About being sensible

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About getting organised with habits and processes

Deirdre Wilson – Wednesday, May 28, 2014   


What is the difference between a habit and a process? When do you develop a habit or use a process? The short answer is this: habits are yours, processes are sharable. Habits are things you do after a trigger happens. Its easy to see the trigger and habit combination in action with a smoker: finish a meal - light up a cigarette, have a coffee - light up a cigarette. 

Bad habits seem to be easier to develop but it is possible to develop good habit as well. For example: when I get home, I put my handbag / purse in a basket just inside the door. Placement of the basket was deliberate - I put it just inside the door so that I could drop my bag in it as I walk past. The trigger for dropping my bag in the basket is seeing the basket as soon as I open the front door. This is important: I don't have to remember to do it because I have put a visual trigger in place. Triggers start actions. Habits are: triggers + action and are personal. No-one can do my handbag habit except me because I am the one walking through the door with the bag. I can show someone else my habit but the need and trigger needs to work for them in order for it to work.

you can be habitual about undertaking processes but you can't hand your habit over to someone else Tweet this

Processes, on the other hand, are a series of steps that bring about a predetermined outcome. Short processes can look like habits but they aren't. The difference is that a process can be undertaken by anyone, whereas habits are yours.

In a recent training session on habits one of the other students wanted to develop the habit of opening his project tracking software after starting his computer. He needed a process, not a habit. Why? Because anyone can start up his project tracking software, that isn't something that needs him to be present. Maybe he is the only one in his office but that isn't the point. Anything that can be done by someone else can be turned into a process and improved upon.

Here's my computer startup process: 
- turn computer on 
- connect to the servers 
- launch all the software I need for the day with one keyboard command. I used Alfred to set this up. This saves me heaps of time waiting for programs to open because I go and do something else while it happens.
- check Omnifocus for the list of morning tasks. I can now do the first task because my browser software has been opened by Alfred and that first task is to open all the SAAS (Software As A Service) programs I use.

being consistent in what you do is a cornerstone of being productive Tweet this

The key to whether something is a habit or a process is: if it is a sequence that it doesn't need your special skills then it is a process. Anyone can go through my morning routine for me. I have written down all the steps and anyone can follow them. Processes are valuable because you can hand them over to someone else to run through. You can make a habit of undertaking processes but you can't hand your habit over to someone else.

So, 'project tracking software man' could have the trigger of sitting down to his computer that sets off the habit of working through the process (checklist). Then he can change the process (checklist) as necessary.

Being consistent in what you do is a cornerstone of being productive. The combination of habit and process is going to be the most effective method of getting things done. If you are habituated to use a process then you have both the trigger setting off the habit and the process locking the tasks into place.

Habits are yours, processes are sharable Tweet this

So when you want to automatically do something that requires YOU to be present, like doing push-ups, then develop a habit. But if you need to take the same actions repeatedly and anyone else could take those same actions, then make it a process, automate it, document it and work on improving it.

If you want to work on habit development go to: http://tinyhabits.com

At Hothouse Design we love a good book. Here is an excellent example of the power of habits and their ability to transform. Use our link to Amazon and the affiliate fees will go to charity:

The Power of Habit. Why we do what we do and how to change:  Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed.

Further Reading

More on habits and integrating them into your personal and business processes:
- Doing more than the next person by using your website as a productivity tool
- Start in the way you intend to go on - advice for escapees from Big Corp

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

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