Managing tomorrow is not going to be like managing yesterday. The coronavirus has changed everything about how we work, and we are going to see that impact ripple throughout businesses for a long time. I’ve found myself examining longstanding approaches I’ve used successfully and realizing they don’t fit. But then I fall back on them when trying to execute because they are there, known, and comfortable. I found myself asking “How do I execute without some of these stand-by activities?”
To that end, I read “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear. And not only was it a pleasant and engaging read, but it made me confront my own work habits and where I can improve.
I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for tips on how to improve their daily habits, but it’s uniquely useful in our industry, where circumstances necessitate that we be at our best at all times. Rather than just give you a recommendation, though, I’d like to give you my personal favorite pieces of advice from “Atomic Habits.”
Perhaps the most popular self-improvement pitfall that people encounter is not knowing exactly where they want to go. I think many of us have vague concepts of wanting to have a better work life, but what does “better” really mean? And are you focusing on things that are within your power to change?
Start by taking your focus away from your surroundings and putting it on yourself. You can’t make everyone around you better; you only have the power to control your own actions. Instead of looking at abstract concepts of how to better manage your business, your first step should be examining concrete ways that you can better manage yourself. Trust that the rest will follow.
When you’ve started thinking about yourself, don’t be afraid to go beyond vague notions of “better.” When you say better, you might mean that you want to be more personable, or you want to develop new time management skills, or anything else. But the only way to do these things is to establish exactly what you want to happen, because you can only work toward a goal once you know what that goal is.
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom from the book is to identify where you’re getting in your own way, whether from a bad choice or simply not making a good choice. I think it’s easy to imagine that we can always see when we’re self-sabotaging, but bad habits can be so simple that you don’t really think of them as habits at all.
For example, let’s say you’re like millions of Americans and you can’t function without your morning coffee.
You go to the coffee shop every morning, and because you’re in such a rush, you don’t eat breakfast at home. So, you pick up something sweet while you’re there because it’s easy and you’re hungry and you have to be at the office in 15 minutes. If your goal is to lead a healthier lifestyle, this is a daily habit that’s getting in your way.
Now, the obvious solution is to just not buy the morning pastry. But that’s going to rely on some pretty strong willpower, so let’s keep looking for alternative solutions. You could start cooking at home, which removes the pastry temptation from the equation entirely. Or you could try a new coffee shop that doesn’t sell sweets in the first place. If you don’t like any of those, grab a fruit before you leave home to get something in your stomach and give yourself a healthier option that’s still sweet. Then, set yourself the goal of doing this four days out of five and see how things go.
What I like about this approach is that you don’t just say, “I’ll stop doing the bad thing.” That isn’t reasonable, because if you could just stop bad habits, they wouldn’t be habits. This new way of thinking puts actual steps into place that will get you from where you are to where you want to be, and that’s the real value of a book like this.
And don’t stop at your morning coffee, either. What do you want out of your career? Do you need more education, or maybe just a new role in your company? Maybe you want to move into a new industry, and let’s be honest, those kinds of moves (voluntary or not) are common in our industry. So, it only makes sense to start looking at those new options now and evaluating how you get from A to B.
Wherever you envision yourself, start looking at your behaviors every day that are getting you there or standing in your way. Then start looking for solutions. It may take a bit of time and self-reflection, but you’ll be much better equipped to meet those goals once you add healthy, constructive habits in your routine.
Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He is also an associate with Grimes, McGovern & Associates, specializing in news media M&A. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.