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The power of bad habits (and 4 ways to break ‘em)

Mike Trigg

March 23, 2017

In his New York Times bestseller, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg demonstrated how good habits powered the success of business leaders and Olympic champions. It’s the result of the habit loop — a powerful psychological pattern that drives behavior.

The habit loop consists of a cue, which triggers an automatic behavior; the routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward that tells our brain to continue with this behavior. But this pattern can also lead to bad habits, like continually responding to the ping of a new email because it provides the feeling of achievement.

This kind of reactive habit isn’t efficient for creative work, which demands a more proactive and focused approach. Yet every day millions of professionals around the world engage in the same repeated bad habits, including unnecessary meetings, overwhelming inboxes and ineffective collaboration.

Fortunately, once you’re aware of the habit loop, it’s easy to change unproductive patterns. Here are some practical tips on how to break four common bad habits.

1. Think outside the inbox

In a recent survey, 66% of respondents said that their creative projects are managed primarily within email, despite 70% admitting that email is an ineffective tool for managing projects of this kind.

Try taking certain types of communication out of email. For example, you could use a dedicated collaboration tool for providing feedback and approvals on creative projects. This will also help solve some of the other inefficiencies around email such as constant distractions, dealing with unwieldy attachments and worrying about version control.

2. Learn to say no

It’s usually easier to say yes to new task requests even if you’re overloaded with other work. After all, you want to help your team or impress your boss with your commitment.

But saying yes to everything makes it harder to focus on your most important tasks and you’ll quickly become a bottleneck to progress. Be honest about what you can take on, delegate more tasks and examine your workflow. Could you simplify how feedback and approvals are provided so you’ll have more opportunities to say yes?

3. Be militant about meetings

According to a Harvard Business Review report, 67% of meetings are considered unproductive by executives while another study found that meetings cost companies $37 billion in lost productivity.

Cut unnecessary meetings out of your day by having more one-on-one conversations. Encourage an asynchronous approach to collaboration by using software that allows for creative work to be reviewed without needing to get your team together at the same time.

Discover more alternative to meetings

4. Document your project plans

When you hire external partners for projects, you expect them to provide a detailed plan from the outset. Yet, many internal projects lack such rigorous documentation.

Sure, great teams can rely on their mutual trust and closeness to get things done successfully, but laying out your strategy and tactics is still useful for visibility and accountability. A centralized system of record for all the files, conversations and approvals around your project is an essential part of documenting your process effectively.

In the conclusion of the Power of Habits, Duhigg writes that “once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them.”

Which bad habits have you noticed in your workplace? Share your stories and any tools or tips you’ve used to change them in the comments below.

An amended version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.

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