit of meditation has made this possible, I think.
  • Allowing myself to be vulnerable: I’ll probably be working on this one the rest of my life—it doesn’t come easy to me. But sharing more with others, asking for help when I need it and being more open to feedback from others are the skills I’m working on right now to become more vulnerable.

Getting comfortable with sharing ideas—both my good and not-so-good ones—isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s a daily practice that I’m still working on and probably will be for some time. I’ve learned that the comfort zone is a nice place to visit, but being uncomfortable is where things really get exciting.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Why Everything I Own Fits in One Bag

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One-bag living has simplified my life in a way that very few other things have

About 2-3 years ago, I decided I wanted to start to declutter my life gradually. I went from one backpack and a carry-on bag to just one backpack. I count the following things as my belongings at this point:

  • 6 T-shirts
  • 2 sweaters, 2 hoodies
  • 1 coat
  • 2 pairs of dress-pant sweat-pants
  • 6 pairs of socks and boxer shorts
  • 1 backpack
  • An iPhone, a Kindle, 1 notepad and a MacBook Air (+ keyboard and mouse)
  • Gym shoes and gym shorts
  • Various toiletries like toothbrush, contact lenses, etc.

When I say “things that I count,” it does actually mean that I’m somewhat cheating. I did only live with the above things until I moved into an apartment earlier in 2014.

Since then I bought some kitchen utensils as well as a mattress, bed, a couch, some lamps and a desk. I do plan on getting rid of these things in early May again, so I’m putting them on a separate “temporary” list in the meantime.

Declutter your life, declutter your mind

If you have ever cleared your desk one morning before working, you’ll know the feeling of tranquility and peace this can give you. I found that that is exactly what happens when I got rid of most things I owned, apart from the crucial essentials.

Here is a list of the amazing benefits I observed from getting rid of stuff:

  • No decision-making about what to wear in the morning, more decision making about stuff that actually matters
  • I can pack for trips in 5 minutes
  • I go clothes shopping about once a year (more on that below) and don’t waste any more time on it
  • There are less things to think about and there is more simplicity in my life
  • I don’t spend a lot of money on stuff
  • I indulge the “Is this all you have?” questions at borders after a long-haul flight

In order to see things clearly in life, and observe reality as it truly happens, owning less stuff is a super valuable step. Of course, I’d never claim to be at a place where I can truly do that—see things as they are, without attachment or judgement—but I have an intuition that owning less things sets me on the right track towards that.

Replacement shopping

There are of course moments when you have to go shopping and buy new things. I managed to do this while keeping to a minimalist lifestyle with one simple rule:

Anytime I buy something new, I need to throw out the equivalent of what I’m already owning.

So if I buy new shoes, I throw out my old pair of shoes. If I buy a new coat, sweater or T-shirt, the old sweater, coat or T-shirt are thrown out or given away. Between my co-founder Joel and myself this lead us to call it “replacement shopping” or “clothes replacement day.”

Over the last few years, I also went up in quality gradually every time a new clothes replacement day came around. Recently, I invested in a MissionWorkshop backpack ($380), ordered a pair of custom tailored jeans from Gebrueder Stitch ($535) and bought a coat from Burberry ($2200).

The prices for these things may sound expensive at first, but I plan on owning and using them for several years to come, which makes this well worth the cost broken down over that period of time. I’ve also made an effort to prioritize function over form—although at a very high level of quality, luckily often both are included. Dustin Curtis had some great thoughts on this with his post “The Best.”

Getting started with one bag living

The thought for many to get started with one bag living is a scary one. Luckily Greg McKeown wrote a terrific book titled “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” where he outlines a very handy technique:

“Set aside some time where you go through your stuff and decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. You’ll end up with a few things that you can throw right out. Then you’ll end up with a few things that you’ll want to keep. Then you’ll end up with a few things you’re unsure of.

Put anything that you want to keep, but haven’t used in a while and anything you are unsure of in a box. Now, see, if after 3 or 6 months, you’ve actually taken out any of the things from that box and used them. If you haven’t, you can calmly through them out without having to worry whether you’ll need them in the future.”

Jessica Dang also wrote a great getting-started guide on one bag living that you can check out.

