March 20, 2014

3 Ways to Harness the Power of Habit in the Workplace

It’s surprising how many routines we do every day. We brush our teeth, drive to work, make our morning cup of coffee, all without a second thought. Habits are simply patterned behaviors that we have established. Our brains create habits to save us from having to make decisions. Habits are powerful. We can harness them for good or bad. We can have a habit of jogging before work everyday or we can have a habit of eating a gallon of ice cream after a stressful day.

Either way, these are powerful patterns. Pulitzer prize winning author Charles Duhigg wrote The Power of Habit to explain how habits work, and how they can be changed. In his extensive research, he examines everything from our personal routines to the habits of businesses and organizations, to the power of habits in social movements. To understand how to change these patterns, we must first examine where they originate.

Duhigg proposes the “habit loop” to explain this concept. The habit loop consists of a cue, which triggers a routine, which results in a reward. To change our habits, we must identify what our cues are and the reward we seek. Keep the cues and the rewards the same, but change the routine, Duhigg explains – that’s the key to successful change.

This advice can be applied to almost anything personal, from eating to working out. But Duhigg takes this basic concept and scales it to organizational and societal behavior, examining how changes to habits can have powerful and lasting effects.

So what are 3 ways you can harness the power of habit in your workplace today?

1. Deactivate email notifications

When I first started identifying cues that interrupted my productivity, I immediately thought of the constant email notifications. I noticed that when a new email popped up, I would instantly check it, shift my focus, and wander off of the task I was working on. Not only was it tricky to recover that lost time, but I felt distracted the majority of my day. Deactivating notifications worked wonders on my productivity.

2. Block off time

We block off our days by habit – allotting time to shower, cook, commute, and watch TV. These things aren’t a struggle to find time for. Similarly, it’s possible to block off time for areas of our work life that we want to make a priority. For me, it is reading for professional growth. Since blocking off 30 minutes a day for reading, I’ve finished at least one book per month. I’ve gained new insights into business that have motivated and encouraged me in my professional journey. You can block off time for nearly anything you want to make a priority – outbound calls, networking, organizing your inbox, you name it – you can make it a habit.

3. Maximize the “5 Minutes Before”

Meeting in 5 minutes? That doesn’t mean you should shut off your brain and coast. Instead, use the 5 minute deadline to give yourself an added boost. Maybe it gives you the energy to crank out a couple more ideas, send a few emails, or connect with a team member. Using those 5 minutes for productivity, instead of turning off, can make a huge difference over the course of a day.

At TechnologyAdvice, we’re always finding new ways to increase our workflow, improve our lives, and grow professionally. If you want to join a team where we strive to make excellence a habit, check out our current career opportunities!

Also be sure to check out Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit for more examples and explanations about habit in personal life, organizations, and society. What are other ways you’ve changed your habits to become more efficient or productive? Tell us in the comments!

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