I used to think that habits were good because they meant I was getting something relatively substantial done every day. I'm experimenting with a different idea instead, now. That habits could be a way to become familiar with a sort of activity, and make it less daunting to do in the first place.
For example, the prospect of writing to share my ideas with others is pretty overwhelming to me. I have lots of ideas, and I often want to communicate them. In terms of ranting on twitter or facebook, I feel perfectly comfortable. As well, I feel quite comfortable doing so face to face with my friends, or even sometimes with whoever I happen to be around. Writing, however, has remained relatively terrifying.
So, not knowing what to do, I've decided to do work that doesn't quite live up to my expectations, either in quantity or quality, or somewhat often, both. I haven't done this for too long yet (about two weeks?). As much as I would like to be the sort that quantifies significant portions of my activity, I'm not that person, at least not yet. So, I won't be able to say, at any point, in any super objective way whether this has helped me or not. Instead, I'll take the phenomenological approach, and describe a bit how the experience of this has been, and why I enjoy it so far.
This practice provides an easy way to regain or maintain momentum. This is critical for me, as I'm a very inconsistent person, and I've not really ever been able to stick to any habit I've tried to develop in the sense of doing it every day (or really, even every week or month). I make progress, yes, but I do so in spurts (see here and here). So, for a while I've thought that making it easy to get restarted is important for me. I haven't been so successful at that up to now, but it does feel like I'm doing better. The evidence on my lift profile seems to support that, though I'm not too far into it yet, and I haven't had any significant shocks to my lifestyle or emotions in this time.
I've also found that it's interesting to restrict how much time I allow myself to spend on certain habits in a day. For example, there have been days where I've spent four or more hours on duolingo. That's cool, in a way, but I don't think I was learning very effectively after the first hour, it certainly wasn't good for my wrists, and most importantly, it kept me from accomplishing any of my other, more important goals for the day. I also have a tendency to study too long (I've never tracked how long it takes, but I have an urge to always finish the chapter I've started in a single sitting). There have been days where this has caused most of my work-time in a day to be spent on study. Arguably this could sometimes be the right way to spend most of a day, but the overwhelming effect of it has been that by the time I'm done, it is too late, or I am out of energy, for producing (writing or coding). I've decided to set myself flexible, but low, limits to how much I can do of these habits in my first go at them each day. I can always come back and do more, of course, but not until I've finished the more important habits.
I realize I haven't explained why I don't just do the most important habits first. That's certainly a wise and admirable habit to be in, but unfortunately I've never found it to work for me. I'm quite easily paralyzed by tasks that seem overwhelming to me, and so it is useful to have some small, productive things to do that get me in the right mood to do what matters more. This is not the most disciplined approach, but I believe it to be appropriate for me. In any case, it's all that's worked so far.
One last note: I'm publishing this not because I think it's some important piece of writing worthy of others' attention (though hopefully it is useful to someone), but precisely because of what it's about. Posting on my blog is one of those things that's terrifying to me, and so, while I do hope someone benefits from this, I am mostly posting it for my own purposes.