One-bag living has simplified my life in a way that very few other things have and I can highly recommend giving it a try.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

10 Science-Proven Ways to Be Happier

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Science continues to find ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of happiness into our lives

We never get tired of thinking about happiness, do we? Life is so much nicer when you’re able to couple it with joy and gratitude.

We’ve published posts before about simple ways to be happy and retraining your brain for more gratitude, and Buffer’s CEO Joel has even shared his own daily to-do list for happiness. (There’s also our popular list of things to stop doing to be happier.)

Meanwhile, science continues to study happiness, finding ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of this elusive quality into our lives.

I love keeping an eye on these studies, and thought I would share the latest batch with you here to see if any of them might resonate with you and make you just a bit happier.

Here are 10 truly unique ways to be happier that you can start today!

1. Do cultural activities

Need a boost of joy? Trying seeing a play or heading to a museum.

A study that collected data on the activities, mood and health of 50,000 adults in Norway found that people who participated in more cultural activities reported higher happiness levels and lower anxiety and depression.

“Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders,” the researchers write.

Curiously, men saw stronger benefits from receptive, or passive, cultural activities (like visiting museums, art exhibitions, concerts or theaters) while women more enjoyed active participation events (like club meetings, singing, outdoor activities and dance).

2. Keep a diary: Rereading it brings joy

To learn to find more gratitude and joy in every day—not just special occasions, the boring days, too—try keeping a diary and re-reading it from time to time.

Researchers who did a variety of experiments involving keeping a journal discovered that “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time” as participants rediscovered them through their older writings.

In other words, simply writing down our ordinary, regular-day experiences is a way of banking up some happiness down the line, when the activities we describe could bring us unexpected joy.

3. Make small talk with a stranger

Chatting up your barista or cashier? Good for your health!

Behavioral scientists gave a group of Chicago train commuters a $5 Starbucks gift card in exchange for striking up a conversation with a stranger during their ride. (While another group kept to themselves.)

Those who started conversations reported a more positive experience than those who had stayed quiet—even though they had predicted they would feel happier being solitary.

Another study saw similar results from giving Starbucks visitors a $5 gift card in exchange for having a “genuine interaction with the cashier.”

It seems that connecting with another person—no matter how briefly—increases our happiness.

4. But have meaningful conversations, too

While positive small talk is great, more substantial conversations could up our happiness quotient even higher.

A study that tracked the conversations of 80 people for 4 days found that, in keeping with the small-talk study, higher well-being is associated with spending less time alone and more time talking to others.

But researchers also discovered that even higher well-being was associated with having less small talk and more substantive conversations.

“Together, the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial,” the researchers write.

So dive deep in your conversations with friends and loved ones—it’s great for you.

5. Live in the suburbs and get involved

This one seems to apply to the U.S. A. only, but I still found it quite interesting.

I would have guessed that city dwellers might be the most satisfied with where they live, but in a poll of 1,600 U.S. adults, the highest rate of happiness was found in the suburbs.

84 percent of suburbanites rated the communities where they live as overall excellent or good, compared to 75 percent of urban dwellers and 78 percent of rural residents.

Another study on city happiness found that residents are happier if they feel connected to their cities and neighborhoods and feel positively about the state of city services.

So wherever you live, make sure to get involved in your community for maximum happiness.

6. Listen to sad songs: They provide emotional release

How could sad songs make us happy? And why do we seek them out?

That’s the question researchers wanted to answer with a survey of 722 people from around the world.

They discovered that there are 4 main reasons we take comfort in melancholy songs:

  • They allow us to drift off into imagination
  • They might provide us catharsis (emotion regulation)
  • They allow us to relate to a common emotion (empathy), and
  • They’re divorced from our actual problems (no “real-life” implications)

Researchers determined that “listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation.”

7. Spend money on experiences, not items

Here’s one that’s easy to understand but might be tougher to fix.

We know that spending money on life experiences will make us happier than spending money on material things (and it does!) but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from choosing the wrong option.

That’s what a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found as they surveyed people before and after they made purchases.

The series of studies concluded that we’re more likely to spend on items than experiences because we can quantify them more easily and we want to see the best value for our dollars.

However, they found that the study subjects reported that after they spent, experiences brought them greater well-being and they considered them to be a better use of money.

So if we can keep that in mind, it’s possible to have our cake and eat it, too—definitely something to be happy about!

