It’s the last week in January and I find myself wondering about everyone’s New Year’s resolutions.
I see the crowded parking lots at the gym and I wonder if the people there have always been gym rats or has the novelty not quite worn off. I noticed an increase in the attendance at my church and I wonder if the extra folks are just visiting until they have something else to do. A guy in front of me in the grocery store was telling the clerk all about his patch and his increase in gum chewing, all in an effort to quit smoking. The clerk, in turn, was telling him she was saving $25 each pay check so she could start giving $50 regularly to her church.
These are all good intentions, but I find myself wondering what the story will be next week or next month. Resolutions are tough, and unless we really commit to eliminating the habit or making new habits, we sometimes find ourselves exactly where we were before we made them.
Webster defines habits as:
“behavioral patterns acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that show themselves in regularity or increased facility of performance”
“acquired modes of behavior that become nearly or completely involuntary.”
That being said, habits don’t require conscious thought, contemplation or analysis…they become natural or intuitive. In business terms, habits become “systematic” in that they have become the inherent way we interact and behave.
It’s 2016 and the following bullets are a few examples of how technology has become habitual or systematic.
- We used to walk down the hall, take the elevator or stairs, and walk over to someone’s desk or office. We now we instinctively send people a text or email.
- We used to dig in our desks for an instruction manual when we didn’t understand something. But now we intuitively search the Internet for a video or PDF.
- We used to use a city map or call for directions when we needed to get someplace new. Today, we plug in the address on our phones and listen for directions as we go.
Sadly, this is where it ends for the majority of professionals and, while it is 2016 and the technological revolution has been in full swing for years, many people’s current work habits are actually limiting their ability to build newer, more efficient and productive ones. Consider this:
- People use flip chart paper or whiteboards to share information visually in a group.
- Presenters look for the projector and screen the moment they enter the conference space.
- Colleagues think meetings need to be scheduled around the availability of a conference room.
- Supervisors limit their team’s training because travel costs are prohibitive. (Bless their little hearts!)
- Facilitators intuitively hand out flip chart paper, large sticky notes and markers when they want everyone to have a chance to contribute their ideas visually to others.
Stop the madness!
I know, I know…it’s not easy.
You have to WANT to change.
I bit my fingernails for years and years until I had a crush on a boy in the percussion section. One day, I overheard him talking about a cute little flute player’s fancy painted fingernails. I knew then and there I would try to break my habit so I could have pretty fingernails too! Likewise, my mother, who had smoked for decades, quit cold turkey when she learned a beloved child had asthma and witnesses this baby fight desperately to breathe.
Good habits are difficult to form and, like their bad counterparts, you have to WANT them incorporated into your behaviors.
That guy you see running in the rain? He WANTED to make exercise a regular and systematic part of his life. The colleague you see asserting her needs and actively communicating with the jerk from across the way? She is actually quite bashful but WANTS to be perceived as someone with confidence more than she wants to remain in her comfort zone. Your son has started to shower and brush his teeth regularly because there is a girl who has his attention.
So how, pray tell, do we eliminate unproductive work habits and replace them with efficient and effective work habits? I think the following may help get us started.
- We should take a moment, either alone or with some honest colleagues, to list all of our “habits” and sacred cows of working and learning together. (Perhaps you’re the guy who leaves a voice mail, sends a text AND follows up with an email, or maybe you’re the supervisor who insists everyone must be present to talk about a certain issue.)
- We should identify what would enable us to work and learn better, more thoughtfully or more efficiently. These are statements such as “wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “if only we could do this…”
- We should research or otherwise discuss what solutions are available to better enable our work or professional development. (By the way, The Chariot Group has a team of people ready to help with this.)
- Once a solution has been identified, we need to buy it, lease it, demo it, or otherwise try it to see if it indeed helps us work and learn better.
- If the solution works, we should commit to using it enough so a new, more productive work habit can be formed.
As I wrote earlier, resolutions are tough, old habits die hard and new ones take time to form. We will never improve our health, our personal lives or our professional lives without first committing to improving ourselves, and subsequently committing to the conscious work of making it happen.