Tara Hall

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Apr 20, 2016

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Creating better business habits

This week, I finished reading Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, a book about how to form good habits and how to change bad habits. The book begins with chapters about understanding your tendencies (she outlines four of them), which influence how we create habits, but the majority of the book examines strategies to make or break habits.

After reading it, I wanted to know how to apply the lessons to my business to create better business habits.

Why habits are important

More than once, the book makes the following statement, which really struck me:

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.

If this statement is true for our personal lives, then developing good business habits would likely change our work lives as well.

Business goals and habits

One way to look at it is to associate our habits with our goals. To reach a goal, we often need to develop habits to get us there. As Rubin notes in her book and on her blog:

What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.

I think you could substitute “every day” with regularly and consistently because that’s what both habits and goals rely upon.

If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, then eating health once in a while won’t get you to your goal as quickly—or at all—as eating healthy every day.

Similarly, if you have a business goal to acquire six new clients by year’s end, then it won’t happen as quickly—or at all—if you market your business once in while rather than consistently.

Marketing in particular relies on consistency. To see progress, you have to be consistent with your efforts whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly.

You can use your goal to determine how effective your habits are. What’s important is that you don’t stop the habit once you achieve the goal.

Have you ever known someone who lost 10, 20, or more pounds, and after reaching their goal weight, reverted to the eating and lifestyle habits that caused the weight gain in the first place?

If so, then you’ve seen first hand commitment to a goal, but not to a habit. Sustained success in requires that we commit to our habits.

Monitoring business habits

Monitoring is one of four pillars of good habits that Rubin discusses in her book. As you probably guessed, monitoring is simply a way in which to measure your habit or to track progress. If you’re a runner, for instance, you might measure the number of miles run each day.

In business, monitoring or metrics are important, especially knowing which key performance indicators (KPIs) to pay attention to. But the KPIs that you use to measure your goals and to measure your habits may differ.

For example, to measure your email marketing success, you want to monitor your open rates and click-thru rates. But those KPIs don’t tell you much, if anything, about your email marketing habit.

If you want to measure your email marketing habit, then you might look at the number of emails that you send and when. Did you send your newsletter out each week or each month and on the same day of the week or month?

Those data points are better indicators of whether or not you’re keeping up that habit. Looking at the content of your newsletter to see if you’re consistent may be another indicator of how well you’re keeping up your habit.

For me, I have nearly no social media goals in part because it’s not a marketing channel that I use often. However, I’d like to become more active on Instagram by starting a new habit.

I started an Instagram account last year, but I posted to it only sporadically. I haven’t posted in months, and not once this year that I can remember.

Applying what I learned from Better than Before, I could form a business habit by posting one new photo to Instagram each day. Then I could monitor the number of posts each month through the end of the year.

In this case, the emphasis would be on my output, which would tell me whether or not I’m sticking to my habit, rather than the number of followers I gain, which may be a measure of goal success.

Scheduling to develop good habits

Do you schedule your work tasks? While I usually tackle 3 tasks a day, I don’t generally schedule those tasks—meetings, appointments, and sometimes deadlines being the only exception.

In Better than Before, scheduling is another of the four pillars of habits. The other two pillars are foundation and accountability, which you can learn more about from either Rubin’s book or from her blog. (I’ve found that much of the content of her books comes from her blog.)

Scheduling, as you can guess, is setting aside a specific time for a regular activity. For instance, you might schedule one hour of exercise at 8AM each day.

If a common excuse for not completing an activity or task is that you’re just too busy, then scheduling is a strategy that may work for you.

I know that when I add something to my schedule or even put it in writing, it becomes something important. Put something on the schedule often enough, and it becomes a habit.

Although I don’t schedule it, I try to keep a regular writing habit each week. I write and edit on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. I publish on Wednesdays, and then the rest of the week, I may research new topics to cover in the following weeks.

Scheduling also has the added benefit of limiting the time spent on a task. If the habit that you are trying to create is one that you know is good for you, but that you don’t always enjoy, then scheduling a time for the task to be done tells you how long to spend on the task.

As in the exercise example, if you’re someone who can’t find the motivation to exercise, then maybe knowing that you only have to exercise for an hour provides a little motivation. You don’t have to exercise all day or even half a day after all.

Read the book or the blog

If developing good habits for your personal or work life is important to you, then check out Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before or her blog, where she regularly writes and podcasts about habits and happiness.

I found Better than Before thorough and eye-opening with too much information for me to do justice summarizing in one blog post, so I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.