Leadership Coach Katie C. Kelley had tips for rebooting your work habits in 2012.
January is a wonderful time to practice new habits and let go of ineffective routines, particularly at your place of work. But just like dieting, changing your ineffective work habits can often prove to be just as challenging. The research shows that we are most prone to distraction when we are either stressed out or bored. And in this social media era, there are endless sources competing for our attention.
1) Clarify Your Vision
If you don’t know where you are headed, how do you know where you should be spending your time? If answering this question is too audacious, which it can be for a lot of folks, ask yourself what you would like to accomplish say over the next six months or year. Even just being conscious of the direction you want to head is better than not giving forethought to it at all. If you are not controlling your own destiny, somebody else will. Get clear on this before you do anything else.
2) Plot Your Growth Plan
Write out a narrative, a timeline, a spreadsheet or even create artwork, whatever medium comes easiest for you—but some sort of a plan that outlines how you are going to evolve from what you are doing today to your long term vision. “A dream without a plan is merely a wish” as the saying goes, so be sure you begin to collect information that you need to make informed choices about how, for example you are going to shift into a totally different industry, or understand what is entailed for you to start your own business or what skills you will need to develop so that you can get promoted by year’s end.
3) Evaluate Your Work Habits
Once you know where you are headed and the general route that you need to take to get there, the next step is to make sure your daily practices are in alignment with your goals. The only way that you can uncover what’s really hanging you up or wasting your time, is to track it. Just like any diet, I suggest keeping a daily log of how you are spending your work day. For example, every 15 minutes, write in a journal what you just spent your time doing (whether it’s a phone call (record who it was with), research, jumping around the web, writing, figuring how out how you are going to get to the gym, make dinner and get the kids from here to there or perhaps nothing at all-- you need to understand where you are spending your time. After you have spent a week tracking your activity at work, create a simple chart where you can tally how much time you are spending in various categories such as scheduling, project/client management, research, emails, calls or perhaps you want to categorize based on your clients or the area of your business that you are working on like marketing, or business development or sales.
4) Integrate Your Growth Plan into Your 2012 Regimen
Once you have a clearer sense of where you are spending your time, I encourage you to experiment with designing your work week based on when you are most effective and what area of your business is the most critical/needs your best attention. This exercise leads most people to the practice of spending the first thirty minutes of their day on what is the most lucrative (meaning what has the most valuable return on investment for them in their particular role) for them. For example, rather than arriving at your desk in the morning and simply responding to the emails that are sitting in your inbox, don’t even turn on your computer and spend some time thinking strategically about what could have the greatest impact in your work today and focus on getting that done before anything else. Once you have prioritized all of the tasks that you spend your day doing, try to sketch out a general schedule for how you are going to structure your week that integrates your growth plan and priorities alongside your current responsibilities.
5) Reward Productivity Progress
The Heath Brothers wrote a book called “Switch” about why it is so challenging to actually change our habits. In this book they share how psychologists have uncovered that our brain competes with two systems when we are attempting to switch up our routine. First is the rational system which directs the logical decision making side of your brain and second is the emotional system that provides intrinsic rewards for behavior. The key to really integrating new and more productive habits into your schedule is to make sure that you counteract this phenomenon that the Heath brothers share by rewarding yourself when you successfully practice your new habits. Even though you know that your new habits and practices are now better directed at you achieving your goals, you are going to have to over-ride your brain’s old habit of rewarding your old, possibly ineffective habits early on. For example, if you have uncovered that you are wasting a great deal of time monitoring your email or social media sites throughout the day and have determined that it would be more effective to simply check in and respond twice a day, then treat yourself to a massage, a round of golf or a new piece of clothing if you can stick to your new habit for a couple of weeks.