Previously, we talked about cultivating better work habits. Now let’s turn that same attention and technique to breaking bad habits. Keep in mind that all of the habits you currently have are in your life because you chose them – probably not consciously, but as a result of a chain from trigger/behavior/benefit, or Reminder/Routine/Reward.
As an example, let’s consider responding to every email as it comes in. The reward for this may be that you feel you’re being responsive, and on top of everything. But the downside is significant. Your focus is broken, you spend your time putting out inconsequential fires rather than addressing your real priorities and you increase your stress level. Keep in mind that there is research that has indicated it can take up to 25 minutes to return to the task you were doing prior to being interrupted.
Rather than berating yourself or simply saying that you have to stop, what you need to do is replace the habit with a new one that gives you a similar (or better!) reward. This requires a little self-examination to start.
Identify the cue or trigger for the bad habit. Is it the ping of your inbox or flash of a message across your screen?
Figure out what is the next immediate action you take. It’s not necessarily answering the email itself. It’s probably looking up, opening the email and reading it, for example.
Determine what your reward for the habit is – maybe you automatically feel a little more productive.
With this information, you’re better equipped to eliminate the triggers, choose a substitute for the behavior and give yourself an equal or superior reward in celebration.
You might turn off the notifications on your inbox, at least during your most productive period of the day, or set it just to alert you if key clients or your boss contact you.
Instead of opening the email, dismiss it. Instead of looking up, write an extra sentence or two on that proposal.
Find another way to feel productive, like noticing how much you’ve accomplished in the hour you didn’t answer every email.
One other thing to consider as you work with your habits is the concept of “Keystone Habits.” Keystone habits are the foundation for other habits in your life, and frequently are terrific points of leverage for change. You might find that blocking out the first hour of your day for your top priority helps the rest of your day fall into place. Or if you get exercise, your brain works better. Going out to lunch or connecting on a regular basis with a colleague or mentor can also be keystone habits that make the whole rest of your work life run smoother. Think about it!
What are some of the habits you want to replace? What tips will you use to replace them? Share with me in the comments.