Improving work routines sounds easy, but do you know over 40% of the “decisions” we make every day aren’t really decisions? They’re habits.
We may think that we are making hundreds of decisions a day, but we are actually just doing exactly what we’ve done before. We use very little thought, making it a habit.
Now, some habits are great. Like exercising regularly or getting enough sleep. But many of our habits make us less productive, less effective—less everything—than we could be.
So what can you do? You can change an old habit into a new habit with improving work routines.
While changing a habit isn’t easy, it is simple—especially if you follow the process described by Charles Duhigg, author of bestselling book The Power of Habit.
The key is to understand that the habit is providing a “perceived reward.” And often that reward is very relevant and helpful…. Yet the habit that achieves the reward is not. So… you’ll need to find a healthier, more self-supportive way to achieve that same reward!
Think about your typical day. Very little of what you think you “must” do a certain way really must be. You may or may not have had a good reason in the beginning, but after a number of repetitions, it becomes routine, with little forethought. We rarely go back and evaluate, “is this still the best way to accomplish my goal?”
The only way to change a habit is to first decide that the “must” can actually be negotiated or even eliminated.
Let’s say that your habit is to check your email first thing. You want to change that habit because you tend to get bogged down by a flood of correspondence that gets you off track. So you open to the idea that there may be another “way” that things can be done.
Habits operate within a simple loop: cue, routine, and reward. The cue is the trigger that, based on some craving, shifts your brain into autopilot and initiates the routine. Whenever you feel an urge for a habit, that urge is the cue.
In the case of taking ten minutes to check your email first thing, it may be as simple a cue as having your email open on your computer desktop when you start work. Or having notifications set up so you get pinged every time an email comes in.
This is easy. Your routine is the actual steps of your habit. It’s grabbing a donut with your morning coffee, cruising Facebook on your break – or, in this case, sitting down at your desk and checking email.
Sometimes the reward isn’t always so easy to figure out. Checking email may give you a feeling of control over your world. Or a sense of relief that nothing horrible happened overnight. So, think about the “need” that is behind your habit.
Identifying the reward is the key distinction here, because to change a habit the reward has to stay the same. You’re not going to deny yourself the valid reward—you’ll just make the way you get that reward a lot more productive or positive.
Now that you know your cue and your reward, it’s time to change the routine.
If you check your email to make sure that no disasters happened overnight, then you need to find another way to get that valid reward of relief and safety.
Here’s one example: If you work with an assistant (virtual or otherwise), you can have them check your important emails and call you immediately if there is anything time-sensitive looming. Or have a separate email address, (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org) that is used only for emergencies, and that’s all you check first thing in the morning. Or have your assistant agree to text you with emergencies so you aren’t reliant on email for this purpose.
Now that you have all the pieces, the easiest way to implementing and improving work routines is to write out a plan. The format is simple:
When (cue), I will (healthy action) because it provides me with (valid reward).
Do that enough times, and eventually your new, self-supporting habit will be automatic—and you’ll be more productive by improving work routines!