Knowledge Exchange is a weekly series of educational articles that we encourage you to share and discuss with your colleagues and network. This month, we’re offering advice for improving your business efficiency.
Biting your nails, eating late-night snacks, procrastinating on paperwork. No one is immune to the strong pull of a bad habit.
At home, we might be able to avoid massive consequences for quite some time. But at work, the negative outcomes are quantifiable and quick to add up.
Even the most talented employees can be made ineffective by poor habits, so it’s imperative to find and erase them.
Let’s discover which bad habits might be lurking in your organization and explore strategies for turning things around.
The appeal of multitasking may have dwindled when research revealed it was a myth, but that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to engage in it. For lack of a better way to structure our time, or for lack of time in general, many of us switch between tasks rapidly, diluting our focus and losing valuable seconds that add up to hours. This lost productivity is unnoticeable to us individually but unacceptable on a large scale.
The solution: Educate your employees about the art of “deep work,” a concept coined by computer science professor Cal Newport. During a deep work phase, you’re tackling the toughest problems in a distraction-free environment. Given the chance, your team could innovate in unexpected and incredible ways.
Perfectionism is the epitome of a blessing and a curse in the workplace. Of course, you want the people who work for you to have high standards. But if they’re too obsessed with perfection, they can end up paralyzed by the fear of failure — and unlikely to work efficiently. This habit often shows up as a tendency to spend excessive time on minor details.
The solution: Establish clear project expectations and give regular feedback. When they’re not sure exactly what to do, your team members could fall victim to their inner perfectionists and worry they’ll make a wrong decision. Especially in the early days after onboarding, offer constructive feedback and give your managers guidance on how to encourage employees who struggle to move quickly. It’s also helpful to take care to hire versatile, experienced people who are less likely to doubt themselves.
Meetings have to happen, but in the average office, they happen far too often. Excessive and unstructured meetings are one of the biggest sources of wasted time. The worst part is that the time spent in a meeting is multiplied by the number of people in it. An hour-long meeting with 10 people is a potential waste of 10 hours, not just one. Add the cost of the time it takes for people to get back into focused work after a long meeting, and it’s rarely worth it.
The solution: Adopt a stringent meeting policy. There should always be a clear agenda and objective. For regular check-ins, you might want to try a “huddle” style, which is short and to the point.
In many cases, manual work is simply unnecessary these days. Yet, it’s still surprisingly prevalent. Doing work manually is the ultimate bad habit, but it doesn’t always feel like one. We justify keeping paper client files, personalizing an email over and over for many recipients or duplicating client requests in more than one place as merely preferences. The truth is that they’re detrimental patterns that you can easily replace with efficient, automated processes.
The solution: Overcome the inadvertent overwhelm by identifying the processes your business should automate. When new habits come from the top down, your team will be less likely to resist and more apt to stick with the change.
This conversation wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t address how you might be contributing to unfavorable routines as a leader. Become more mindful of the habits you’re engaging in, and you’ll set a new tone.
Not having an end in sight creates confusion, encourages mistakes and wastes time. Think about any goal you have in life: If you haven’t defined it, you’ll never get there. And you may end up expending effort moving in the wrong direction. Your team could feel aimless or frustrated if they’re working day in and day out without feeling like they’re making forward progress.
The solution: Be as transparent as possible about where your company is going. This will make your employees feel like they’re part of something bigger.
In so many professional settings, there’s an unspoken badge of honor associated with burning the midnight oil. But you shouldn’t be excited about seeing your team regularly stay late, skip vacations or offer to be “on call.” This isn’t sustainable or efficient. Yet, even if you know this, it can be tough not to accidentally support overwork when you see short-term gains.
The solution: Recognize and reward self-care. This might look like starting a wellness program, trying out new work hours or creating a space for your team to clear their minds during the day. You may need to mandate participation or reassure people at first, and it can help to take periodic surveys to ask how you can best support a balanced office culture.
We can only improve when we’re aware of what we’re doing wrong. Having a growth mindset as a leader means being conscious of your own weaknesses and willing to work on them. Your organizational culture begins with how you approach challenges, and you may have to fight against your own habit of being defensive or avoidant.
The solution: Share your vulnerability with your closest colleagues and managers. By putting yourself out there, you’ll be more likely to collect compassionate feedback and encourage them to be open to change, too.
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