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We all have habits; they build up over time and whether we like them or not form a large part of who we are and how we go about doing things. Before we leave the house, we check our pockets for the keys and wallet, and we know where the keys are because out of habit, we put them in the same place when we come in, the bowl by the phone or the hook at the door. Recently my wife asked why every time we have a cup of team or a coffee do I offer a biscuit, well, it's habit, growing up back in Scotland it was just what you did, if you didn't then the neighbours would certainly point out that you never got a biscuit at that house.
So how does this affect you at work? Do you have work habits? I'm going to suggest that you do and going to suggest a habit or a set of habits you could adopt to make your workplace massively more productive, interested? Great, grab a cuppa (and a biscuit) and let's chat.
So, lets kick off by agreeing what a habit actually is. Now there is a whole heap of research and articles written about habits and why you have them but basically it comes down to this, they are a set of automatic routines that your brain has created over time to trigger actions based on certain circumstances. You have a trigger that kicks off the habit, then essentially a subroutine or a macro (if you are an excel geek like me that will make more sense) that kicks in and says Ok for this trigger I do X, Y and Z. As a result of this routine there is a reward of some form at the end of it, if there wasn't a reward then the habit wouldn't stick as there would be nothing for the brain to latch on to and to release the endorphins that result in the satisfaction of please. So for example perhaps you are at the grocery store, you want down isle 5 which is where the chocolate bars are and you see them (trigger) your habit is grabbing your favourite bar without thinking and putting it in your basket (routine), the reward is enjoying that bar later on.
How much of your work habits are a result of reacting to constant firefighting, poor communications or the team not being on the same page? Again, have a brief scan through your week in your head? How many meetings do you have weekly that you have out of habit that are designed to get everyone eon the same page? Who do you habitually have to follow up with? You know if you don't have that 10am call with David on the 15th of the month then the month end finance results wont be available, if you don't give Dana a nudge about keeping other sin the loop on her movements and if she'll be in or out the office then no one will know where she is and things wont get done or signed off. If you check your email while still in bed you know you are probably going to rock up to the office slightly annoyed at something and absolutely need that coffee. None are helpful and none are productive.
Now I understand that everyone is different and there isn't such a thing as a magic wand, but I found that if I adopted these 3 work habits my working life (and home life) became almost instantly better. I have talked to clients about them and got them working with the routine and it seems to work for them as well so here there are my top 3 morning work habits.
The first habit to adopt (or break) is to never check your work emails before you step into work. Now I normally get the push back that people want to come prepared for work and I understand that, but being ready or prepared for work and reading a bunch of emails isn't necessary the same thing. It's also important to separate your personal life and worklife. By creating that separation, you tell your brain that you are in a different space and it can switch to a different more. You can concentrate on other things, your family, your friends, your dog, what ever it happens to be. This is about being present where you are and not putting yourself into work mode the second your eyes open. So why does this habit help? As I say it's about creating that separation, giving yourself the ability to genuinely have downtime from work. That in turn allows your brain some time for resting and processing subconsciously what has gone on. It means when you head to bed you are also more relaxed and get a better sleep. We all know better sleep equals more rested, more relaxed and more alert, more able to cope with stress and make better decisions. It takes a little time for the effects to kick in, but they will.
The 2nd habit to adopt is having a daily check in with your team. Have a 5 or 10-minute session with your key team every day to ensure you are all on the same page about what needs to happen over the next 24hrs, who is doing what, who will be out when and any big issues from the previous 24hrs that need attention. This isn't a session to fix anything it's a session to communicate and get everyone on the same page.
Why this helps: everyone is on the same page, no more follow-ups, no thinking Bob was going to do X and Betty was doing Y, you know and I bet after a very short period of time you also manage to cut out other meetings and backroom discussions.
A what walk? Gemba Walk, it's a term used in lean, it just means the place where the value is created, so your production floor or your wider office. The aim of the walk is for you and possibly those of your team that it would make sense to take go for a walk to see 1st hand what is going on. It gives you a chance to really understand what is happening, it lets you look for visual clues on the status of things. Are there piles of work in front of a particular machine you weren't expecting or does Debra have a mountain of paperwork on her desk that has been there for too long? You will start to notice things that are the same and what is different. You will see the visual metrics showing you what's happening and be able to talk to the individuals actually doing the work to ask them how things are going and what help they need. In essence, you have an instant pulse of the organisation.
If you think about them individually it may not add up too much but the thing about habits is that they have a multiplying effect. So, consider that you turn up to work more rested, better able to handle anything that comes at you. You have your daily stand up meeting and get to hear what everyone is doing and the issues. You get to hear the inflections in their voice and look on their face so your understanding is far higher, and you can ask questions in real time that everyone gets to hear the answer to, you are aligned. Then as you walk the gemba you get to see and understand more of what is really going on, not what a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet are trying to show or hide. Within the first 30 or 40 minutes of your workday you can know exactly what is happening and what needs to be done and make better decisions about them, sound appealing?
In the 2nd Part of this series we are going to give some hints on how to change and develop habits that stick, in the meantime however, have a think about what habits you have now and how you could adopt the 3 habits we have suggested, try them for a while and see how quickly things change, we'd love to hear how you do.
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