Build better habits – effortlessly!

Your computer has ‘default’ settings – actions it takes automatically, without instruction. And you can change those default settings to suit your personal tastes. Set them – and forget them.

We have default settings, too. They’re called habits. They’re actions we take without conscious instruction. Some of them help us. Some of them harm us.

If you want to build helpful habits effortlessly, here’s how.

Let’s use the good old standby of losing weight as an example. (Do you know that 63.4% of Australians are overweight?) There are countless actions you could take to build habits that would help you lose weight effortlessly. For instance, you could walk for 12 minutes every day. That would lose you 5 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier still. Build it into your routine by walking for 12 minutes before lunch, whatever the weather, and it won’t take long to build a habit. That 12-minute lunchtime walk becomes nearly as automatic as breathing.

Repetition builds habits. You could cut back your portions by 20% at every meal and not even notice it. That would lose you 12 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. By the end of the month, you’ve got a habit.

Rules can build habits, too.chocoholics could eat chocolate only on odd-numbered days. That would lose them about 9 kilos a year. The first few days may be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. Before you know it, you’ve got a habit.

Little actions add up and they all become effortless, once they’re a habit. Those three actions could lose you 26 kilos in 12 months – that’s 4 dress sizes from 3 easy actions.

Ah, I hear you say. That’s all very well, but one needs willpower.

You know what? Willpower is like a muscle and like a muscle, you can strengthen it with regular exercise. Ask Mark Muraven from the University at Albany in New York. His research shows that regularly working your willpower muscle pays off. Start with simple actions that need only a little self-control, little things that aren’t a big deal.

Sweet tooth? Give up sweets for a month, even if you don’t want to lose weight. Hate exercise? Do 5 or 6 push-ups first thing in the forming, even if you don’t want puffy pects. Do you slouch? Make a point of sitting up straight every time you’re in a car, on a train or in a bus, at the computer, or eating a meal, even if you don’t want to improve your posture or look 5 kilos slimmer.

As you practice self-control, you strengthen your willpower muscles. Then, when push comes to shove, you have the willpower you need to do that difficult or stressful task that requires a lot of self-control.

I’m off for a 12-minute walk.

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Reporting to more than one boss

Following on last week’s theme of the changing workplace and how that affects reporting relationships, reporting to more than one boss is now as common as reporting to a far-away-in-a-distant-land boss (which we discussed last week, if you missed it). This week, let’s look at the possibly more challenging undertaking of reporting to more than one boss.

With temporary teams abounding,  matrix organisations becoming more common and temporary assignments to project teams commonplace, it’s goodbye unity of command and hello to the danger of conflict and confusion of two or more bosses.

Reporting to several managers, each making requests of you, each with their own agenda and priorities can be tricky. You’re in danger of:

  • Competing demands on your time: Which boss’ work gets priority? Tricky when each thinks their work deserves precedence.
  • Conflicting messages: Different bosses have different expectations and communication styles and they can unintentionally undermine each other’s messages.
  • Work overload: This occurs especially when each boss treats you as if you work only for her or him.

To protect yourself, work out who your primary boss is. This is the person you formally report to, who does your final performance review and who makes decisions about your pay. Make sure you have regular, at least monthly, meetings with this boss — not the quick weekly check-in discussed in the next paragraph, but a more solid 30-40 minute meeting to discuss your role as a whole. Ask for her or his help in coaching you to work well with your other bosses if you need to.

Be open about your workload so all your bosses know your commitments. Share your electronic calendar with them and block off specific times for working on different projects and assignments so they know when not to interrupt you. Provide each with a brief document updating your progress on all of your projects and other work. However briefly, check in with each boss face-to-face or virtually once a week to maintain your good working relationships.

When you have several bosses, it’s probably fair to ask each to adjust to your preferred working style so you don’t have to keep chopping and changing, which is stressful in itself. Let them know whether you prefer to receive questions and requests via email, meetings or in some other way. Agree on mutual expectations regarding response time for queries, regularity of meetings and regularity and format of update briefings. Try to agree on one way that works for everyone.

As with working for one boss, be clear about your deadlines and deliverables, focus on results and keep communication and results flowing.

Reporting to a remote manager

How ironic. After posting last week about getting back into the routine after the crazy summer season, I got caught up in Mad March and Adelaide Writer’s Week and forgot to get back into my own routine of the weekly Wednesday blog. Shows to go, doesn’t it. All I can say is mea culpa and I hope you missed me!

Well, I thought that given the way workplaces are changing, reporting to a remote manager is becoming more common, so it might be worth looking at how best to do that.

When you can’t see your boss ‘in the flesh’, it’s easy for each of you to miss the signals of energy, mood, personality and so on. You need to put in extra effort to communicate efficiently and build trust quickly.

As with any manager, agree on your job purpose, your key result areas (KRAs) and your SMART targets or deliverables and find out your manager’s preferred working style so that you can fit in with it. What is the best time of day to contact her or him? What is the preferred method of contact? Do your boss prefer progress reports in virtual person or in writing? How much detail should you include? Does your boss prefer to take queries or receive updates as they occur, or in regular batches?
Your other initial goal is getting to know your boss. When you can’t meet face-to-face, make good use of virtual meetings and the telephone. Small talk is important, so avoid the temptation to move straight into task talk (unless that is your boss’ clear preference).
Provide regular progress reports and updates, with the frequency depending on you and your manager’s agreed plan. Involve your manager in what he or she should be involved in (but avoid information overload). Make sure you aren’t forgotten by establishing subtle routines; for example, phone at a certain time every day with a quick update or email a lunch-time status report in addition to your other regular reports.
Schedule regular virtual meetings with an informal agenda and prepare the agenda to go to your boss in advance. This is your opportunity to summarise what you’ve achieved since your last virtual meeting. Ask any questions you have and finish with an outline of the next steps you are taking to achieve your mutual goals.
Confirm your commitments in a follow-up email, including date and time of your next scheduled virtual meeting. Design the email’s content so that you can print it off to use as a checklist or use it to list goals and create work schedules and plans to achieve them.
The bottom line, as with any working relationship, is to develop trust and confidence, establish routines that suit you both, deliver the goods and communicate with confidence.

Time to get motivated

 Ok, it’s March and time to get serious about getting back into the routine. But it’s still hot and you’re still in holiday mode, right? Motivation can be pretty elusive in the aftermath of Christmas, New Year, Australia Day, the Tour Down under, the Melbourne Cup, Lunar New Year – summer is one endless festival. And it’s even worse here in South Australia, where Mad March is about to commence, with Writer’s Week, The Festival, The Fringe, the Clipsal 500 … How anyone gets anything done is anyone’s guess.
But if you really need to get something done, you’re going to want to dredge up a bit of motivation from somewhere or other. Here are some tricks to try:
Fake it till you make it. You can’t be motivated unless you look and act motivated. Look and act motivated and the motivation will follow.
Set a schedule and stick to it. That prevents indecision and procrastination.
Know your ‘why?’. When you have a good reason to do what you need to do, you find inspiration and motivation.
See and feel the result when you’ve done what you need to do. More inspiration and motivation.
Decide what your first three steps need to be and make a start. After you’ve taken that first step, it gets easier.
Say ‘I want to’, not ‘I have to’. Motivation come from inside – your inside. No one else can motivate you. They can maybe force you with a carrot or a stick, but that isn’t motivation. (Although you could bribe yourself with your own carrot, some little treat as a reward for completing whatever it is you need to complete. That might help you find your ‘want to’ and with it, your own motivation.
Enough of this summer festival nonsense. Get on with it!