8. Set tiny, attainable goals: Make someone smile

It might be cliché, but making someone happy will make you happy, too.

And science says the more specific you can be with your goal, the better.

University of Houston professor Melanie Rudd found that a group of people who were told to make someone smile felt both happier and more confident that they’d actually achieved their goal than a similar group who’d been told simply to make someone else happy.

Even more interesting: In a separate experiment, people wrongly predicted that going for the bigger goal would make them happier.

“If you can meet or exceed your expectations of achieving a goal, you will be happier than if you fall short of your expectations,” Rudd explained.

9. Look at beautiful things: Design makes us happy

Could looking at a beautiful object make you feel happier?

The smartphone company HTC conducted a study that says yes.

In a series of laboratory and online experiments, volunteers looked at and interacted with objects that fell into 3 categories: beautiful, functional, or both beautiful and functional.

Their reactions uncovered some interesting findings, like:

  • Well-designed objects that are both beautiful and functional trigger positive emotions like calmness and contentment, reducing negative feelings like anger and annoyance by almost a third.
  • Purely beautiful objects (not functional) reduce negative emotions by 29%, increasing a sense of calmness and ease.

Objects that were both beautiful and functional created an especially high level of emotional arousal:

In general, people feel happier looking at and using beautiful objects that work well.

10. Eat more fruits and veggies

We know being healthier makes us happy, but can carrots give you purpose?

I have to admit I didn’t expect such a direct link between happiness and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as researchers in New Zealand report.

Their 13-day study of 405 people who kept food diaries showed that people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher than average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

Even more interestingly, participants often scored higher on all of those scales on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.

“These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy,” writes the research team.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME apps

24 Great Free Apps and Tools to Help You Build Strong Habits

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Good habits are the crucial building blocks of a better, healthier, happier way of life

I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. Some of them are really small things (like learning to make hashbrowns, a breakfast food that has confounded me for years) and some are really big, like learning to live a more minimalist life.

In the past, I have begun each new year with great intentions but found following through really difficult—like many of those who create goals for the new year.

I think that’s because change is hard. We all want to improve and become better people — healthier, more productive, a better partner or friend. But it can be tough to stick to new behaviors.

So this year, I decided to get a little help from technology and research around the ideas of habit formation and willpower. By examining things like how smokers quit, why student perform well and how New Year’s resolvers stay on track, researchers are starting to discover how we can create lasting change in our lives.

The key? Habits. Good habits, it seems, are the crucial building blocks of a better, healthier, happier way of life.

But where do good habits come from? How do you create them?

Building an awesome habit

We’ve written about habits before on the blog. One of the most beneficial posts for me was Joel’s simple method to create a new habit:

  1. Start so small you can’t fail
  2. Work on the small habit for as long as it takes to become a ritual (something you’re pulled towards, rather than which requires willpower)
  3. Make a very small addition to the habit, ideally anchored to an existing ritual

creating-habits

 

So it seems getting a little help building that initial habit could help a lot. Fortunately, there are tons of great tools and apps out there that want to lend a hand.

Here’s a look at some of the best free tools and apps I could find for building stronger habits.

Apps and tools to build strong habits

Web apps

21 Habit

The concept is simple: You pledge $21 that says you’ll keep up your new habit for 21 days, the time it takes to ingrain it as a habit. Each day you succeed, you get $1 back. Each day you fail, you forfeit $1, which 21habit donates to one of several charities.

42Goals

A simple tool for tracking your daily goals and keeping a log of your daily activities. Templates are provided for tracking all sorts of activities and habits, and you can also create your own custom goals. Data you collect is displayed in the style of chart you specify.

Beeminder

Beeminder puts a little sting into habit formation by requiring you to pay up if you aren’t able to keep your goals. You commit to pay something — initially $5 — after the first time you get off track with your new habit.

Chains.cc

This motivational tool uses the “don’t break the chain” method to help build good habits and break bad ones. Each day you complete a task you want to keep up, a visual streak grows. Bonus: There’s also an iPhone app for on-the-go habit-building.

Daytum

Whether you would like to tally a day or a year, Daytum helps you collect and visualize the most important statistics in your life—whatever they might be—and create an up-to-the-moment personal dashboard. Also has a companion iOS app!

