#1 Routine, Not Willpower, is the Key to a Successful Workday
It was as if the first few times a rat explored the maze, its brain had to work at full power to make sense of all the new information. But after a few days of running the same route, the rat didn’t need to scratch the walls or smell the air anymore, and so the brain activity associated with scratching and smelling ceased. It didn’t need to choose which direction to turn, and so decision-making centers of the brain went quiet. All it had to do was recall the quickest path to the chocolate. Within a week, even the brain structures related to memory had quieted. The rat had internalized how to sprint through the maze to such a degree that it hardly needed to think at all. The key to a successful workday is to replace manual effort with habits and routines. Habits allow us to process more work without using extra energy that drains us by mid-afternoon. The attitude of hard work is great, but hard work has a downside because it depletes our energy levels when focused on low-value activities. We can’t produce quality work. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
In his book, Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains how to channel habits into powerful assets to improve our lives.
How can we use these lessons to improve our workday?
The key to a productive workday is to substitute much of our “conscious” hard work into subconscious or automated habits that are less taxing on our energy systems.
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
What type of work should become an automatic routine? Any repetitive and predictable activity. Emails. Office organization. Regular reports. Mundane transactions. Anything that has low variability is a good candidate for a habit.
What should not become habit? Any task that has high unpredictability or complexity. Because of the inherent variation in these tasks, automation will often lead to incomplete action and the wrong outcome. For example, hiring is a complex process that takes significant deliberate thought. It should not be automatic given the consequences of a bad hire and the variation of prospective employees.
Conserving mental effort is tricky, because if our brains power down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important, such as a predator hiding in the bushes or a speeding car as we pull onto the street. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
As mentioned above, we can’t power down our brains in high impact situations. It’s up to us to separate our day into routine habits and deliberate action, and not mix the two.
#2 Take a Step Back Before Judging Other’s Behavior
How do you react when a colleague makes a mistake that seems indefensible? Do you assume the person is just plain stupid? Do you assume they don’t care? Do you blame their work ethic or attention to detail?
Executives determined that, in some ways, they had been thinking about willpower all wrong. Employees with willpower lapses, it turned out, had no difficulty doing their jobs most of the time. On the average day, a willpower-challenged worker was no different from anyone else. But sometimes, particularly when faced with unexpected stresses or uncertainties, those employees would snap and their self-control would evaporate. A customer might begin yelling, for instance, and a normally calm employee would lose her composure. An impatient crowd might overwhelm a barista, and suddenly he was on the edge of tears. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
There is constant tension between the effects of our environment and our ability to influence and control those effects. When we see other’s behavior, we often attribute 100% of that behavior to the person and completely neglect the role of environment. Seldom do we let the person off the hook and blame the environment. It *seems* to make intuitive sense that we are in 100% in control of our actions. Numerous studies have rebuked that belief, but it still persists in managerial behavior.
When we make a mistake, we are likely to blame outside factors instead of looking inward at ourselves. And when something goes right, we often take all the credit and assume the environment had nothing to do with it. We accept all praise and deflect all blame. It’s hard to overcome.
But when dealing with colleagues, hold your initial impression since you likely underestimate the power of the situation.
#3 Use a Crisis to Shake Things Up
After Barack Obama’s election, Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
You may not agree with his politics, but he had a powerful point.
All those leaders seized the possibilities created by a crisis. During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
Although a crisis is not a pleasant thing, many organizations waste the opportunity to improve their habits by learning from the crisis. The initial reaction is often hysteria and an ultra-short-term focus on the immediacy of the crisis, rather than improving long-term behavior.
Employees often follow the cues of their leaders. If leaders can’t separate the crisis from the learning, why should they expect employees to do the same? It takes a certain stoic mindset to compartmentalize the urgent crisis from the long-term lessons.
One a crisis has occurred, it’s a sunk cost and no amount of ruminating and stressing will undue the past. The best we can do is learn to modify our routines to ensure the same crisis doesn’t happen again.
#4 Corporate and Employee Behavior is Shaped by Social Convention
Your behavior mimics those around you.
Have you considered your behavior is significantly influenced by those around you? Do you believe you are 100% in control of your actions and habits?
…firms are guided by long-held organizational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousands of employees’ independent decisions. And these habits have more profound impacts than anyone previously understood. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
It’s likely you have less control than you think. Unless you deliberately engage and understand your habits, you are bound to repeat the same patterns and actions. Your day to day activities are a consequence of the cues and expectations of those around you.
Many behaviors are not a result of deliberate thought but rather an evolving collection of haphazard and unexamined beliefs.
For example, companies often want employees to engage in deep thinking on breakthrough or revolutionary projects. However, they also expect constant and immediate email responses. Studies have shown that by interrupting deliberate effort, it takes 20-40 minutes to re-engage in deep learning.
While the company is hoping for one thing (deep thinking) they are getting something else (distracted workers handicapped by email). The actions of the company must match the words spoken by management. When there is conflict, the actions always win.
If you want to change behavior, don’t expect more information to alter deep-seated organization behavior. It’s not an information problem. It’s a habit and expectations problem.
A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. Usually, only when all three parts of this process are fulfilled can a movement become self-propelling and reach a critical mass. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
Your focus should first start with company-wide behavior, then re-train organization behavior with systematic training, and finally reinforce with social proof.
A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. Usually, only when all three parts of this process are fulfilled can a movement become self-propelling and reach a critical mass. There are other recipes for successful social change and hundreds of details that differ between eras and struggles. -The Power of Habit, Duhigg
#1 Routine, not willpower, is the key to a successful workday – Quit trying to force your way through bad habits. Re-train and eliminate them instead.
#2 Take a step back before judging other’s behavior – Before rushing to judgment, step back and reflect on situational factors that have shaped people’s behavior.
#3 Use a crisis to shake things up – Rise above the day-to-day challenges of a crisis and learn to modify behaviors instead of ruminating on past mistakes.
#4 Corporate and employee behavior is shaped by social convention – Employee behavior is often shaped by social factors, not rules and logic. If you want to change behavior, alter social expectations.