Bad Habits. We all have them: whether that is biting our nails, or optimistically thinking that any distance, no matter how far, will take only 10 minutes to traverse. Some habits we would love to break because they are obvious to us. But what about the habits and rhythms we have that we don’t know we are doing?

Recognise Your Bad Habits

In everything that we do, our brains do their best to learn the process well enough that it can become an automated reaction in order to conserve energy. It’s one of those things that you will recognise from learning to drive: in the beginning, you have to really think about each action that you take. After some practice, it becomes more “natural”.

The more often you practice something, such as being late, the more likely it is that it will become your default setting. This can be bad and potentially awful for office relationships – especially if your habit of being late impacts on meetings. You have to be respectful of your colleague’s time.

There are rhythms, which can be described as habits, in our average work day also. Checking emails, first thing, for example. Some habits are good, and some are not so good. For maximising productivity and upgrading your personal performance, it is important to become aware of the way in which you work in order to upgrade your processes.

Step 1: Learn to Watch Your Behaviour

Notice how you are doing things. Stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I do the same thing this time last week? Yesterday?
  • Why am I doing things this way?
  • Is there a better way to do this?

Try to catch yourself in the act. Become aware of what you are doing, and the patterns behind them. Consider if this is something that could be upgraded, that there may be a better way to go about the task.

Observing yourself can lead to some startling realisations.

For example: at my last job, I found that I tended to do things on particular days. It was fascinating, and continued regardless of whether I was aware of it or not. Mondays would be highly productive. Tuesdays were the worst: I would be a bit more experimental and curious to see how far I could push  with my work and things would “break”. I would spend Wednesday mornings correcting what I broke on Tuesdays, and have a more tentative experimental day on Thursdays. Fridays were for ironing out any Thursday issues, and would be otherwise productive. All would be set up for maximum productivity on Monday again.

But that wasn’t okay by me. While I was trying new things and working toward the completion of an interesting project, I was only having 3 really productive days with things not breaking. I wanted to have a more rounded, higher output and ultimately, more productive week.

Step 2: Find Better Alternative Patterns

Once you have spotted your patterns, and determined which ones you want to change, it’s time to discover an alternative way to do things. Unfortunately, there is often no blanket way for doing something well. Research around and experiment, find what is most comfortable for you and matches to your tasks and environment.

My plan for “Breakage Tuesdays” was to put more thinking into the processes and how they would pan out. It became easier to do this as I became more familiar with the software the team was using for the project. Wednesdays became more productive days as a result.

Step 3: Implement the New Patterns

Changing habits is always the hardest part. Committing to changing and constantly practicing the new process is the only way to make it stick. It can be jarring, akin to learning to write with your left/right hand when you can write perfectly well with the other.

With greater practice, the easier it becomes as your brain builds new neuropathways, letting it conserve energy while getting the job done and done better.

I was fascinated by my bizarre habits and told my colleagues about them. With some mild teasing, follow through on committing that every day would be conducive, I broke the Tuesday-break-day pattern.

What patterns will you be swapping out?

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