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How to create good work habits
Abhishek Kumar
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October 09, 2006

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us: John Dryden (poet, critic).

Dryden couldn't have been more right.

Take a small action that you perform every day. Its cumulative effect (over days, weeks, months and years) could be huge.

Let's say, in 2001, you decided to read a new article related to your field of specialisation daily. By 2006, you would have read 1,825 articles by just devoting 10 minutes to this habit everyday. You would have also enhanced your level of knowledge, expertise and authority in your chosen field. 

Avinash Johnson, 28, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology -- Kharagpur, has handled challenging assignments with General Electric during his stint with them. Now a senior software professional with Oracle, he has a high stress job with multiple demands on his time. According to Avinash, his life would be chaotic without good work habits. He zeroes in on four habits that have helped him the most. 

1. Avinash religiously maintains a list of tasks to be done and sticks to it, updating the leftovers in the next day's list.

2. To handle the stress, he meditates for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes after coming back from work.

3. He replies to e-mails immediately after reading them. This habit, he says was the hardest to develop, but is extremely rewarding. It saves him time; he does not have to go through the e-mail again, which he would have had to do if he replied later. It also reduces the clutter in his inbox -- and his mind. 

4. Avinash does not carry work home, though he is always tempted to do so. This has helped him maintain the much-needed balance between work and life.

Here is a step-by-step process that will help you create powerful professional habits. This, in turn, will take you to the next level of success in your career.

Step 1: Gain clarity about your goals

Unless you are clear about the result you want, you will not be able to decide which habits to develop. Apparently, when George Bernard Shaw was trying to make it as a writer, he realised he was not doing a very important thing -- he was not writing every day. He decided to write five pages every single day, no matter how uninspired he was. This is an example of someone who created a habit with a very clear purpose in mind.

You need to decide the result you want to achieve.

Step 2: Decide habits you want to develop

Which habits are most useful in helping you reach your goal?

If you want to be a manager or an administrator, it is critical that you have excellent time management skills. Maybe, you need to develop a habit of religiously writing down your tasks for the day every single morning.

If you want to be successful at an exam like CAT or GMAT and math is a problem area, you might want to develop the habit of doing at least 10 math problems every day.

If you want to achieve excellence in technology, you might want to develop the habit of reading at least one article from a technical journal every day.

If you are setting goals for yourself, you might want to develop the habit of revisiting your goals every day and planning a daily action list based on those goals.

Developing conscious habits in any sphere of life is extremely rewarding. Here are a few examples of some good work habits you can develop.

1. Replying to e-mails within a specified time of receiving them.

2. Planning for delays and being punctual.

3. Having an organised hard disk or file folders.

4. Writing a journal -- 'What did I learn today?'

5. Creating half-an-hour of 'quiet time', when you learn something new related to your job everyday.

6. Reading an inspirational quote or article everyday.

7. Daily meditation/ exercise for stress relief.

8. Spending some time on a passion/ hobby to recharge yourself.

Now, I want you to brainstorm and come up with 12 power habits you want to develop. Twelve, because we are going to make a yearly plan.

Step 3: Prioritise according to urgency

Take a long, hard look at the list of power habits you want to develop. Rank it in order of urgency -- which of these habits do you need to start working on right away?

Step 4: Habit of the month

We are not going to work on more than one habit per month. If you try to develop six habits in a month, you will probably find it too hard and give up (though this would depend upon your level of self-discipline). So, let us not set ourselves up to fail. Let us set ourselves up to succeed.

Starting today, for the next one month -- you must, every single day, practise the habit you have listed as most important. You have to do this for a month ie 31 days. If you break the habit on any particular day, you have to start over and do it again for 31 days.

After you have successfully completed your first habit, you can move on to habit number 2. When you do this, you will notice the first habit you worked on has already become part of your nature; you don't need to make an effort to sustain it.

If, after continuing a habit for 31 days, you may find you have a rational reason not to continue with it. That is okay. You can quit after you have followed a habit continuously for 31 days (and, if you trust me, you won't). However, you must not quit a habit within 31 days of beginning to practise it.

In one year, you would thus have developed 12 powerful new habits, which would probably stay with you for a lifetime. In the course of time, these habits will effortlessly help you achieve the results you most desire.

Think of the alternative. These 12 months would pass anyway. But, if you adopt this programme to inculcate habits that support your goals, you will be able to move closer to them and feel a greater level of fulfilment and joy -- which is a natural side-effect of self discipline.

-- The author is a corporate trainer based in Chennai.

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