February 20, 2021

Decrease Inertia

Maintaining an exercise routine this past year has been quite difficult. We are all stuck at home and the lines of separation between home, work, exercise, and socializing have become very blurred. There is no longer an office you go to work or a gym that you get to work out in. Instead, we all have to make our homes our offices and our gyms. Creating and sticking to habits in this environment, I’ve found, to be challenging.

Prior to the pandemic, I was an avid exerciser”. I went to the gym about 3 times a week and played both basketball and soccer. Being part of leagues, playing sports and having a gym routine where I exercised either before work or after the work day prior to heading home made it easy to do. Being stuck at home on the other hand has presented challenges trying to exercise and keep a routine.

Similarly, sticking to a work routine has proved trying. The temptation to work more hours than usual due to being stuck at home, or to go back and solve that thing that you weren’t able to but that keeps nagging at the back of head. The delineation between work and home no longer exists.

In reconciling these challenges and creating new habits I should stick to in the pandemic, I realized that the same simple strategy I apply when creating habits that stick as a leader have helped me become better at keeping these habits and that is to reduce inertia.

Decreasing inertia is critical to successfully make a habit stick. In my one on ones, I employ a similar tactic to ensure the variability of one on ones. Besides the regular one on ones, I schedule monthly career goals check in, and quarterly retrospective discussions in place of them in the schedule. By having these on the calendar, when they arrive, both myself and my report know and are reminded to have the necessary discussion.

Compare this to a situation in which the onus to have these discussions is on me. I could be tired that day and forego the conversation because I’m not up for it, or I simply could forget to do it. Even if I’m not up for it, my report is expecting us to have it and so we do.

I applied the same principle to my work and exercise. For work, I use an office space separate from my room in the apartment that I go to every morning. When I’m done with my day, I walk away from that space never removing my laptop from that area. If I’m tempted to keep working, I need to go back to that space. This added inertia has prevented me from doing so. With exercise, I’ve used the same calendar approach as my one on ones. Blocked out time and calender reminders to exercise have been a great forcing function to actually do so.

If you are ever trying to create a new culture or habit on your team or in your personal life, start with the question of what’s the inertia and build a solution that reduces it.

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