Terri Williams

 As Saint Augustine once said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.” However, it’s possible to break bad habits and develop new routines and practices that are actually beneficial. Many people resist change because they think it will be hard, but just making small adjustments and practicing them over and over can result in a transformation.

Below are 10 (relatively) tiny habits you can change today that will make a huge difference tomorrow (not “tomorrow” as in 24 hours from now, but as it refers to a time in the future).

1. Work smarter, not harder.

“There is still an unfortunate perception that she who works the longest hours must be the most dedicated,” according to Jessica Jensen, global director of Social Media & Influencer Marketing at  Qualcomm. “Working smarter, not harder means spending the most time and effort on the things that will matter the most, and this is only possible when priorities are clear.”

In fact, just because you’re working long hours doesn’t mean you’re even delivering quality work. “Those long hours can often be a result of being disorganized and wasting time during the work day,” Jensen explains.

So, how can you work smarter? Beck Bamberger, CEO of BAM Communications, believes it’s important to unplug. “Heavy input work is the kind that takes skill, creativity, knowledge, and more -  it's not busy work or anything you can multitask,” Bamberger says. However, many people get bogged down with light input work and distractions, which she describes as administrative tasks, emails, instant messages, and social media. "Get comfortable working remotely or in isolation and not having the pressure to respond immediately to everything.” 

2. Spend less, save more, learn more.

According to a survey by the Federal Reserve, 46% of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $400 emergency. Many people live from paycheck-to-paycheck. However, even small changes can help you save money. For example, you may spend $3 a day on a cup of coffee. That’s $90 a month. However, you can brew your own coffee at home. You can purchase a decent coffee maker for less than $20, and buy a month’s supply of coffee at your local grocery store, including such brands as Starbucks, McDonald’s McCafe, or Dunkin Doughnuts, for $7 to $9. Coffee creamer comes in every flavor under the Sun, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Salted Caramel, and French Vanilla. A month’s supply is approximately $3. If you like fancy coffee, you can top with whip cream and caramel or chocolate flavored syrup. Even if you spend $20 a month making your coffee at home, you’re saving $70 a month, which adds up to $840 a year.

It’s also important to develop financial literacy, according to Anand R. Marri, Ph.D., associate professor and lead designer of the Cowin Financial Literacy Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Financial literacy has become as essential as reading and writing,” Marri says.  “By becoming financially literate, adults have the ability to identify economic problems, alternatives, costs, and benefits; analyze the incentives at work in situations; examine the consequences of changes in conditions; collect and organize evidence, and weigh costs against benefits.”

Spending a few minutes exploring this topic, on such websites as the American Institute of CPAs’ 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, is one way to become more financially literate.  

3. Minimize and eliminate complications.

Identify what complicates your life and then takes steps to eliminate it. “Simplify and shed - get rid of clutter and switch gears; and then concentrate on a new list of things that lead to more self-discovery,” advises Susan Kuczmarski, co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation, a management consulting firm, and author of 10 books, including, “Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition.”  

When you take these steps, she says that your energy level with remain high, and you will free up leisure time. “When we simplify, not only do we have more energy but we become more creative, we become more free for personal growth.”

Kuczmarski believes it’s important to conserve energy so it can be released when you choose to do so. “When you simplify and shed, your relationships will deepen and flourish, and you will be able to listen to the ‘self’ that is inside you.”  

4. Stop being so sedentary.

Many of us have desk jobs and spend the majority of our day sitting down - in addition to the time we spend sitting as we’re going to and from work. Researchers have warned that being so sedentary can increase the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease. However, a new study by the University of California reveals that sitting all day can also increase the probability of developing dementia.

No matter how busy you are, there are several ways that you can increase your level of physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even exercising in 10-minute spurts can make a difference. You can walk around the parking lot at work, and walk up and down the stairs. Also, stand up when you’re on the phone, and consider stretching if you can do this without affecting the quality of the phone conversation.

5. Don't ruin your eyes.

Computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain) is a real condition that can be caused by staring at your computer screen for too long. According to the American Optometric Association, poor lighting, the glare from the screen, poor posture, and viewing the screen from the wrong angle can cause dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.

However, following the 20-20-20 rule can help relieve these symptoms: every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away. Also, make sure that you blink frequently to keep your eyes moist, and adjust your work environment so that everything (chair, monitor, etc.) is at a comfortable height.

