Break Your Bad Business Habits–For Good

Are bad business habits bringing your company down? Find out how to recognize and break bad habits.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
June 15, 2012

Think about your daily routine in terms of habits. How many of them would you like to change? Not surprisingly, a quick informal poll shows that entrepreneurs want to change a lot of bad habits, everything from getting distracted easily to failing to follow-up with clients to a lack of down-time prioritization.

Thankfully, you can change your habits permanently, and for the better.

Charles Duhigg, New York Times staff writer and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, sat down with OPEN Forum to discuss how entrepreneurs can break their bad business habits once and for all.

What habits did you possess when writing this book that you have now gotten rid of?
I had a habit of going to the Times’ cafeteria and grabbing a cookie around 3 p.m. every day. I would go down there, chat with co-workers and then head back to my desk. Through the writing of this book, I learned that every habit has a cue or trigger for the behavior to start, a routine which is the behavior and a reward. I experimented with not eating the cookie and instead chatting with co-workers around the same time and learned that the socialization was my reward. Today, I still take a mid-afternoon socialization break without the cookie.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs to look at habits as part of an overall success strategy?
When an entrepreneur is designing a company, they are also designing a culture. It is important to pay attention to the habits of any company because those habits will shape how the culture emerges.

How can small business owners identify habits?
If you are the CEO of a company, think about your automatic behaviors and the automatic behaviors of your company. What are the cues for such behaviors, the routines or behaviors themselves and the rewards for the behaviors?

For example, how do you react to e-mails or requests for communication from subordinates? Here, the cue is that you are getting an e-mail. The behavior is how you respond to the e-mail, and the reward is how you want that behavior to be perceived. Some start-up founders I know will respond to an e-mail in 15 minutes; the reward is that the founder is showing the e-mail sender that they are taking the e-mail seriously.

I know other start-up entrepreneurs that won’t return e-mails between Friday night and Sunday night. The reward for that habit is to encourage the behavior of not burning out.

So many habits are automatic. It is important for small business owners to consider each that exists in their organization as an integral part of a culture.

How can entrepreneurs change a bad habit?
The most effective way to change a bad habit is to closely evaluate the cue and the reward. By recognizing these, you can alter how you and your company react to things, which thereby changes a habit.

The only misconception I’ve seen about habits is that they cannot be changed. It doesn’t matter how engrained it is, or how old your company is, you can always influence habitual behavior for the better.

What bad business habit would you like to change?

Photo credit: Elizabeth Alter