As we rush to close out the year, many of our thoughts will turn to what we want to change in our personal and professional lives. Traditionally, this concept is embodied in resolutions, short-term goals that often end up cast aside before the calendar even turns to another month. The major problem with New Year's resolutions is that they're often unrealistic objectives, without the supporting changes in habit and support structures. Rather than adding lose some weight or work out more to your list of resolutions, here are some suggestions for new habits that will help make you a more effective person, in and outside the office.
One aspect to long-term change that I've found interesting is the effectiveness of tricks to instill a habit. Put your running shoes and workout clothes next to the bed in the evening and you're more likely to put them on in the morning. If you struggle to respond to your alarm clock, put one far away from the bed. Rather than relying on willpower, rely on the nuances of your own nature to help instill some of the techniques below. There's no problem with cheating when the game is self-improvement.
Win the morning
If you look at everyone, from history's most successful leaders to business magnates, you'll likely find a recurring theme: They get up early in the morning. While it's rare to find someone who is a natural morning person, starting one's day early and getting a jump on life while others are still grasping for the snooze button has inarguable benefits. Perhaps the best articulation of this is the saying that I've heard—"If you win the morning, you'll win the day." The benefit of winning the morning is relatively straightforward. Doing some kind of mental or physical workout, spending a few minutes preparing your task list and reviewing the day's work, and nourishing yourself—all before the workday starts, have a noticeably positive effect on the rest of the day.
A resolution approach to winning the morning might consist of getting up two hours earlier and attempting a dozen changes to your routine that are unsustainable. Rather than that, set your alarm a minute or two earlier each day. Take the extra time to prepare and organize yourself, or just add additional calm to your morning by not rushing through jamming food and drink into your mouth and beginning your day in a fog that won't lift until the evening.
Be more mindful
Simply stated, being mindful is being mentally present and focused on what's in front of you. This could be an employee discussing a personal problem, an unfinished email, or your spouse or children talking about the events of the day. While seemingly simple, much of our society is centered around distraction. Our culture is geared toward distraction and lack of focus, with everything from tweets to beeping devices attempting to split our attention. Even at work, we're told to multitask, which effectively splits our attention so much as to render it useless. If you have any doubt, track the number of times someone is asked a question on a conference call only to have no idea of the question or context.
The best technique I've found to be more mindful is simple meditation, where you spend 5-20 minutes each morning sitting quietly and concentrating on your breathing. This seemingly simple exercise trains your mind to focus and quells the inner distractions that usually resound. Even after a week of meditation you'll find your mental focus increasing, and be mentally prepared to face the day or end your evening with a quiet and focused mind.
Don't be afraid to use metrics
Most people in IT are focused on metrics and measurement. And now, self-improvement is an area where instrumentation is now plentiful. From fitness trackers, to connected scales, to meditation tracking apps, you can easily log your self-improvement progress and identify activities that have the most benefit. Much of this can even be painless; my morning weigh-in is now distributed across a half-dozen apps and nicely charted and graphed, replacing the worn sheet I used to have taped to the wall, just as my journal resides in a cloud app that travels with me wherever I go.
Whatever techniques you try for self-improvement, seek those that you can gradually build into habits. Seek to institute systemic changes in your life, rather than striving for a goal that's achieved or abandoned with no real underlying change to your life. You may be spending hours putting together business plans and strategies for the New Year, but be sure to spend some time doing a similar activity for your own life.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.