You don’t decide your future your habits do.
It might sound obvious to say one should have good work habits, yet most of us don’t do enough to establish these for our-self, let alone push our team to develop good ones. We often do even less to break bad ones. Habits are the micro disciplined actions that determine how our work days pan out. They are the actions we repeat because they serve a purpose to us to do so. Habits at work come in 3 forms: the good ones, the bad ones and those that don’t matter and many are work and responsibility specific, rather than just being universal.
Habits come in 3 forms: good and bad ones and those that don’t matter.
The first thing as a leader to know about habits is that they are built up and changed over time. It is said 30 days of disciplined action will build a positive habit but it is important to bear in mind that most habits, whether good or bad ones, have in fact been developed over far longer periods and with no specific objective in mind. The second thing to understand is that habits are more than just routines, like turning up on time, but they are also physical and attitude based habits and we all have both good and bad habits in these areas.
Habits aren’t just routines, they are also physical and emotional and attitude based.
A routine based habit is usually something that we always do because we recognize (or have been taught) the importance of repeating doing it. The simple act of always making (or not) the bed in the morning is a routine habit. As is ironing your work clothes on the weekend cause you know you won’t have time to do so during the week. Usually routine habits provide certain structure for our lives, like keeping up our work appearance, ensuring we turn up on time or making sure we adhere to certain accepted hygiene standards. A physical habit is, as the name suggests, something connected to repeated actions that effect us physically. This could be maintaining good or bad posture whilst sat on your work chair or making sure to go for a walk after lunch cause you know it’s importance to digestion and health and indirectly mood and productivity.
Physical habits naturally contribute to our physical well being and indirectly to our mental health.
Attitude based habits are the ones that trigger our emotional reaction to situations and are closely linked to emotional triggers but also encompass the influence of our values (and principles). For example the compassion (or not) that one feels towards colleague’s work struggles and complaints is shaped by an attitude habit. Likewise when things go wrong, whether by instinct we feel responsible or point the figure at others, is an attitude habit. Inside out mindset for example is a success attitude habit. Viewing the 3 types of habits separately helps one to identify better what good or bad habits might be causing a certain situation. For example a disorganized or scruffy staff member probably is struggling more with routine habits whilst a staff member prone to conflict more likely is struggling with attitude habits. Likewise if you find your positivity levels dropping when busy, it may be that you have given up on the physical habits that were helping to keep up your mental energy levels.
The consequence of habits, whether routine, attitude or physical, can be grouped into 4 types. The positive type is the instigating habit, the type that pushes us to do things that benefit us mentally, physically or emotionally. Instigating habits are measured actions that we understand why they benefit us, they are not things which we do just because we have always done them that way. We are conscious about the benefit they are giving us and we are repeating them for this reason. Closely linked and often difficult to separate from instigating habits, is regimented ones. Regimented habits are ones that we have established we always do but the difference to instigating is that we do them regardless of whether they are benefiting us in concrete situations. For example, suit wearing bosses who have failed to adapt to the benefits of smart-casual modern offices, could be said to be maintaining this routine habit, regardless of whether it were giving them benefit as a leader, as there is proof that in many work scenarios suit wearing increases the sense of distance between bosses and staff. Likewise bosses who are time-obsessed and believe turning up late is by definition always a mark of a bad employee, may have passed by the motivational benefits staff working on flexi-time can give. Also they may be missing the point that often the most creative staff are bad with time. The staff member may be weak in time-management but excellent with ideas so dismissing them as a “bad employee” would be short sighted in many work scenarios.
Regimented habits are different to instigating habits because you always do them regardless of whether they are actually benefiting you.
The point being with both these regimented habits is not that habit of time keeping or of maintaining a smart appearance don’t matter or give benefit, it is just that if they are “regimented”, the person does not know how to turn it on or off, dependent on the situation. This means the habit in itself could be both a good and bad depending on the scenario. For example for a receptionist or sales person who attends the public and attends the phone, turning up on time and appearance are likely to be very important habits to maintain but for someone who works in R&D where the need to be innovative and free thinking is more important, it could be argued that being enforced to maintain these repetitive habits could be hindering the creative energy they most need to bring out. Avoiding habits are naturally nearly always negative because they end up in us avoiding doing the things we need to do, i.e. giving in to the feeling i can’t be bothered naturally stops us being careful how we phrase our wording in a tricky situation and often is the reason people give up doing exercise. Unconscious habits are things we do without realizing, i.e. biting our nails. Usually they are more negative them positive cause we do not have control over them.
Avoiding and unconscious habits are usually negative.
A good way to understand the work purpose of habits is to group the purpose of a habit into categories. I like to use the following categories for grouping: 1. responsibility, 2.organization, 3.independent work (autonomy), 4.collaboration, 5.initiative, and 6.self-regulation. However behind one set of habits is usually parts of multiple sub habits. For example the “habit” of always arriving on time to work is first triggered by a responsibility habit of believing this is important in your work but it is then achieved by organizing yourself to arrive 5 minutes early and is kept up by you self regulating yourself to remember both why you need to do it and how you achieve doing it.
Every worker of course has both good and bad habits, which is why it helps to use the above categorization to try to narrow down more what set of habits is causing the bad outcomes. For example a person who is frequently in conflict situations needs to work on their habits of collaboration and you as a manager will best support them when you focus on boasting their habits in this area. In your feedback sessions with the staff member you should encourage them to put them-self in other’s shoes and to find a channel for communicating their concerns before situations become explosive. Likewise a staff member who is struggling with initiative, will need coached to focus on building up lateral thinking and taking responsibility for coming up with solutions. Neither scenario will give quick results but when you narrow down habit areas to work on, you make it easier to provide the reasons why effort is needed in those areas (the why factor) but also more importantly give a manageable set of habits to work on.
Aligning our habits to our goals makes us more productive and identifying only a few areas to work on (over working on all) makes progress seem achievable.
When one thinks of work habits, they tend frequently to think of the habit as a stand alone action to repeat rather than identifying with the underlining purpose of that habit. Understanding why a habit is important to your work objectives helps provide the mental discipline to keep up the habit and perhaps even more importantly allows us to use lateral thinking and apply the habit to an alternative context or scenario. When one knows the good habits they must have for their position one can understand the difference between instigating and regimented habits and identify a manageable amount of habits to work on i.e. developing just instigating habits connected to the responsibilities you have. Developing your staff’s good work habits and helping them lose their bad ones is not only essential to productivity but it is also a great way of getting your team to respect and follow your leadership as it motivational to people to improve their habits. So from now on push yourself and your staff to identify and aim for success habits as by doing so you and your team will achieve more and be more motivated. As a minimum I recommend that staff should have three habits they strive to work on and establish positively each month.
Developing habits is motivational and a key factor behind success.