Posts Tagged ‘habits’

You will not finish reading this post.

Its in the statistics.

You will not make it to the end of this article without being distracted…

The true scarce resource of humanity: Attention

Nicolas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, says that it is extremely hard to manage attention.   We will get distracted before the 3 minutes that it will take to read this post.  This problem is growing as distractions multiply exponentially in our always-connected, web 2.0 world.

I look around me now as I travel on the underground train (the “tube”) through London today.  I see the person sitting across from me reading a newspaper, white ipod headphones in her ears and sms-ing on what looks like an Android touch screen phone.  She is receiving stimulus from the world, mainlining stimulus through all senses, maxing out on input.  I look up and around the carriage.  Everybody has a mobile out and sending and receiving electronic updates.  It is so very easy to pass through life in constant reaction to stimulus.

Distractions are Costly

“Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another – stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance – increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a true break, and then fully focus on the next activity.”  Tony Schwartz, Manage your energy, not your time – Harvard Business Review.

The evidence from psychology is clear.  Interruptions have a major detrimental effect on your productivity.  School does not have classes on focus, on cutting out the email, facebook, twitter, mobile phone calls and concentrating for extended periods on something driven by me, something that is not a reaction to a tweet or a status update or a call.  This is a skill that you need to decide to learn for yourself.

There are times for distractions

There are times when letting the distractions in can be fun and necessary.  Total focus is not a state that you will want to spend all of your time in.  Responding to email, being aware of the action around you, twitter, facebook are part of being connected to the world around you.  However, in order to move beyond a permanent zombified state of reaction to incoming stimuli, you must develop the ability to create windows of focus in your life, where you really dedicate your attention for a specific time to one important task.

The ability to focus is something that great leaders and those that make a positive, lasting difference in this world need.

How do I improve my ability to focus?

Here are 10 ways of improving your ability to focus:

  1. Decide it is important – nobody else can do it for you.  Begin with small steps, your ability to focus will grow with practice.
  2. Cut out Obvious Distractions – Close down email, browser; clear your desk; get a glass of water.  Jim Collins talks about creating non-stimulus time.  He does not allow any electronic device in the same room as him before midday.  Start small. Do just 10 minutes today removing sources of distraction and focussing on one important task.
  3. Write things downReflective writing gives 3 powerful benefits:
    • Mindfulness
    • Improves clear thinking and
    • Allows perspective
  4. Set a timer – use the Pomodoro technique.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and do not let yourself stop working on the one task until the timer finishes.  Attention fitness takes time to grow, do less than you think you are capable of and accept that your capacity to focus will grow with time. Meditating Buddhist monks take 30 years before they are able to calm the flow of noise in their head and reach total focus.  Don’t get frustrated early on.  It will take time to grow your capacity to focus.  Like self discipline, focus grows with use.  Train like athletes preparing for a marathon: add 10% per week.
  5. Divide Actionable from non-Actionable itemsScott Belsky of Behance says that an actionable task starts with an action verb: “call A”, “buy a gift for B”, “follow up contract with C”.
  6. Take proper breaks. When you finish with your focus time, get up from your work area and really take a break.  Stretch, take a short walk, go outside and be with nature.  Opening a browser window and reading news or email is not a real break.
  7. Anticipate your physical needs. Go to the bathroom before you start your focus time.  Get a drink of water and put it on the table.  Make sure your chair is comfortable.
  8. Use Music – Listening to music helps me focus and cut out other distractions.
  9. Reward yourself. Celebrate small successes.  Eat some chocolate when you finish an important task.  Have a coffee only when you finish another 10 minutes of total focus.
  10. Do what Nike says – “Just Do It”.  Don’t let your resistance win.  When I start writing, I will not stop until I have written 500 words.  If I have to, I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” until another idea comes to mind…  but I will not let myself stop.  Repeated practice has reduced the little voices in my head that say “why are you doing this?  Who is going to read this?  Who are you to be writing this stuff?”

