I’ve read (or rather listened to, thanks audible) a lot of books and podcasts on habits and habit formation as it’s a subject that absolutely fascinates me. Perhaps one of the most interesting things I’ve learnt recently is a study that showed it’s not intelligence or IQ that determines someone’s success in life but the single quality of self-control.
There is a long running study in Dunedin, New Zealand where all the babies in one town in 1975 were studied over a 45-year period right up till today. Consistently, they’ve found that those with the higher incomes, the most stable employment, and anecdotally the most stable family lives were the ones who have shown the greatest self-control across their life from childhood to adult. This is interesting but it doesn’t surprise me.
A person’s degree of self-control directly affects their ability to start and maintain good habits and avoid or lose bad habits. Habits are the things we do automatically in our life without thinking about them or exerting too much energy about them. You know like the morning routine, having a shower, cleaning our teeth, getting dressed, we can do all that without thinking about it too much at all. Sometimes, we must think back over our morning to see whether we even did clean our teeth because it’s just something we did unconsciously out of habit.
I’ve seen a lot of IT people who are very intelligent and some that even have good people skills but don’t show half the degree of career advancement you’d expect for someone so talented. There’re certain habits one needs as an IT person in order to go far. Documentation at the end project for example. If it’s not documented, it can cause big problems for others when you are not around. Creating and updating documentation as a consistent daily or weekly habit is critical to IT success.
Good habits become the foundation and building block on which you can build a good IT career. For example, for a Helpdesk Support person, logging every call that you make, or updating every ticket that you worked on at the time that you worked on it is critical. Those things require a habit to be formed so that you’re pairing every ticket that you do or every job that you do with documenting it as well. Some engineers find this extremely difficult. It’s those engineers that need to form a habit to make sure it becomes second nature and automatic so that when they’re finishing a job or fixing a problem or escalating a ticket, it is updated.
One habit forming tip is to pair the habit with something that you enjoy doing. Let’s say for example, you’ve finished a project, but you never get around to documenting that project. You don’t do the ‘as built’ documentation for the servers or the user documentation to do a proper handover because you’re so busy and you’re getting on to the next project or next support ticket or whatever it is. One thing you could do is to set aside time to do a documentation by scheduling your calendar a morning out of the office at a cafe where you take your headphones and your laptop and you sit down for half a day and write that documentation. You say to yourself; “I can only work from a cafe or I can only have coffees at a cafe if I’m writing documentation.” And what this can do is encourage you to look for opportunities to do documentation regularly because you enjoy that time out of the office and you’ve promised yourself that you can only do that if you’re writing documentation at that time.
Now, you might not be a cafe person or might not be a coffee person but insert some other place or some other thing there that is hopeful for you when writing documentation.
I hope this is interesting… let me know and I’ll share some other habit-forming tips and we can all think of their application to our IT careers.