Atomic habits for designers

The premise of “Atomic Habits” (James Clear) is that simple micro habits add up to make up who you are, and the most effective way of growing is not by setting long-term goals, but by adopting the behavior of the person you want to become. So instead of “I’m going to write a book”, you start with “I’m a writer, and I can see this is true because I write everyday”.

The book also advocates for breaking habits into their smallest and easiest components, and to focus efforts on setting the first step in motion. For example, instead of aiming to read 52 books a year, you start with the small habit of ‘read 1 page a day’.

Based on that, here’s what I’m trying for 2021:

Identity: I am a compassionate person

  • Self-compassion exercises during first cup of morning coffee

Identity: I am a designer

  • Open a new figma page in the morning and move at least 1 pixel — ex. make a wireframe copy of an interesting site, copy a component, do a design challenge

Identity: I am a learner

  • Read 1 page a day

Identity: I am a creative person who listens to and expresses what I see and feel

  • Write 1 line in journal a day

Identity: I am a healthy athlete

(which feels ludicrous to say honestly, but also empowering to believe :D.)

  • Work out or stretch at least 5 min a day

I track progress everyday in a physical workbook that I keep open at all times, which provides immediate visual feedback.

daily, weekly, monthly habit tracker

So far…

It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m noticing:

  • More energy at end of day and weekend

And overall emotionally and mentally:

  • I feel like I’m moving forward, even if they’re in small increments

Atomic habits as a mid-career UX designer

The biggest benefit of starting small with tiny habits is that it feels like a healthier mindset than my usual “As a designer I need to learn, brush up, and keep up on all the things — design principles, methods, skills, tools..” In fact, as part of new year’s resolutions last year, I downloaded huge matrix charts that list out every single skill that is deemed as being essential for UX design, with the goal of fleshing out my skillset. I didn’t get very far.

With small manageable habits, instead of aiming for this unreachable and ever-changing goal of becoming a master at my craft, I can instead focus on the small habits and practices that an evolving designer would do, and celebrate progress for its own sake.

Example of an atomic habit as a designer

This is my daily morning practice in detail:

  1. I open up figma, create a new page, then depending on mood that day, copy a page that I found compelling for whatever reason, copy a component, or do a design challenge:

2. While figma-ing, I listen to a design-related podcast:

3. When I’m done, I log on airtable the date, what I did, any notes and takeaways, and any relevant links. If there’s anything from a podcast that struck me or that I want to remember, I jot down reminders or notes. This log gives me immediate visual feedback on my progress.

Takeaway

Is any of the design work I’m doing groundbreaking, creative or portfolio-worthy? No. But that’s not my goal; my goal is to be a designer who has a healthy habit of learning and growing. And with atomic habits, I feel like I’m on an upward trajectory because I’m spending time everyday reading, learning, writing, drawing, and designing.

Resources

User Experience Designer