Habitual Power

“I know what I want to do, but I just don’t have the time,” said a young leader we were working with. Fast forward 6 months and she’d managed to do great things. How? By making a commitment to NOT open her email at the start of the day, and instead, to do important things.

When she started her day with email, the whole day disappeared. When she put off opening her email and focussed instead on important things for the first 30 minutes of her day, things changed. And to remind herself to devote the first 30 minutes of each working day to important things, she took a selfie of herself doing just that, every working day for 4 months, by which time she no longer needed to take the selfie as a reminder. What a wonderfully creative way to remember.Habits have such a powerful impact on what we achieve. Many of them are unconscious, for example:

  • ‍Always blocking out 60 minutes for the strategic review update (when sometimes only 20 minutes are needed)
  • ‍Checking email from the moment you awake.
  • ‍Analysis paralysis: we’ve worked with a company that would consistently not embark on a new project until every little detail was mapped out, every eventuality predicted with potential mitigating actions, resulting in a very low percentage of projects ever starting, and the said company lagging far behind the competition.
  • ‍Dredging the same multiple disconnected data sources to create monthly book-like reports that gather dust as no one has time to read them (and the data’s incorrect anyway as the multiple data sources contradict themselves).
  • Hire very expensive consultants to do some form of business analysis, then leave the report sitting on one person’s desk without sharing it for… ever… because the findings weren’t what that individual wanted! (Ok, maybe that was intentional). Everyone could tell you what the consultants told you if you bothered to ask. When things don’t improve, they hire another set of expensive business analysts, and so it goes on.

Other habits are more conscious: we know many organisations for example that spend ages focussing on the next big thing that will transform the business, as they’re sucked in by the allure of transformational strategy and put this to the fore as part of their plan to move ahead. No bad thing in itself, and often it’s very important, right? Well yes, but less so when very often it’s at the expense of doing the small things that have a disproportionately large impact right. Focussing on the regular, important basics with ruthless consistency and tenacity will often likely bring about the excellent results such companies seek, yet they are blind to them. 

For many highly qualified, experienced leaders, focussing on the basics and doing the small things consistently right often seems unworthy. People are easily drawn in by big sparkly, head turning things, for example, developing the airline app that shows you where your delayed plane is (still 90 minutes away) - a really useful development, but far less impactful when the information board in departures repeatedly says ‘gate advised in 5 minutes’ for the same flight. Rory Sutherland has given an excellent TED talk on this very tendency to ignore the small but hugely important in favour of the big and expensive. Well worth watching (and very amusing too).


Habit is the breakfast of champions, but also the undoing of us when we unconsciously get sucked into less than useful habits. So where’s your focus (consciously and unconsciously)? 

  • ‍If you sat back and observed yourself working on a given day, what patterns would you notice that you’d question? What about your colleagues? Your team?What would you challenge and change?
  • ‍To what extent is what you observe a reflection of the mission, vision and values of the company you work with? (If it isn’t, there’s work to do on these areas).
  • ‍Decide what habits and rituals to change, and make a (public) commitment to do so. 
  • ‍Follow through rigourously. Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change” is an excellent resource for this.

Over the last 14 years we've personally learned a lot about changing personal habits. Some seemed impossible at the start, but by changing some simple things and creating rituals and activation triggers that support new ways, it’s actually been quite easy. If you’d like a summary of the things that have helped us the most, drop us a line.

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