Go F#^ing Do It

This site definitely doesn’t mince words! Nor does it shy away from its goal—helping you create new habits through accountability. All you need to get started is a goal, a deadline, some money and someone to act as your witness. If you don’t meet your deadline, there goes your cash.

HabitForge

This site is designed around accountability—a proven motivator in creating new habits. There are daily check-ins and progress reports, and a community to encourage you. You can even join or build a team of others working on the same thing as you.

Habitgrams

Set simple reminders to be sent through your choice of email or text.

iRunuRun

Focusing on a greatness method that zeroes in on tracking and quantifying focus on recurring behavior, this tool is a powerful performance and accountability platform. Also comes with an iOS app!

Lifetick

This web app first focuses on core values and then breaks them down into smaller goals and habits, with tons of visual progress reports. Also cool is the “Dreams” feature, where you can create and add to your lifelong “bucket list.”

Momentum

So this one is not quite a habit builder, but still too cool not to mention! Momentum is a personal dashboard designed to eliminate distraction and provide inspiration, focus, and productivity. Choose your goal or focus for the day and Momentum will gently remind you of it each time you go to open a new tab.

stickK

stickK focuses on incentives, accountability and community to help you keep up your habits. Each user creates a unique Commitment Contract to achieve goals within a particular timeframe. If you are unsuccessful, stickK lets your friends know about it. You can also put money on the line for any contract.

TinyHabits

BJ Fogg has studied human behavior for 20 years. His TinyHabits is a free, ongoing 5-day session in which you learn about habits, select 3 new habits you want and respond to a daily email. In less than 30 minutes total, he promises skills that will benefit you for a lifetime.

Both iOS and Android apps

HabitRPG

Life’s a game with HabitRPG, which rewards you for completing tasks and goals with gold, points, progress and more features. If you don’t complete tasks, your can loses health or even die and lose the progress you’ve made. You can also add friends to your group for community and accountability.

Lift

I have really enjoyed using Lift. The app does a great job is facilitating habits by breaking them down into small pieces and getting you into a routine. Check in when you complete goals of your choosing (popular ones include floss, run, meditate and more). For almost every habit there’s a great Q&A going on and an expert-led group that can help you come up with achievable goals.

iOS apps

Balanced

A simple way to celebrate daily successes that also creates motivation you may not even know you had. It starts you out with 50 suggested activities, so you’ll easily be able to find a new goal to work toward. Choose the ones that are right for you, or add your own to create your individual happiness list. Balanced gives you positive feedback, lets you know if you are on a streak, and keeps you aware of when you last did each activity.

Good Habits

Another “don’t break the chain” habit builder based on Jerry Seinfeld’s famous advice— with an added visual emphasis.

HabitClock

Need a wake-up call and a habit builder? HabitClocks not only wakes you up but also helps you perform morning routines that will improve your daily mood and productivity.

Loggr

If you want more control over how to create and track your habits, Loggr could be the answer. This app allows you to track, quantify, view and export any data—you choose what’s important to you.

Logsit

An easy way to keep track of your time and activities in order to get more insight into your behavior patterns. Reminders adjust to your behavior, and progress bars show the time until your next reminder.

Way of Life

Get the data you need to build better habits with Way of Life, which seems to track your habits in every visual way possible. As you collect more and more information, the idea is that you will be able to easily spot positive and negative trends in your lifestyle.

Android apps

The Fabulous

A habit-building app that focuses first on creating an awesome morning routine and then add other rituals to install healthy habits and mindfulness in your life. Users get tips for healthy living and a coach to motivate you to go further.

HabitBull

HabitBull lets you set reminders for each habit and displays them on days when you need to be successful, so you can use it as a to-do list, a calendar planning tool or checklist or a repeating reminder. Try to get a long streak for the habit you are working on by covering your goals—the longer the better!

Pledge

Pledge will remind you to do tasks you often neglect and highlight streaks and high scores so that you stay motivated and can focus on your goals. It also promises to “slightly judge you” if you don’t keep your promises, in case you might find that motivational.

I’m excited to try more of these tools to help me build strong habits in the new year and beyond. Maybe one of them could work for you, too!

As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit.”