6. Refuse to see the glass as half-empty.

There are benefits to seeing the glass half-full as opposed to seeing it half-empty. A study in Finland found that very pessimistic people were more likely to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) than their optimistic peers – even after controlling for other risk factors. Another study found that people who express their anger, by punching a bag, or other outlets, actually end up feeling worse.

When you’re constantly in a negative mood, you’re defensive and distrustful, and it’s hard to move forward. If you don’t already, start viewing the world and your circumstances more positively. 

7. Don't be afraid to do absolutely nothing.

“Whatever you need – a moment, an hour, a day – just drop everything you’re doing, and take a timeout,” advises Cortney McDermott, TEDx speaker, strategist, and author of “Change Starts Within You.” She says it’s fine to do absolutely nothing. “As a recovering overachiever, I know how hard that is . . . but it’s also the first step out of the vortex of never-enough.” McDermott says the best timeouts typically occur when you’re in nature – without your cell phone. “Nature reminds us of how effortless growth can be and when we allow that same ease into our lives, any sense of struggle begins to diminish.”

She also recommends mindful breathing. “This is the coolest and fastest built-in reset button, so if you want to get and stay out of a funk, use it every day.” Fortunately, it’s a super easy process.  “Inhaling through your nose, pretend there’s a balloon in your belly and that you’re filling that balloon with air,” McDermott says. “When the balloon is full, release your breath in a steady stream through your mouth; repeat until you feel grounded and centered.”

This simple breathing exercise can also help you learn how to listen to your body. “Tuning in requires stillness, and it means we have to learn to focus our thoughts and pay attention to any ways we’re ignoring our deeper needs.” By doing this for three to five minutes a day, McDermott says you can quiet your thoughts and discover what you really want. 

If you have children – especially girls – it’s important to instill the right habits in them at an early age.  Dr. Cristal Glangchai, founder of Venture Lab, and author of “Venture Girls: Raising Girls to Be Tomorrow’s Leaders,” explains 3 changes you can make today to help your daughters become more confident (and these steps can also help adult women!).

8. Overcome the fear of failure.

“Research shows that many girls will opt out of challenging subjects for fear of failing of not being perfect,” Glangchai says. However, she recommends helping your daughters become “problem detectives” and think like scientists. “Scientists are not discouraged by failures – they see them as part of the scientific method: you test a hypothesis and either it works or it doesn’t.” When girls learn to stop internalizing their failures and understand that it’s natural to fail and try again, they’re more willing to step out of their comfort zone and more willing to achieve their goals.  “A fearless girl will go on to reach her fullest potential.” 

9. Encourage an entrepreneuial mindset.

“Tomorrow’s leaders will need to face challenges we can’t even imagine—it simply isn’t possible to teach girls every single fact, theory, or equation that they will need because the world is rapidly changing,” Glangchai explains. However, she says it is possible to teach an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. “Get your daughters to be curious and ask such questions as ‘what if?’- what are some problems that you notice around you and what if you could change things and make them better?”

She lists several practical steps that you can take:

  • Start an idea journal to record all of her amazing ideas.
  • Find ways to tie science and math to real-world problems.
  • Look online at the list of the Grand Challenges for Engineering for pressing worldwide problems that need solutions, like improved medical care or getting water to people without it.
  • If your daughter is interested in coding, tie it to a problem she cares about. Maybe she can develop an app that helps people with obesity.
  • If your daughter is interested in the environment and is a good artist, maybe she can develop and sell small sculptural figures where the proceeds go to a nonprofit supporting the environment.

“While it may seem simple, encouraging girls’ ideas and teaching them to be assertive can make a world of difference in building their confidence and risk-taking skills,” Glangchai says.

10. Ask for what you want.

We already know, from countless studies, that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise or to negotiate. However, this mentality starts when women are young girls. “The ability to ask for what you need seems so basic – and yet many girls and women are hesitant to do so,” Glangchai says.

However, she believes that this trait can be taught and practiced. “I always tell my kids, ‘It doesn’t hurt to ask because if you don’t ask you will never know - and what’s the worst that can happen?’” She recommends letting your daughter practice asking for what she wants – at home, at school, even ordering food when you’re dining out.  

“It is also important that girls learn how to present themselves confidently.” In fact, Glangchai says her kids are expected to introduce themselves to guests, shake hands, maintain eye contact, and even carry on a brief conversation.


Terri Williams is a business, higher ed, tech, and finance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, U.S. News & World Report, About.com (dotdash), Realtor.com, and Business.com. Follow her on Twitter @Territoryone.