Develop Good Working Habits Today

The recent tragic death of Stephen Covey, best-selling author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” was widely reported in the business press. This was not surprising for few authors had such an influence on the personal thinking of the business person. Most of the things he wrote in the book are not really new or radical ideas, but the way he delivered the lessons is a big factor to its immense impact.
Looking at the posted comments on one of the articles about Stephen Covey, I was surprised to see that there were a few who sincerely did not believe in his methods. I even read one businessman who blamed Covey’s program for the decline of his company. He said it would have been much better if they studied Deming’s approach to quality control instead.
Both Stephen Covey’s and William Edwards Deming’s approaches are correct, but they address different problems. Covey focused on the enhancement of soft skills—the type of skills that are very important, but difficult to quantify. On the other hand, Deming used his proficiency in statistics to manage data to improve operations.
While both soft and hard skills are essential to business, the fact that soft skills are intangible makes them harder to apply consistently. You can easily see numbers indicating an unacceptable variation, but it’s difficult to measure the quality of being proactive.
It is Covey’s insight of the need to emphasize the formation of good habits that formed the foundation of his teachings. His simple language and graphic imagery drives home his points more effectively than almost all his contemporaries. With his blockbuster book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” he established a formula for guiding a person to success.
Having been inspired by his book, here are a few simple ideas to help you develop good working habits:
Realize that it is going to be a challenge. Having the right attitude is the first thing to learn before embarking on this quest. Developing good habits not only takes time but also takes a tremendous amount of effort with no guarantees of success. This may be contrary to what many motivational books say, but being overly optimistic is rarely effective. Those who take this too lightly will give up too easily when problems occur. Think of it as a journey of a thousand miles, but with patience, you will eventually reach your goal. The modern trend now has advanced from thinking positive to thinking realistic.
Consult with your boss or with co-workers who exhibit good work habits. If you have a boss, then it will be your mutual interest to improve your productivity. He/she would be delighted to guide you and it would probably boost your performance appraisal, too. In the case of co-workers, you do not have to change your friends, just make new ones. Look for a role model that will be kind enough to mentor you. Be open with your intention of improving your work habits so that they would not question your motives.
Set your priorities. This piece of advice is probably the oldest one but I have observed it is still the most frequently ignored. Too many people are busy putting out fires to think first of the best use of their time. Worse is that there are others who just want to look busy for the benefit of their boss. Perhaps Stephen Covey said it better in his Third Habit, which states “Put First Things First.”
Have small intermediate goals. This has at least two beneficial effects. First, it provides motivation since you will be able to feel satisfaction when you know you are getting nearer your goal. Second, you will be able to make corrective action in case there are delays. To further increase your motivation, you should reward yourself appropriately for each intermediary goal you accomplished.
Focus on only a few habits to work on. Unlike normal tasks, habits are much harder to acquire or change. Having fewer objectives makes it more achievable. Pace yourself. It would be no problem to add more objectives later on if you were able to finish what you have started.
Use a calendar instead of a list. Studies have shown that people accomplish more when they use a calendar rather than a list. The problem with relying on lists is that it is not time-bound. When you have no particular date to start or finish a task, there is a strong tendency for the number of unfinished tasks to grow from day to day. Usually, what are done are the urgent tasks—those that must be done now. But there are many things that are not urgent but are important, and there are many urgent tasks that are not critical. What happens often is that it is the important projects that are delayed since they are usually not urgent, although in the long run, they may have more of an impact. With a calendar, it is easier to visualize when you must prepare for upcoming tasks. You could also avoid overlapping schedules easier. It would be best if you use an electronic calendar because you could schedule reminders.
Developing good working habits is crucial to anyone’s success whether as an employee or as an entrepreneur. The increased emphasis in forming good habits is due in no small part to the late Stephen Covey. It is his golden legacy that has rightly earned him his place among the most notable business thinkers.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. C-4, Sunday, July 29, 2012. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.