Like most, I went into 2020 with some intentions for improvement. Rather than bust into the new year with lofty goals and renewed energy to meet them (only to find myself back to my 2019 ways by February), I decided to approach this year a little differently. Ultimately, I want to be more intentional with spending my time in ways that align with my priorities, and to achieve this goal, I am starting with an examination of habits, and then spending 2020 breaking bad ones and forming good ones.
Why habits? According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40% of our behaviors on any given day. That means a lot of our time each day is spent in behaviors we aren’t even thinking about, not leaving much room for “intentional” time. Sure, you actively choose what show you watch on TV, that might not be a habit, but do you maybe unconsciously sit down on the couch right after putting the kids to bed? And then an hour later you think to yourself “What the heck, I planned to do a 30-minute workout and then vacuum the first floor!” (Just me?)
As I examine my habits, I’ve decided to follow two guidelines that seem to permeate the literature on habit formation.
When trying to form a new habit, map out the chain of behaviors related to the new habit. Then identify and plan to remove points of friction, those small and large obstacles that might impede your progress or prevent you from even starting.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, advises that you design a two-minute habit, ideally a small entry point in the direction that will bring you closer to your goal.
I’ll give you a personal example of how I’m using these keys right now. I want to exercise more regularly (says everyone). I’ve joined and failed at more 30-day challenges than I care to admit; now I’m using these keys to change my approach.
We have a Peloton bike, so that’s what I use for my exercise. Step 1: Identify points of friction. The bike is in my office connected to my bedroom, so how much friction could there be? What I realized when I mapped out my chain of behaviors is that the ideal time for me to exercise is right after my kids go to bed. But when I am coming out of my son’s room, the act of changing from regular clothes to workout clothes seems so onerous to me (friction!) that I don’t do it and therefore I don’t work out. So, for Step 2: Start Small, my two-minute habit is changing into my workout clothes as soon as I get home, which means that when I emerge from his bedroom after my 5-minute cat nap, I hop right on the bike, and do a 10-minute ride, which I will slowly lengthen.
Why might habit formation be relevant to your organization? According to Gallup’s report on how Millennials Want to Work and Live, millennials struggle with prioritizing their responsibilities at work. The same Gallup report indicated that engagement flourishes when millennials strongly agree that their managers help them establish priorities. So learning how to prioritize and manage our own time, and teach others how to do it, should be a top priority. But it is not enough to have intentions of better time management; we have to first understand the 40% of our behaviors that were once a deliberate choice, but then we stopped thinking about and continued doing– we have to first understand our habits.