In business, and life, we repeatedly make resolutions, take stock, turn over new leaves and pledge to give things up. Problem is, cold turkey never works (for me anyway!). So what to do?

The answer, as best I can tell from dozens of failed attempts, is to skip the cold turkey and aim to turn ‘strict rules’ into sustainable habits. I don’t yet have the results to show for it, but at least I’m aware of some problems!

1. Coffee
For me, coffee means work. As part of the working day ritual, I used to be in the habit of half a dozen Blend 43s every day. So each Christmas break, I’d ‘quit’ coffee cold turkey. Other than a few days of headaches, it was a pointless exercise as I’d be back on the gear by January. Now, I’ve quit quitting coffee, but have it down to a manageable two per day.

Goal: Rather than quit, wean off to a reasonable level. One of my few long-term successes!

2. Alcohol
If coffee signifies work, then alcohol (more specifically a frosty lager) signifies the end of work. One, because of its association with weekends and holidays, but two because just a sip of amber flicks a switch in my brain that instantly shifts today’s to-do list to tomorrow.

In a recent interview, comedian and musician Tim Minchin talked about the role that coffee and alcohol play in his hectic schedule, and its downsides.

“I can see the future. It’s heart palpitations. It’s the fine balance of caffeine and alcohol that bookends my days. I really don’t like an evening going by without a couple of drinks, and that’s a lot of calories at the end of the day.”

Worse than the alcohol itself, beer-o-clock tends to lead to consequences like skipping exercise, watching trash TV, eating entire tubes of Pringles and a sluggish start to the next day (needing even more coffee!). This ‘opportunity cost’ does nothing productive for your business.

Goal: So far this year I’ve ditched alcohol on weeknights (mostly successfully). Ultimately I’m not aiming on giving up entirely, but would like to move from a position of ‘not drinking this week’ to kicking the reflexive after-work habit.

3. Dopamine
Why are we so addicted to texts, email, social media and screens? Because, according to articles like this one, every message we get gives our brains a little hit of pleasure. “Dopamine makes you addicted to seeking information in an endless loop.”

Whatever the science, I do find myself incessantly checking my screens’ new message alerts. Sad I know, but I’m far from alone. I’ve confessed my email addiction and failed solutions before and many business owners joined the chorus.

Goal: I’m not too fussed about being connected all day, but plan to set aside blocks of clear work time (see point 4) and more regularly unplug during evenings and weekends.

4. To-do lists
I can’t decide if this is a good or bad habit! But I love lists – writing them, actioning them and crossing them off. Whether it’s stuff to do around the house or work projects. The downside of this is that you can become so focused on short-term tasks that you neglect the longer-term creative and strategic thinking that can help your business thrive.

What’s more, it also creates an unrealistic obsession with ‘completing the task list’, and a resulting feeling of failure if items remain on the list at the end of the day.

Goal: Define set times for task-based work and times for bigger picture projects. Don’t let an incomplete task-list cloud an otherwise productive day.

Working from home really doesn’t help, where temptation is never far away. For some people their small business addictions are salty snacks, procrastination, sleeping in, daytime TV, chocolate, web surfing, YouTube and more.

What habits do you battle in business? How do you counter them?

Anyhoo, I’ve had my afternoon coffee so I guess I’ll crack a beer, check the inbox and write a list. Wonder what’s on TV tonight…

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