Zen Habits to Autopilot to Business Planning

Dieting. Regular exercise. Investing. Planning.  All of them so much easier said than done. Easy to know what to do, but hard to do it, because you have to actually do it, repeatedly, not just know what to do. Emphasize, for me please, planning.

What do these things have in common? You guessed it. We know what we should do, but it takes patience, habits, discipline, routines. So we just don’t do it.

While driving over the weekend I heard the podcast of Terry Gross of NPR interviewing Joe Nocera of The New York Times about investment. He said that same thing (I’m paraphrasing):

Good investing takes patience, and waiting, and sticking to things. It’s a lot like dieting. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but we just can’t sustain it over the long term.

And related to this, I just picked up Autopilot Achievement: How to Turn Your Goals Into Habits on Zen Habits. