Steven Covey started it all with his seminal book, “7 Habits of Effective People.” His work has spawned hundreds of blog posts – a quick search turns up the “21 Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” and the “7 Habits of Effective Managers,” even the “10 Habits of Happy Mothers.”
All of this exploration of habits and success, habits and effectiveness, habits and happiness led me to ask myself: “Self, I ask, what are your habits? Are they effective? Do they lead to my own success and happiness?” “Hmmm,” I answer, “Not sure.” It did start me thinking about my own life and work habits – what do I do on a daily basis that could be categorized ad habit? Do these work for me? Are my own habits a help or a hindrance? A quick analysis of the things I do habitually could help me to understand which work for me and which I might want to train myself out of. So this morning I sat and made a list (habit #4, below!):
- Wake up early and get to work. Although I often awake without it, my alarm goes off at 530am on weekdays and I am typically at the computer answering emails (and drinking coffee) between 545 and 6. It takes me anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes to answer the important ones, trash the spammy ones, and read/sort the others to deal with later in the day. I check in on overnight customer service tickets to see if there are any issues that need to be dealt with right away, and also check on any tests we might be running or surveys we might have sent out recently or things of that sort.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. I know enough about myself to know that I am most efficient in the morning, but also know that my mind is not fully awake for an hour or two after I get up. If I take care of the simple tasks (like answering emails) and leave the more complex ones for later in the morning I am at my most effective.
- Read newspapers and online sources. Once the emails have been answered, and I have reassured myself that the site didn’t crash overnight, I sit with my (second) cup of coffee and read the paper, as well as several online blogs and other news/information sources. I typically start at the front page and work my way through to business, technology, op-ed, and politics (sometimes sports, especially if the NBA is in season!)
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. Information is critical to me as a business owner/manager. From news sources I learn about events that may effect the markets, about businesses that interest me or may have some strategic importance to mine, and absorb ideas and trends that can inform decisions I make every day. Keeping a finger on the pulse of the world makes me a better manager.
- Analyze yesterday’s business data. One of the first things I do when I get to the office is to take a deeper dive into the BI data that I receive overnight. I am looking closely at sales figures, traffic, site registrations, and user activity for the prior 24 hours. I typically spend 30-60 minutes with spreadsheets, taking time to compare the day with prior periods and determining any patterns or trends that may impact decision-making.
Is this an “effective” habit? UNCERTAIN. While it is important for managers to have an intimate relationship with daily business numbers and data, I could probably limit the time I spend on this every day and do it weekly without compromising strategy or decision making.
- Make lists. Most days I open my moleskin and start my work by writing a list of the 6 or 7 things I hope to accomplish before bed that night. This can include people I need to call, websites I need to visit, notes to share with department managers or the bookkeeper, emails I need to write, etc. Not everything I need to do makes the daily list, and there are many days when I don’t get through the entire thing, but the list helps me in two important ways – first it is a constant reminder, in my face, of what I need to get done; second it serves as a daily journal, allowing me to look back to remind myself of the exact date I had a phone call with so-and-so, or requested such-and-such from one of my colleagues.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. Listing provides me with structure and helps me to remember and keep track of important tasks and events. By creating short lists, I prompt myself to finish work on time and allows me to compartmentalize tasks so that one doesn’t intrude on the others.
- Return emails promptly. In the course of a given day, I probably check my email 20-30 times. I tend to deal with them in real time and answer most of them promptly. Sometimes an email check-in will take 2-3 minutes, sometimes as much as 15 or 20.
Is this an “effective” habit? PROBABLY NO. But a hard habit to break, nonetheless. Everything I have read suggest that the best way to deal with emails (and the way to limit their obtrusiveness) is to check email several times a day, on a pre-determined schedule. Managed in the way I typically handle it, email can be a distraction, and can limit productivity by breaking concentration, splitting focus, and forcing re-prioritization. Must. Stop. Checking. Email.
- Take an afternoon coffee break. I know myself well enough to predict that between 230 and 3 I start to flag. By flag, I mean yawn. By yawn, I men nod out in front of my computer. I have not decided if this is simply because by 3 in the afternoon, I have already been at work for 9 hours or if this is due to my natural body rhythms, but the point of it is that I need a break. Sometimes I go for a short walk and other times I open the paper and read a bit or watch a video online. 15 minutes is what it usually takes before I can get back to matters at hand.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. By mid-afternoon, my energy has been drained and coffee is what brings me back. Not just the caffeine, mind you. The break itself helps me to recharge batteries, refresh energy, and re-set my mind and body for the remainder of the day.
- Go home for dinner. The work-life split/dilemma is something that business owners and managers struggle with every day. How to focus on the important things in life while effectively managing a business is a challenge for all of us. One of my answers to this is to structure my day in a way that allows me to spend time with the people I love most in the world, while keeping an eye on the store. In the old days a grocer may have lived upstairs from his store; my version of this is to live within short walking distance of my office and to head home in the late afternoon to finish my day working there. This allows me to sign off for a couple hours to help make dinner and to hang out with my wife at the end of the workday. Even though I normally check back in at work after dinner and finish up any tasks that need to get done, at least I am at home and paying attention to that part of my life.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. This is something I enthusiastically recommend to all managers and entrepreneurs. Keeping life in balance requires a commitment to both work and home, and being home at the important moments of the day is a large part of that.
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