You made it here?  3 minutes of attention?  That puts you in the small percentage of people who have found strategies to manage their attention in the overwhelming swarm of distractions that make up a typical life in the modern world.

The Origin of Leaders series

This series of posts has now looked at 6 of the powerful keys to unlocking leadership in your life and in the communities which matter to you:

In the next post I will start to look outside to how you affect those around you and scale and magnify the changes you wish to effect in the world

Habits play an important role in the origin of leaders. Successful leaders understand this.

How do we succeed in making changes in our lives?  How do we convert an event into a pattern—or ongoing habit–into our character or ongoing daily activities?

For example, when I first moved to Spain, I had only ever drunk one cup of coffee in my 29 years of life.  In my first month in Barcelona, I began to go to the coffee bar with my friends in the morning, as is the daily tradition here.  Over the course of the month I had a few coffees.  Some days yes, some days no.

The second month I started to enjoy this little habit and so probably had a coffee each morning. Over the next 8 years, however, I reached the point where I “need” 3 coffees during the 7am to 2pm period!  (I have probably drunk a swimming pool’s worth of coffee!)

What’s the point? I would never have drunk so much of coffee had it not been one of my daily habits. Drinking coffee is perhaps not an example of a positive, productive habit – but the story shows how habits enter a life.  I started writing seriously about 2 years ago.  I write 500 words a day.  Sometimes I write more, but my conscious daily habit is to ensure that I write 500 words each day.

We are what we habitually do

You are not a smoker if you smoke 1 cigarette.  You are not a smoker if you smoke 2 cigarettes.  You become a smoker at some point where it becomes a daily thing!

Likewise, you’re not a writer if you write today.  You are not a writer if you write a couple of times a year.  You only become a writer when it becomes a daily thing.

We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.  This is a widespread human challenge.  Most people, including myself, will set a list of to-dos for today that is impossible to achieve.  I overestimate what I can realistically get done today.  I underestimate the interruptions, the distractions and my ability to maintain focus on the tasks.  However, we underestimate our potential to create over the course of a year – if I do a little bit each day.  In my coffee example, if somebody showed me a big vat with all the coffee I drank last year and said – “can you drink all this?”  I would balk at the sheer volume.  However, done step by step, over many days, as a habit – enormous things are achievable.

What are habits?

Habits are actions you regularly do.  Smoking starts as an event, turns into a pattern, and becomes a habit.  Aristotle says “we are what we habitually do”.  Who I am and become is directly related to my daily habits!.

Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly.  As the routine is repeated more and more regularly it takes less and less effort or self-discipline to begin and complete the routine.  Some say that it takes 30 days of sustained routine for it to become habitual.  If you write for 10 minutes for the next 30 days before you begin your day’s work, it will be an effort and require discipline for the first few days, but if you have the strength to keep it up it will become almost automatic around the 30 day point.

Start the day slowly

Ken Blanchard starts each day the same way.  After waking, before getting up and meeting the day, and certainly before checking emails, he sits on the edge of his bed.  He places his hands with palms down on top of his thighs and he listens to the thoughts running through his mind, the ideas, the people, the doubts; he listens to his body, how it feels, where it hurts.  After 5 minutes or so when he feels he has heard what his mind has to say, he turns his hands over so the palms facing up.  He thinks “what do I want to be grateful for at the end of today?”.  He starts each day this way – he calls it “starting the day slowly”. This start means that he spends the day on what is important.

Habituating Learning

All senior executives of Goldman Sachs are on 2 teleconferences every day.  At 6am and at 6pm they all dial in and have short conversation.  The 6am call looks at what patterns are happening today and gets each leader reflecting on the day ahead.  The 6pm call answers one question “What did we learn today?”.  This routine ensures maximum learning every day through a habitual reflection on what worked and what didn’t work during the day.  How do you ensure that you learn from each day?  Do you pause to reflect on what worked and what did not?

Routine sets you free.

