Habits are notorious. When we have good habits we achieve things easily and enjoy our productivity. When we have bad habits we feel the impact of them. So what actually is a habit? They tend to be a repeated behaviour that has a strong unconscious element to it. This not having to think about it every time we do it is hugely beneficial because it frees up our working memory (where we process everything we do need to think about moment to moment).
Consider the person who sits down at their desk each morning and immediately starts surfing the internet for the latest news stories, just so that they are up to date. This takes around 20 minutes for them and then they get on with their (completely unrelated) work. This habit probably isn’t that helpful for their productivity. Once they have finished reading the news the effects of what they have read will continue to interrupt their thought patterns – so if this is a favoured past time then end of the day would be a better time for it.
What about the individual who has a habit of leaving their emails on all day, so as soon as an email comes through it becomes visually or audibly apparent? This person is going to repeatedly find their productivity etched away at by this habit. It takes time to be distracted and to then refocus. Consider alternatives, could emails be switched on every two hours and dealt with then? This means you are not unavailable for long periods, but are able to get chunks of work done too.
You may have heard ‘a habit takes 30 days to make’ which for a long time was the time frame considered about right. A recent study at UCL however showed that the average time to reach a limit of self-reported automaticity for performing an initially new behaviour was 66 days.
The study showed that certain things do and do not matter when working on establishing a new habit. Missing one opportunity to put the habit into practice did not seem to matter, being very inconsistent did. Your environment and the trigger cues are very important.
At Synaptic Potential the work we do with individuals often involves rewiring your neural pathways. Habits are what you regularly do, so their power to affect your results is huge. If you want different results then it is almost always worth looking at creating new habits. Studies also show that being accountable to someone else is very useful in forming habits.
Picking up on the environment component from the UCL study, this is something you want to examine with a detached independent eye. For example, if the person who always surfed the net for news first thing in the morning didn’t want to do that any more they may need to remove links to those sites from their browser. They may need to do something that signifies the start of the day in a way that replaces whatever feelings they got from the news reading. The person with all the emails may find it helpful to switch off their iphone from receiving emails while they are at work – choosing to check them only on their computer. This may actually result in more efficiency too!