Bob Goldman

I know! I know! You think you're reading this column because you made a conscious decision to treat yourself to some superb workplace advice from a shockingly handsome individual. But it's not necessarily so. You could be reading now because of a deeply ingrained synaptic response that you are unable to resist. No, I'm not talking about the computer chip the HR department inserted in your brain when you were at the company retreat. I'm talking about the power of habit.

Habits are things we do when we're on automatic, which, in your case, is most of the time. In an Inc.com article, titled "Change Any Habit Painlessly: 6 Tips," author Jeff Haden explains that "much of the time we don't really make decisions. We do what we've done before, and that makes us less productive, less effective, less healthy and fit -- less everything -- than we could be."

It's difficult to see how you could be less productive, less effective, or less healthy and fit, but if a skein of workplace habits is dragging you down, it might make sense to make a change.

To implement your transformation from the habitual to the effectual, Haden recommends a system developed by Charles Duhigg, the author of "The Power of Habit." Duhigg's strategy is based on the idea that you can't eliminate a bad habit, but you can change it. It takes six giant steps to make this change happen, which is a lot of work for someone for whom doing as little as possible, as often as possible, is not only a habit, but also a basic life philosophy. Still, why not give it a try? The worst that can happen is that you'll find it much easier to do all the dumb things you already do.

"Redefine 'must'" is the first step in changing habits. Ask yourself -- is it really true that you "must" have that coffee the minute you get to work or is it just something you do because you like hanging out in the coffee room with the other slackers and layabouts? And do you drown in a torrent of emails because you "must" check your account the moment you get to your desk or the global economy will totally melt down or are you really hoping to see if you got a response from your posting on BeNaughty.com?

Once you have examined how much "must" is really "might," you'll want to locate the cues that trigger the habit. Say the habit you're trying to change is the way you spend your days trying to avoid any contact with your supervisor. The cue for this habit might be when you arrive for work in the morning and see the boss's Bentley in the parking lot. Or it could be even earlier, like when you open your eyes in the morning and realize that you're not a character in "Game of Thrones," and you haven't been transported to the Seven Kingdoms to fight for the Lord of the North.


Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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