Many writers have written on the importance of developing positive habits, eliminating destructive habits, and how to stack habits for success. I’m interested in understanding which personal habits drive your team’s success. Personally, I’m in the process of reassessing my personal habits. It does my co-workers no good if I’m not functioning as well as I should.
Before I outline the personal habits that I’m finding are important for team success, there are some foundations that should be established.
Understand your personal goals first
Teams will never perform at their peak when individuals have not aligned their personal goals with those of the company. For example, if one of your personal goals is to be healthy, you may not enjoy working on a team that is creating cigarettes or junk foods.
If you haven’t spent time understanding your personal goals, I recommend that you think of them in categories, such as work, family, financial, health, community, and spiritual. Only you can decide what is important to you. But I recommend that you figure it out.
Some people may have one goal and choose to focus all of their efforts on that goal alone. I can’t say which is best for you.
Find a plan for how you work best
I typically recommend that teams work in two-week sprints with a long-term plan for the project. On a personal level, you need to find a rhythm for how you will work. Some people like to time block their days in detail. I’m not that person. I time block with lists of what I need to do – so that I don’t forget what is on the list. And then, I’m constantly re-evaluating to discover which tasks are most important. What will generate the highest value for me, personally, professionally, and for whatever else is on my plate? That means I’m balancing the trade-offs between family needs, social and community commitments, and the work projects that I have in progress at any time.
Some people like to work with theme days, Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey, for examples. Using this technique, each day of the week is set aside to work on a particular large group of tasks. For example, one day might be content creation; another might be for meetings, management, or marketing. Whether you extend this idea to your entire team or not is up to you, but some find that it gives teams a beneficial structure.
Then, there is the question of how you want to track your email, meetings, and to-do items. It does your team no good if you use your email inbox as a collection box and fail to process the items in there. And forgetting to attend a meeting is a total downer. Can your team count on the commitments you make to deliver a work product by a certain date?
Here are the personal habits that I have found are important for team success:
1. Spend some time outside as soon as you wake up
A nutritionist once recommended that I restructure my day so that I could be outside in the early morning. It was an amazing piece of advice that has changed my life. There is something about the circadian rhythm pattern and how sunlight and nature impacts our bodies. Don’t ask me to explain it. Make it one of your personal habits.
2. Get the sleep you need
There is growing evidence about the impact of sleep on people’s brains and productivity. In a study entitled “Circadian Rhythms, Sleep Deprivation, and Human Performance,” the authors reported that sophisticated and detailed imaging studies consistently report “significant reductions in metabolic rates in the thalamic, parietal, and prefrontal regions after sleep loss, which correlated with declines of cognitive performance and alertness.” The study included a discussion about the types of cognitive behaviors, critical to business performance, and their direct correlation to circadian rhythms. Furthermore, it discussed how certain life-style habits, such as diet, caffeine, posture, lighting, and boredom can mask the circadian rhythms.
That said, from my experience, people are different. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Find out what works best for you and focus on the quality of your sleep. That might mean shutting down lighting and technology an hour or two before bed and/or finding a nutritional approach that improves your sleep. Perhaps one of your personal habits will be turning down the lights and lighting candles for your evening dinner.
3. Create a process for organizing incoming items
We all juggle massive inputs that can overwhelm us. And we are all different. What I want to think about first when I wake up may not be what you want. The challenge is to find a process that works for you so that you don’t feel like email, chat streams, verbal requests, bills, meeting decisions, and junk mail are assaulting you 24/7. And if you do meetings, there will be tasks that arise in those meetings. For me, they get put in writing – either by me, an assistant, or in the meeting minutes.
You need a process that works – that becomes one of your personal habits. For me, everything goes into my email or a physical inbox that I clear out once a day. I am very clear with colleagues, friends, and family that if you want me to do something, you need to put it in writing – either by email or on a piece of paper in my inbox. Requests by texts, Slack, or in conversations won’t be done. It must be in writing. And I try very hard to process the paper.
I’m not saying that I do everything people request. I’m only saying that I won’t consider anything that is not in writing. Don’t expect me to try to remember to do something that you didn’t think was important enough to put in writing.
4. Have a written plan for your year, quarter, month, week, and day
With your personal goals in mind, have you thought about what you want to accomplish in any given year, quarter, month, week, and day? I keep a daily to-do list, which I’ve written about in a blog on keeping your personal task list as simple as possible. I have a weekly meeting with my assistant to reflect on the big items that I need to knock out. And as we hit the end of the month, I’m focused on what we said we’d do during the month.
The challenge that I sometimes have is in differentiating between repeated processes, such as updating WordPress plug-ins or invoicing clients and work which advances one of my big projects. And this brings me back to my daily task list. By keeping a daily task list, I lump all those things together. I may have weekly task lists for specific projects, but the items I want to do on any given day get copied into my one daily task list.
From the standpoint of personal habits, I am ruthless about monitoring my personal task list, which is how I translate those plans for what I want to accomplish into reality.
5. Persistently focus on doing what is most important now
Many have written on how to track your work efforts, whether your work is in the form of smaller tasks, larger projects, meetings, or thinking time. There are many systems to choose from, but I think it’s more important to be able to get the important work done than to track it in some colorful system that looks pretty on the screen.
If you have figured out your goals in the categories that are important to you, you likely have multiple to-do items on your list at any one time. You are constantly weighing options and dealing with unplanned emergencies. The question to ask is what is most important now. The present is the only thing you have to work with. What will you do now?
What personal habits will help you deliver results?
I can’t tell you which personal habits you should adopt so that your work is effective. I will say that developing personal habits to make your work more effective will help your team. You might want to start with a few personal habits that have helped me here:
- On a weekly and daily, I ruthlessly review my calendar, eliminating unproductive meetings (No stated objective or agenda? I won’t be there.) and making sure that what is important is on there.
- Every day, I process every email, and if there is a to-do item in there and I can’t get it done quickly, I note it on my daily task list – perhaps, on a date in the future if it’s not important right now.
- I only commit to specific deadlines for work that I need to do when needed and those deadlines are firm commitments. My colleagues can count on me to meet the few deadlines I agree to meet.
What happens when someone’s personal habits don’t align with team performance?
This sometimes happens. And there are no easy answers. Sometimes a true night owl gets assigned to a team that is meeting during the day. I once worked with a colleague who was so committed to her exercise program that if she slept late she just skipped important meetings, without notice. And companies in the US must work out office staffing problems that arise when Muslims need a prayer break. As you look for solutions to these types of problems look for win-win options. You might also find an old book review that I wrote on a book,
If you liked this blog or the last one on team habits, why don’t you sign up for my newsletter? In the next edition, I’ll be reviewing Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.