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME Careers & Workplace

To Create a New Habit, First Know You’re Going to Break It

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One of the key parts of building habits might be to know that you will not flawlessly create your habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I’ve been obsessed with thinking about, adjusting and building upon my habits for a long time now, and working on good habits is probably one of the things that’s helped me the most to make progress with my startup. In addition, it seems like habits are now becoming popular again. This is a great thing, and books like The Power of Habit are helping lots of people.

Perhaps one of the things that is rarely discussed with habits is failing with them. How do you keep going with building habits when you fail one day, or you have some kind of momentary setback?

I thought it might be useful for me to share my thoughts on habits, and particularly the aspect of failing with habits.

Building an awesome habit

There are the steps I’ve found that work best to create a new habit:

  1. Start so small you “can’t fail” (more on the reality of that later)
  2. Work on the small habit for as long as it takes to become a ritual (something you’re pulled towards rather than which requires willpower)
  3. Make a very small addition to the habit, ideally anchored to an existing ritual

creating-habits

How I built my most rewarding habit

The habit I’m happiest with is my morning routine. It gives me a fantastic start to the day and lots of energy. To build it, I took the approach above of starting small and building on top.

I started my habit a few years ago when I was based in Birmingham in the UK. The first thing I started with was to go to the gym 2-3 times per week. That’s all my routine was for a long time. Once I had that habit ingrained, I expanded on it so that I would go swimming the other two days of the week, essentially meaning that I went to the gym every day at the same time. I’d go around 7:30, which meant I awoke at around 7 a.m.

Next, I gradually woke up earlier, first waking up at 6:45 for several weeks, and then 6:30. At the same time, I put in place my evening ritual of going for a walk, which helped me wind down and get to sleep early enough to then awake early. Eventually, I achieved the ability to wake up at 6 a.m. and do an hour of productive work before the gym. This precious early morning time for work when I was the freshest was one of the things that helped me get Buffer off the ground in the early days.

The next thing I made a real habit was to have breakfast after I returned from the gym. I then worked on making this full routine a habit for a number of months. I had times when I moved to a different country and had to work hard to get back to the routine after the initial disruption of settling in. It was whilst in Hong Kong that I achieved being very disciplined with this routine and wrote about it.

My morning routine

Today, I’ve built on top of this habit even further. Here’s what my morning routine looks like now:

  • I awake at 5:05am.
  • At 5:10, I meditate for 6 minutes.
  • I spend until 5:30 having a first breakfast: a bagel and a protein shake.
  • I do 90 minutes of productive work on a most important task from 5:30 until 7am.
  • At 7 a.m., I go to the gym. I do a weights session every morning (different muscle group each day).
  • I arrive home from the gym at 8:30 a.m. and have a second breakfast: chicken, 2 eggs and cottage cheese.

It may seem extremely regimented, and I guess perhaps it is. However, the important thing is the approach. You can start with one simple thing and then work on it over time. I’m now working to build around this current habit even more.

Failing while building your awesome habit

One of the most popular and simultaneously most controversial articles I’ve ever written is probably The Exercise Habit. It’s one that has been mentioned to me many times by people I’ve met to help with their startup challenges. I’ve been humbled to find out that a number of people have been inspired by the article to start a habit of daily exercise.

Whilst in Tel Aviv, I met Eytan Levit, a great startup founder who has since become a good friend. He told me he had read my article and was immediately driven to start a habit of daily exercise. I sat down and had coffee with him while he told me about his experience, and it was fascinating.

He told me that he did daily exercise for four days in a row, and he felt fantastic. He said he felt like he had more energy than ever before, and was ready to conquer the world. Then, on the fifth day Eytan struggled to get to the gym for whatever reason, and essentially the chain was broken. The most revelatory thing he said to me was that the reason he didn’t start the habit again was not that he didn’t enjoy the exercise or benefit greatly from doing it. The reason he failed to create the exercise habit was the feeling of disappointment of not getting to the gym on that fifth day.

Get ready and expect to break your habit

“I deal with procrastination by scheduling for it. I allow it. I expect it.” – Tim Ferriss

What I’ve realized is that one of the key parts of building habits might be to know that you will not flawlessly create your habits. You are going to break your habit at some point. You are going to fail that next day or next gym session sooner or later. The important thing is to avoid a feeling of guilt and disappointment, because that is what will probably stop you from getting up the next day and continuing with the routine.