I had a coffee with Verne Harnish just before Christmas at IESE business school.  Verne is author of The Rockerfeller Habits and founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.  We talked about habits.  Verne says “routine sets you free”.  Deciding on what works and ensuring that it is a daily habit is something that makes the successful leaders stand out.  Michael Dell has a routine, regular habits, for reviewing his business performance.  Steve Jobs has a routine.  Bill Gates has a routine.  Warren Buffett has a routine.  Do you have a routine?  What differentiates the great work days in your life from the others?  How can you ensure that every day has the habits of the best days?

Verne coaches hundreds of businesses.  One important habit that he pushes in a big way is to ensure that all employees spend time in a daily huddle.  This daily huddle is used by hundreds of businesses.  It is a short 10-15 minute meeting where each person only says 2 things – what they are working on that day and (optionally) an obstacle that is in their way.  This 10-15 minute meeting allows a connection of the people within the company, and ensures that employees are proactive in planning their days.

Summary

We are creatures of habit.  We will repeat what we have done yesterday.  We are creatures of precedent. Share the habits you’re building into your life!

12/17/10 Update – Himanshu sent a CR workbook to BNA detailing the revised estimates for all CSOW items

A simple strategy for a good life

by Vijay Peduru on September 3, 2010

There have been lots of books written about changing behaviors like avoiding procrastination, having good relationships, eating less food but in almost all cases, these won’t work. These won’t work because the behaviors are like stems in a tree, if you cut down a stem, they will come back again after some time. Instead we have to attack the root. We humans behave differently and see the world differently by the stories we deeply believe in.  In other words, if you examine the story (root) and change it, the behaviors shifts effortlessly.

Here are a few examples

Parent-children Relationship Stories

If a parent believes the story “that kids cannot be trusted fully and will never listen to us”. Right from a young age, when the parent says something and the kids don’t listen, they shout and make sure the kids listen to them.  When the kids go to school, there will always be clashes. These clashes will continue through out the parent’s entire life till the parent moves on to the next world.

What if the parent looks at his story and says… Let me change it. Let me believe that “Kids can be trusted, if I am trustworthy to them”.  Now the scene shifts and s/he will always be open with them and s/he will make sure that the kids can trust him always with anything, now the whole 50-60 years of the parent’s life will be very rewarding.  I have personally seen examples of both kinds of parents and I am sure you have seen too. The only simple difference is both strongly believed in a story.

Entrepreneur Stories

Richard Branson and Warren buffett believed the story that “life and business should be fun” and so, they choose a profession which they loved. Steve Jobs deeply believes in Zen philosophy which shows up in all of apple’s products (simplicity).

Our life is completely governed by the stories we deeply believe. Most of the times we never know that these stories dictate our life i.e. they are hidden to us like a blind spot while driving.

So, how do we recognize our stories, whenever we are frustrated or things don’t go the way we want, we can stop and say, this is not working the way I want “because”. Whatever comes after the “because” is the story we choose to believe.

We can choose to believe in a different story.

Can we avert failures in our life?

by Vijay Peduru on May 3, 2010

All of us want to start a business or change a career and we keep postponing it.
If we analyze deeply, we postpone because we need to learn new habits and skills and accumulating these habits and skills seems harder. We keep saying to ourselves that we will learn these skills once we achieve the position or once we start the business.  Days, months and years pass by and we still do not reach where we want to reach. What can we do to stop this drift? We can start in baby steps right this moment ( ok,.you can wait till you finish reading this post!)  and keep growing gradually..
The following quotes from Jim Rohn summarize this very well.
Quote #1

“You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight”
All too often, we are worried why we are not reaching our goals (our destinations), it is just because we are travelling on the wrong road (habits). To reach our destinations, we need to change the direction and we will almost surely reach our destinations.
Quote #2

“Failure is nothing more than a few errors in judgment repeated every day”.
For example, drinking an “obesity causing High fructose corn syrup filled” cola daily will cause health problems in later part of our lives. We won’t know it now, but it will haunt us in the later part of our lives. The same is true with starting a business – Not reading books or actively finding a mentor now will haunt us later on because the consequences of not reading books or actively finding a mentor NOW, will show up LATER; perhaps in the form of us being unable in starting the business.
Fortunately we can reverse our direction now to reach our destinations.
Quote #3

“Success is a few simple disciplines practiced every day”.
For example: Learning to enjoy Orange juice instead of cola daily, actively learning from successful entrepreneurs daily are all examples of being directed with discipline.

