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How ‘Tiny Habits’ can make you a happier homeworker

How ‘Tiny Habits’ can make you a happier homeworker

24 December 2020

Forget trying to clear your inbox or connect with your entire team in one day – going small, really small, could be the surprising secret for WFH success.

Do you have good working-from-home habits? Do you jump out of bed each morning, eat a nourishing breakfast, arrive at your desk with a clear goal for the day in mind, and then power through your to-do list, communicating effectively with your colleagues, smashing deadlines and stopping at lunchtime and the end of the day to shut down, switch off and enjoy the benefits of being at home?

No? Well read on.

Homeworking is made easier when you have good habits to support it. These habits can increase our productivity and help us get in the zone, feel focused, manage our time effectively and balance working from home with our home life. And who doesn’t want some of that?

The problem is that it can be hard to know where to start. Trying to simply ‘be more productive’ would be like stepping out of the door one morning and ‘trying’ to run a marathon. Of course, you wouldn’t approach a marathon like that. If you wanted to compete in a race, you’d go for a jog – maybe even a walk. Perhaps you’d schedule it in as soon as you get out of bed and feel pretty good about yourself once you’d completed it. Breaking it down into something smaller would make it more achievable.

This is the idea behind Tiny Habits – a method created by BJ Fogg, PhD, Head of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University, who’s been studying how people change behaviours for over 20 years. And the good news is that you can apply his research to your WFH life. Tiny Habits is about sending one email rather than clearing your inbox, or having a one-to-one with a colleague rather than trying to connect with your entire team in a day. The idea is that it is so easy to do that it’s impossible not to do.

Tiny Habits are as easy as ABC

A is for anchor
An ‘anchor’ is a habit or moment that already exists in your life – you probably don’t even really think about it: getting out of bed, having breakfast, and sitting down at your desk for the day are all common WFH anchors. Once you’ve identified your anchor, all you have to do is connect it with the new behaviour you’d like to achieve. The idea is that your anchor will then trigger this new behaviour.

B is for behaviour
What new behaviour do you want to build? You may want to be more productive, to better balance your work and home life, or be more confident in meetings. How can you make that fit with your anchors? The easiest way is to identify the larger behaviour you want to integrate into how you live and work, and then break it down into smaller elements.

In his book, Fogg talks about creating a habit to floss all your teeth. With Tiny Habits, you create a very tiny version of that larger behaviour; in this case, you floss one tooth. For someone from working from home, your larger goal might be to be more productive. The Tiny Habit could be to write a to-list every morning as soon as you sit down at your desk.

C is for celebration
This is important! Fogg’s research found that it’s emotions that create habits. If the first time you do something, you have a positive association with that behaviour, you’re more likely to continue to do it, and eventually it becomes a habit. A celebration could be a fist pump, a smile, or patting yourself on the back. Note that celebrating is different to giving yourself a reward, like a coffee, or allowing yourself five more minutes in bed. It should be a brief moment of internal congratulation.

Examples of Tiny Habits

If your goal is to be more efficient, your Tiny Habits ABC might look like this:

Anchor: As soon as I sit down at my desk…
Behaviour: …I will open my calendar and take a look at my day
Celebration: “Whoo-hoo, I’ve got this!”

If you then go on to schedule meetings with colleagues, or check them off as you go, those are all bonus marks and you get extra celebrations.

Leadership development consultant Kate Hand has another Tiny Habits suggestion for improving your mental and physical health while working from home. “Tell yourself: ‘After I finish a meeting, I will stand up and smile,’” she says. “This is a great one to maybe take a little moment for yourself, relieve some stress, even stretch and relax. That is the Tiny Habit you’re forming. You may then go on to do a stretch, take a sip of water, maybe step away from my computer – whatever it takes to take care of yourself.”

“When working from home, it can be easy to spend your time reacting to email, messages, calls, video meetings and find the actions that move your business forward taking a back seat or taking up your entire day,” says Mark Channon, a certified coach in Tiny Habits. “Creating clarity can help maximise your time. Asking some simple daily questions is a great place to start. The right question can prime your brain to focus on the necessary actions that will move you forward and create impact.”

His Tiny Habit recipe for clarity looks like this: “After I finish breakfast, I will ask myself: ‘What am I committed to achieving today, no matter what?’” He adds: “By consistently asking yourself this question in the morning, you will be more likely to give your attention to the activity during the day; this is essentially a priming effect.”

Tiny Habit recipes for homeworkers

There are lots of other Tiny Habit ‘recipes’ you might want to try for yourself, depending on the behaviours you want to grow.

– Avoiding writing that big report? Tell yourself you’re going to set a timer and work on it for five uninterrupted minutes. Then stop. (Well done!)

– Want to speak up more on group Zoom calls. Pledge to say thank you plus a positive comment at the end of your next meeting. That’s it. (You’re awesome!)

– Keen to get healthier while working from home? Commit to drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. You’re done. (Nice work!)

– Want to get better at switching off at the end of the day. Sit for one minute in silence once you close down your computer. Finished! (You’ve got this!)

What Tiny Habits do you want to build? Let us know!

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