Sometimes, the hardest part of breaking a bad habit isn’t actually the part where you break it at all – it might be in just recognizing that it’s a bad habit in the first place!
Professional habits are relatively easy to pick up, because they sort of sneakily become part of your regular routine. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to add one or two new things here and there, right?
Over time, though, your To-Do List gets bigger and bigger, and the tasks that are on it become more complex. And you might not realize it while it’s happening, but eventually, the amount of stuff on your plate can get out of hand.
And that means some things have got to go.
Not just in the “I’ll get someone else to do this,” sense, either. More like the “We’re not going to do this particular thing at all anymore” sense.
But how do you figure out what’s a bad habit, and what isn’t?
This is a challenge you already face all the time, and often without consciously thinking about it! In your everyday life, it’s pretty easy to tell whether a part of your routine is really worth the effort. (Setting the coffee maker before bed? Definitely. Shaving elaborate geometric patterns into your cat’s fur? Your mileage may vary.)
When it comes to your business, though, this is a little trickier.
It’s easy to think that doing more is always better. You’re checking more stats, writing more emails, making more calls, going to more meetings, whatever – it makes you feel proactive, like you’re doing something.
But all those somethings you get in the habit of doing can prevent you from taking on much more valuable projects down the line. You end up filling your day with tasks that you keep on doing without ever stopping to think of why.
Here’s an example.
We were tracking WAY too much data for this very blog.
Tracking data for your website – and specifically, your blog – is extremely important.
But you can still get a little carried away.
See, our own habit of tracking data went a little like this:
- Think of something we can track
- Add it to the list of data we regularly check
- Repeat (and repeat, and repeat, until that list is completely out of control)
At its worst, our blog data spreadsheet was a whopping 44 rows long.
It kept track of EVERYTHING. Which posts were most and least viewed. Most and least shared. High bounce rate, low bounce rate. Percentage of new versus returning users. Sessions. Pageviews. Whatever.
(And we tracked all of this on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, too.)
We spent so much time checking all the things that we didn’t stop to figure out what exactly we ever gained from it – until we did.
Turns out, not much.
So we quit the habit – we stopped tracking about 75% of that data, going from 44 rows to a trim 11.
We dumped a lot of the things we’d been checking, and actually swapped in some new ones, too – things we decided would ultimately be a lot more valuable for us.
This is how we did it – and how you can, too.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of asking yourself the right questions about your habit.
1. What am I learning from this?
Some of the habits you’ve adopted may have seemed like good ideas at the time.
That doesn’t mean they’re still good ideas now, though – no matter how useful they once were.
For example, we used to hold a daily call for everyone on the team. This made a lot of sense in early 2014, when we were a team of seven, and every department had one person in it. By the time we doubled the size of our company, though, the call was taking too much time – and everyone spent most of that time listening to news that wasn’t particularly relevant to them.
So we axed it in favor of smaller, department-specific check-ins – and nobody’s missed it since.
Take a hard look at your habits, and ask yourself what you learn from them. Are they giving you information that you need, and is useful to you? Or just information that never really goes anywhere?
Don’t waste time keeping track of information that doesn’t add value to your job.
And speaking of adding value, you should also ask yourself this:
2. What does this enable me to do?
Want to know if a habit is actually useful? Look at what it enables you to do – if anything.
The routines you spend time on should provide utility. (It’s a great test for whether or not the information something gives you is actually valuable, or if it’s just sort of…there.)
For example, we used to keep track of which blog posts gave us the best results from search engines. It was sort of interesting seeing how they stacked up, but when we thought about it, we realized something: we weren’t actually using the information at ALL.
The traffic our blog gets from search engines generally isn’t as high-volume or as valuable as that which comes from other places – so why pay so much attention to it? It wasn’t really influencing our strategy, so whatever information it provided wasn’t going to much use. So just like the daily call, we nixed it.
Figure out what your habits enable you to do. Are they giving you information that actually influences your business decisions? Are they equipping you with unique tools? Or are they just taking up space, like that hot dog toaster on the counter you keep swearing you’ll use?
If the things you spend time on aren’t allowing you to grow, change, or do something differently, they might not be worth the time you give them.
And finally, one of the most valuable questions you can ask about any habit:
3. What does this prevent me from doing?
You can only fit so much into your routine – and everything you do prevents something else, just by virtue of occupying space.
It isn’t always just a matter of time, either! Even if tracking all of that extraneous blog data didn’t take up our time – even if it just magically appeared in that spreadsheet when we snapped our fingers – we still wouldn’t want it.
Why? Because having that data there prevented us from focusing on the information that was really important. The data that we actually learn from and that enables us to do things was like a needle in a haystack – all the rest just made it harder to find.
Be honest with yourself about how you’d rather spend your time. Is there something else you’d like to do – or even to try – that your current habits are preventing you from doing? How much space do your habits take up, and are they earning that space? You may realize that it’s worth giving your time and your focus to something new – even if you aren’t sure that you’ll stick with it in the long run.
Bad habits don’t always feel bad – but getting rid of them always feels good.
Still not sure if something belongs in your regular routine? Try ditching it on a trial basis! You may find that you don’t miss it at all – and that you’re able to spend your time and energy on much better things. (And if you realize that you do miss your old habit, you can always pick it right back up again. It won’t hold a grudge.)