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Fix Bad Habits Without Fanfare

Test new approaches and weigh the results

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

All of us bring bad habits to the job, even CEOs. But what separates top execs from also-rans is their ability to root out destructive habits and replace them with better ones.

The danger comes when you grow to accept sloppy or limiting behaviors. Complacency sinks in, and you adopt an old-dog-can’t-learn-new-tricks attitude.

If you really want to boost your productivity, then commit to repairing what’s broken. Here’s how:

Act now. To borrow a Tom Peters phrase, adopt “a bias for action” when trying to improve how you work. Don’t spend weeks plotting how you’ll change—just do it. If you think about it too much, you risk immobilizing yourself.

For example, a manager wanted to break the habit of always getting the “little things” out of the way before addressing the “big things.” Why? The lower-priority items consistently took more time than she expected, leaving the No. 1 task still untouched. Solution: She tackled the top priority head-on, despite the fact it was more tempting to clear away all the minor matters first.

Keep the faith. Trust yourself to overcome bad habits. Don’t undermine your success by blowing the “struggle” out of proportion.

“For a few years, I insisted on printing a hard copy of every incoming e-mail,” a marketing rep tells us. “I realized that was silly, but I fell into doing it that way and it became a comforting ritual.”

But her manager, who could see how much time she was wasting, helped her put matters in perspective. “He clipped an article that mentioned how the number of evening newspapers dwindled from 1,450 to 816 between 1950 and 1997 because of TV,” she says. “I figured, if millions of people can change such a basic habit such as how they get their daily news, I can change too.”

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