You Can’t Beat Habit

I am a complex and ever-changing creature of habit. I wake up every work-day morning at 530am, am at the computer drinking my morning coffee and answering emails before 6,  starting to think seriously about lunch (and aware of gnawing stomach) at 1130, yawning for afternoon coffee at 3pm, and heading home for dinner and after-dinner work around 530. At 10pm I am watching Jon Stewart, at 1040 brushing teeth, and am in bed lights out by 11. I did stop taking the train this year, but only because I moved within walking distance of the office. I mss that, for sure but am working on replacing the regularity of the commute with a daily morning workout at home. (So far a little spotty, but starting to gel.)

There is comfort for me in this daily routine, but there is something more. Predictability. And it is precisely that predictability that helps me to maintain productivity, think clearly, generate new ideas, and maintain a very busy schedule while not exhausting myself completely. It is also that predictability that allows my team to know where I am when, and what I am probably doing, where. In fact, I argue that having a regular schedule, driven by habit and developed for efficiency can be a great boon to entrepreneurs and startup founders. You see, by developing habits and sticking to schedules business owners and managers can better manage their time, can complete more tasks, and can achieve a level of productivity that would be undermined by seat-of-pants, ad hoc, and aimless work and life schedules.

I have observed that many people in life, and many workers professionally tend to make their way through their days with no specific plan of attack, and no real structure to how or what they will accomplish that day. I tend to be a list-maker (another habit developed over time) and it is these lists that organize my day, my week, even my month. In conjunction with a fairly detailed calendar, these lists act not just as reminders for the tasks I need to accomplish, but also as a time-organization tool and as a record of what I have done. If I ever need to remind myself about a meeting I had last October, or a restaurant where I met a colleague for lunch, a quick flip through my trusty moleskin will reveal those details.

Habit is also the enemy of distraction. Entrepreneurs are surrounded by people, bright lights, flickering screens, enticing web videos, funny chain emails, and noise, noise, noise. Creating strong work and life habits can help to filter out the noise and keep one focused on the task at hand, whether it is your weekly review of sales figures (every Monday morning), your afternoon coffee (3pm, remember?), or your full-team meeting (Thursdays at 11am). If you know that you have that standing meeting starting in 10 minutes and you ned to prepare for it, you are much less likely to get caught in the tar-pit that is The Onion online edition (best headline as I write this post? “Al-Qaeda Operative Can’t Believe How Expensive Super Bowl Tickets Are.”)

Habit helps to structure and define your day and, in turn, your day’s work. By creating manageable chunks of time during the day, you can accomplish more by better focusing on specific tasks, and by limiting the amount of time you devote to any one thing, you create a framework for the day and can actually accomplish much more over time than you might if you were flitting from one task to the next.

Habits can be good (washing your hands), bad (drinking too much), or clothes (think monks), but they can also be a valuable tool for the manager or business-owner when developed and used over time. What do you do habitually? How does it help you to be more productive? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below this post.

Painting: “Old Faithful” — by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902

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