It’s the time of year many of us are trying to build good habits. But while habits and routines can save time and help you form a path to success, more people should consider abandoning them altogether, suggests Rod Favaron, CEO and president of the social media technology company Spredfast.
Favaron joined Spredfast in 2010, when the company was a young startup. A couple years later he realized his “good” habits were getting in the way of company growth: “In an entrepreneurial environment, you go with your gut and make bets,” he says. “I had a habit of making decisions that way. But when companies grow up, you have to change how you make decisions because it can be a horrible habit.”
When a company is in the growth stage, it has data, input from customers, and market information. “It’s more mature so we rely on instinct less,” says Favaron. “For me, [not going with my gut] was a hard habit to break; by the second slide of a presentation, I’m ready to make a decision.”
It’s common for people to rely on their good habits and strengths that have made them successful, says Stuart Sidle, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of New Haven. “Unfortunately, some of these strengths could derail your career as situations change.”
If someone moves from sales into management, for example, the habits they used to help win the sale can harm them in their new management roles, says Sidle. “Someone’s attention-seeking and willingness to take risks may help them win the sale,” he says. “On the other hand, as a manager they may need to share the limelight with those they are leading and be expected to role model careful adherence to company rules, so some of their habits as sales people may not go over as well.”
Spend your energy making the most out of each opportunity or challenge instead of adhering to some set of standards that cannot possibly be the best approach to every situation, adds Favaron.
Good habits are often seen as strengths, but overusing them is stifling, says Beatrice Chestnut, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace.
“When we overdo our good habits they can become bad, because we become stuck in doing what is familiar and stop growing new habits based on changing contexts and self-development needs,” she says.
Habits are rigid, which is antithetical to innovation, adds Favaron. “Spending too much time in rote habit keeps the brain from growing,” he says. “You can’t innovate or grow within confines. And who knows what you can do without boundaries?”
Anything you get into a habit of doing professionally needs to be rethought reasonably often; make conscious choices instead of mindlessly following habits, says Favaron. “If you don’t sub-optimize completely, you assume you know the answer,” he says. “If you assume you know the answer, you will miss having a breakthrough. It’s okay to do what you did yesterday, but it will never be amazing again.”
Favaron looks at all of his habits, even taking a different route to work sometimes to force himself to rethink his routine, he says. “If you don’t challenge yourself to do something different, you might miss out,” he says. “Habits can be come mundane even if they’re effective.”
Following the same formula can also keep you stuck in the past. When someone asked Favaron if he had a pen they could borrow, he realized he hasn’t carried a pen or paper with him in years. “At a previous job I kept notes in black binders, and I had the entire history of the company documented that way,” he recalls. “At Spredfast I have nothing written down.”
Technology changes how we communicate, and the need to write something down with a pen is rare. “Now the new habit is sending email, Slack, text, Twitter DM, LinkedIn, and more,” he says. “Continuously break whatever your habits are so you can always be better and faster.”
The truth is that past methods rarely work well consistently, adds Favaron. “If anybody brings up how they used to do something at a previous company, we call it a Band Camp moment,” he says. “It’s like saying, ‘One time in band camp . . . ’ The problem is that very seldom do we encounter the exact thing.”
It’s more likely a different product, market, or time, says Favaron. “Experience is good; it lets you see a bad decision early and around corners,” he says. “However, it can eliminate 13 new ways to do something before you ever get a chance to think about them.”