Friday, 27 January 2012

Eat and Sleep Routines

“You wouldn’t forget to eat or sleep, would you?”  I can still remember the piercing gaze staring at me across the table.  “So why did you forget to write your monthly report?”  The message was crystal clear, if not completely logical. 

My boss was telling me in no uncertain terms to make my monthly report as habitual as eating and sleeping; if I wanted to carry on working for her, of course.
It’s a lesson I have never forgotten, even though it was many years ago.  When something is as habitual as eating and sleeping, it doesn’t get forgotten.  Ever.  I know other people who also treat their monthly reports with the same reverence; they don’t forget either.  You don’t need to add it to your “to do” list, you don’t need to worry about it, you just do it.  As easily as you eat and sleep. 

The difficulty, of course, is that some pretty powerful mechanisms were designed into us to make sure we don’t forget to eat or sleep.  The same cannot be said of monthly reports. 

But if you can make something into an “eat and sleep” routine you have found a pretty powerful way of increasing your effectiveness. 

Benjamin Franklin recognised the benefits of cultivating positive habits.  He called them his 13 virtues and he spent many years of his life trying to live by them.  He wrote about them in his autobiography and it is an early glimpse we have of how difficult it is to change behaviour. 

There is a lot of guff out there on the magical World Wide Web about how it takes 30 days to form a habit.  I can muster quite a lot of evidence to say this is codswallop.  It takes much longer, particularly if the habits are difficult.  So we need reminders and rewards.  We need persistence and perseverance.  And we need to keep our new habit visible, so we don’t forget what we are trying to do.  Even after many months or years, we still have to be vigilant in not letting it slip.  Benjamin Franklin used a little paper notebook for most of his life to try to make his 13 virtues as natural as eating or sleeping. 

If all this sounds like a lot of effort, I’m afraid it is.  But the payoff is enormous.  Good exercise habits are not easy to cultivate, but they keep us out of hospital; as do good eating habits.  Good working habits are every bit as difficult, but lead to a more productive and effective career.  It may take more effort, but the rewards are there for the taking. 

So what sorts of habits improve effectiveness?  Strangely, the monthly report is one of them, or at least it has the same effect.  Reviewing and evaluating our work on a regular basis leads to better decision making.  It’s not rocket science, but also not easy to do.  It is, however, very effective.  As is good planning; equally difficult to do on a regular basis, but invaluable if you want to be effective and successful.

My old boss is now a millionaire several times over and looks younger now than when I was working for her.  So her advice is perhaps worth listening to. She also had the uncanny knack of putting the fear of God into the people who worked for her, but that’s a completely different story …

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