Photo by algo
Maggie has a bad habit, and it kills her productivity. At work, she keeps her email open all day, and she stops whatever she is doing to check the newest email as it comes in. She figures she spends three to four hours answering emails every day, and she is constantly short of time for her other work. She realizes that the majority of the email she answers doesn’t need to be dealt with until the next day, but she likes to keep on top of things.
This one bad habit is costing Maggie countless hours of uninterrupted productive time. There are other habits that can reduce productivity, too: procrastination, lack of planning, working on the wrong things. All of these things can be un-learned, but in order to do that, you have to recognize that they are simply habits, and then change the habits.
Habit changing is not easy. If it were, we would see no articles like this one, and everyone would be healthy, fit, and totally productive. There are some things that are key to changing habits, though:
Replace the Behavior
You cannot remove a behavior without replacing it with something else. In Maggie’s case, she knows she needs to drink more water, so she could turn off notification of new email to remove temptation, and every time she has the urge to check email, drink a bit of water. This re-conditioning of yourself will take a bit of time, but it will be effective.
Change One Habit at a Time
Doing too much at one time is the death knell of results. Changing multiple habits at the same time will cause a failure to change any. This is one of the reasons completely-make-yourself-over New Year’s resolutions fail. Pick one habit and change it, then move onto the next. I find it good to assess what habits I need to break and then start with the easiest. This gives me a challenge without overwhelming me.
Focus on the Benefits of Changing
When you are focused on the goal, the effort doesn’t seem as bad. Rewards, both at the end (breaking the bad habit) and interim (“if I plan my tomorrow tonight, I will allow myself to knock off early and watch a movie”) both have the ability to motivate us. By focusing on the reward, and not the effort, you will have a better chance of success.
There are many books and articles out there on changing habits. Here are some that I found specifically relating to productivity habits:
- “The Not-To-Do List: Bad Habits to Stop Now” (Web Worker Daily)
- “Correcting bad habits” (Hack Your Day)
- “Five Things You Need to Know About Effective Habit Change” (Zen Habits)