How Long Should You Hold On When Trying to Build a Habit?

Blog Post created by lisa.crilley Advocate on Feb 2, 2016

During the first week of working with Sally, she told me she really struggled to stay on top of her email. She felt that she struggles because she isn’t spending enough time each day processing the normal 150 and 200 emails she receives (and of those, 60 – 70% require additional action on her part).


Sally currently devotes 30 minutes at the end of the day to process her email, then finishes working through the day’s messages late at night after her family goes to bed. Now, processing email at night wasn’t a part of her “ideal day,” so we knew we needed to figure out a way that she could process the email during regular work hours.


Sally already had some great systems in place, however she was still drowning. Our first step in figuring out her unique time management plan was to create blocks of time in her calendar to take care of email. But when we next checked in, Sally felt that she lacked discipline because she could not always work on this task at the end of the day, her planned time.


What prevented her from keeping her scheduled email time?


Typically, she needed to finish up “one more thing” for a client, or her boss stopped in with a request, or a co-worked needed her input. These took precedent. It’s obvious “more discipline” isn’t the solution. “Trying harder” to build this habit isn’t the solution. BUT … switching the time of day is! You see, keeping up with a new system for weeks wouldn’t work if the system was flawed!


So, the next week, Sally decided to try to process emails first thing in the morning. Yes, I know, many time management gurus advise against this, however Sally realized that she’s a bit of a slow starter in the morning, and being able to ease into her day while the office is still quiet works best for her.


When we got back together to assess Sally’s progress she was a little more optimistic! On 3 of the 5 working days, she was able to devote the first hour of her day to processing her email however she was still frustrated because on the other two days, she was often interrupted during this “processing time.”


On the three days she was able to manage emails, she was in the office at 7:30am and could devote herself to quietly working through her inbox for an hour. On the two days she struggled, she had morning meetings and didn’t arrive in her office until 9 am. By this time, the office was hopping, people needed her attention, and she struggled to “force herself” to do email.


So, fine-tuning the new process, in the following week Sally scheduled email time for 7:30am whenever she could be in the office by that time. On the days her schedule wasn’t conducive to this plan, she scheduled two 30-minute blocks throughout the day. She knew that the first block could not be immediately when she returned to the office, as co-workers and clients typically took precedence during this time, and the second block could not be the end of the day as this was when she was finishing up last minute requests for clients.


AND … success!!!


Sally now has one part of her personalized time management system created. She knows exactly what she needs to do to stay productive and on-top of her email.


Sticking with a system that isn’t working and thinking “I just need more discipline” isn’t the answer! The answer is in customized problem solving and creating a system that works for YOU, under any circumstances.