So, if we take any area(health, money, joy)  in our life, we need to start accumulating new habits and skills now. We can start with baby steps and keep moving. A few baby steps are:

  • Health: We can start doing yoga or exercise joyfully ten minutes a day starting today
  • Money : We can start reading books for thirty minutes every day by entrepreneurs on how to serve people and make money starting today.
  • Joy:  We can read spiritual or books on the wisdom of leading a joyful life for 10 minutes a day to learn how to be joyful starting today.

Averting failures, however unattainable and insurmountable it might sounds, is a simple art of going in the right direction, in a disciplined manner.

Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership

by Tanmay Vora on November 23, 2009

change through leadershipWelcome to the penultimate post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first ten posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…

#QUALITYtweet Critical question: Knowing that

people will change only if they want to, how do you

make sure they “want” to change?

Process Improvement is a “change” game and implementing change isn’t always easy. In case of process improvement, the challenge is to change habits and behaviors of your people. That makes it even more difficult.

People change, not by “force” but by their “intent”. With force, people may dispassionately comply with your processes, but for true involvement, their intent needs a direction. With this as a given, critical questions are:

  • How do you make sure that you implement change by driving intent of people?
  • How do you make sure that people are passionately involved in change?

The answer to these is “Change Leadership”. Leading a change means undertaking right initiatives, mobilizing resources, addressing soft aspects like motivation, overcoming hurdles and aligning the teams to make it happen. How can change leadership drive process improvement initiative? Here are a few pointers:

  • Accurately define what needs a change: Apply 80:20 rule to identify what needs improvement. It is easy to align people when they know that they are improving the right areas that have maximum business/operational impact.
  • Create a change time line: Humans work best when they work against a time line. We often tend to get complacent when there are no deadlines. Reasonable pressure helps us become more creative. Create a time line by when change will be implemented with a step-by-step action plan. This also creates a sense of urgency.
  • Engage people: People tend to commit themselves to things they are involved in. Involve practitioners and managers in defining the change. They are the ones who will be impacted by the change. Engage them by explaining them the larger context, vision and business need. When they know the larger picture, they can align their actions accordingly. They also need to know the “What’s in it for me?” part. How will they become more effective? How will this change help them improve their performance? They want to know this.
  • Review progress periodically: If you don’t monitor your people, you give them a reason to slow down. Have short and effective meetings (in group or one-on-one) with people involved in change. Take a stock of how things are going. Understand their problems. Help them do better. They get help and you get the broader picture. If you hit some roadblocks, you still have chance to re-align. Review early and often. This is also your opportunity to share progress and motivate people involved in improvement initiatives.
  • Lead: Give them the context and set them free. Micromanagement on tasks can kill creativity and morale. Be there to help them, but let them do it on their own. People learn the most when they try to do it themselves. They will make mistakes. Help them overcome and share the lessons learned. Set right examples for them to follow.
  • Share rewards: when you link participation with rewards, it will help you get voluntary participation from people. But after they have participated, it is only your leadership abilities that will keep them going. You will still have lot of people who will willingly participate.
  • Keep rotating teams: Once a change cycle is implemented, induct new team members in the improvement team. You maximize the opportunities for everyone to get involved in defining improvements. Broader the participation, wider the acceptance of change.

Last but not the least, people engage when they see continuity of effort. If your improvement initiative is temporary or ad-hoc, people will not engage beyond the first cycle. When people see consistent results from a process improvement group, they willingly participate.

Process improvement is a journey and not a destination. Who you travel with matters a lot. Choose the right people and get them to swing into action. Your business will thank you for that!