For some it’s a book, for others it’s a cigarette, and for others, it’s a phone call. Each evening throughout the world a sequence of nighttime habits are taking place in every home, apartment, flat, and dorm in the world.
For me, the routine is to enjoy something sweet; a cookie, a small piece of pie, a handful of chocolate chips. Not just a quick bite, but instead a long sit down alongside an ice-cold glass of milk. That’s my routine.
At the beginning of each new year, I consider a resolution to do something different each evening moving forward, maybe some fruit or a cup of hot tea. But I never do.
Why do I do that? Why do I do the same thing every night?
In fact, why do I repeat most things most days over and over again? The good things and the bad things?
It’s like they are on repeat.
What is going on?
In his powerful book The Power Of Habits, Charles Duhigg lays out a three-step “loop” that we all experience that creates the habits we repeat.
After I share this three-step loop from Duhigg, I’m then going to challenge you to ditch resolutions that have a history of not lasting, and instead replace a resolution with a habit.
There. I said it.
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A McKinsey analysis found the average worker spends 28% of their workweek “reading and answering e-mail.”
I can hear many of you right now, “but you don’t understand…my job revolves around email.” I hear you loud and clear.
Let’s OWN your email and do something different.
If there is no plan or habit, email can come to a place where it dominates your day, dominates your mind, and dominates your ultimate agenda, and keeps you from transforming your business on to the purpose that you intended in the first place.
I heard someone say once, “email is someone else’s agenda for your day!”
What a horrible truth.
Let’s not just resolve to change it in our minds, but let’s actually change it in our habits.
Duhigg shares a powerful three-step loop that will help us.
The three steps: cue, routine, reward
The cue is the thing that provokes or sets off the actual habit…it’s what launches you into the very habit you do.
The routine is the actual behavior that you are looking to change. The routine is eating the chocolate before bed, drinking three cups of coffee before 7 am, or checking email obsessively throughout the day.
The reward is the feeling, emotion, or response you receive as you complete the routine. It’s that immediate gratification or satisfaction you feel, see, touch, or experience.
Duhigg makes the case that simply by replacing just one part of the three-step loop, you can transform your habits.
It is difficult and in some cases impossible for us to control the cue. The cue might be a time of day or something that happens naturally in our course of life (i.e. bedtime). You cannot change that…you will always have a bedtime.
The reward is tied to your psychology and physiology which of course can shift over time, but again, much harder to master.
Duhigg suggests that replacing the routine, the second of the three-step loop, will provide the key to changing your habits.
Let’s apply this to our email challenge.
With email, the cue may be “arriving to work” or “scrolling my phone” or “don’t know what task to do next”.
In fact, think through your last few days at work and answer this cue question, “why and when do you check your email?”
Is there any rhyme or reason?
Some habits are very methodical like eating sweets before bedtime but not as much throughout a normal day. Some habits are erratic like scrolling phones.
Simply being aware of what drives you to email, or coming to grips with the reality that maybe it is unrestrained, will be an important step in you owning email rather than email owning you.
Now that you know the cue, let’s now change up the routine.
For most, the cue that launches you into email is erratic, not scheduled. You keep it that way under the false truth of “but I have to be on email all day because that is how people communicate with me”.
No problem! Let people continue to communicate with you that way, but YOU change the routine.
Instead of being on email throughout the day on other people’s schedule, YOU SET THE SCHEDULE.
“Can I do this?”
YOU can set your own routine for email (or anything else for that matter).
For many business owners and key leaders, we have seen a three-times-per-day routine work really well. They read and respond to email for 30 minutes in the morning, 60 minutes mid-day, and 30 minutes at the end of day. It is still around 20-25% of a typical workday, but it is blocked in focused time so you are not distracted from the real work.
For other business owners and key leaders, we have seen an every-other-hour-for-30-minutes strategy work.
For both of these strategies make sure to literally set a timer on your phone. This is part of making a new routine that will eventually make a new habit.
From now on, align your cues to a new routine, and you will receive an even better reward…the result of a new habit!
Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters. Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.