In a similar way to how Tim Ferriss deals with procrastination, I believe we should not try so hard to avoid breaking our habits. We should instead be calm and expect to break them sometime, let it happen, then regroup and get ready to continue with the habit.

Perhaps we took too much on, and we cut back a little or try to add one less thing to our habit. Or maybe we just had a bad day. That’s fine, and a single failure shouldn’t stop our long-term success with building amazing habits.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Most Overlooked Aspects of Creating a Lasting Morning Routine

Rooster on fence at dawn, crowing
Getty Images

Waking up early sets the tone of “making a choice” for the day

“Those that get up at 5 a.m. rule the world.” – Robin Sharma

Those who know me, know that I love my morning routine. I’m always making adjustments to it, and at its core it revolves around waking up early (before sunrise), working on something important for 90 minutes, and then hitting the gym. I recently shared my most recent routine in a blog post about creating new habits.

Today, I want to share a couple of things about my routine that I’ve neglected to mention in previous articles. These two aspects have enabled me to create a morning routine that has lasted several months, and it’s through my morning routine truly becoming habitual that I’ve seen massive benefits. I hope that these two insights can help you, too.

Why wake up early in the first place?

Before I jump into those two key insights that helped me, I want to share some of my thoughts about why you might want to wake up early at all.

Firstly, I’ve observed that many of the most successful people wake up early. In fact, I don’t know anyone who consistently wakes up before 6 a.m. who isn’t doing something interesting with their life. Some of the top CEOs are well known for waking up super early, many of them at 4:30 a.m.

Additionally, I feel that waking up early sets the tone of “making a choice” for my day. If I leave it to fate as to when I roll out of bed, then I feel like that’s the outlook I’m taking in general. On the other hand, if I choose to get up early and do amazing things in those quiet hours, that’s when I feel like I’m grabbing hold of my life and controlling where I go. That’s the choice I want to make.

Finally, I’d like to ask you – are you working for someone else and have the desire to create your own startup? If that’s the case, then do you leave your “startup building time” to the evening? Why do it after 8 hours of work? You’re going to be exhausted and struggle to be motivated.

I advise you to think about what is a higher priority for you—your dream of a startup, or your work for someone else? Perhaps start working harder on yourself than on your job. When I started Buffer whilst working 5 days per week, it was the choice to work an hour first thing in the morning each day when I was freshest that made a huge difference.

So, if you’re thinking about starting an early morning routine, here are two things that took me a while to notice:

1. Craft your evening routine to get enough sleep

two-tips-evening-routine-simple

One of the most important things I’ve found when I have attempted to keep up an early morning routine for several days and weeks in a row is that if I let my daily sleep amount get much below 7 hours for too many consecutive days, I will burn out sooner or later.

The best way I have found to counteract this is to decide how much sleep I need (for me it’s about 7.5 hours a night) and then figure out the exact time I need to be in bed. Once I’ve done this, I set up a 30-minute winding down ritual (for me, it’s going for a walk) that allows me to disengage from the day’s work and not have work in my head when I hit the pillow.

The key thing I’ve found is that in order to wake up early over a sustained period of weeks, this evening ritual is just as important as how much I think about my morning routine.

2. Wake up early on weekends, too

two-tips-weekend-routine

Another key aspect I’ve found to having a consistent early morning routine over a long period of time is to pay particular attention to the weekend as well as the week. I certainly believe that allowing imperfection and some slack at the weekend is important, but I personally made the mistake of having a weekend wake-up time that was too divergent from my week day wake-up time. Only once I started to think about the weekend, I hit a chain of many days of early mornings.

Once you’ve decided when you want to wake up during the week, I recommend that you don’t wake up much more than 1 hour later at the weekend. This also probably means that you still need to go to bed quite early on Friday and Saturday night. The problem arises when you wake up several hours later on Saturday and Sunday, and then want to wake up super early again on Monday.

The most likely thing is that Monday will be a little later, and Tuesday too. Perhaps by Wednesday you are back to your early morning waking time, but you will not feel that magical state of gliding along, having several days in a row of early mornings and productive quiet hours.

If you don’t try to wake up at a similar time at the weekend, it is similar to giving yourself jet lag every weekend. By waking up at a similar time at the weekend, you don’t stretch your body, and therefore you can achieve long term consistency with your morning routine.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

Read next: 5 Best Morning Rituals for a Super Productive Day

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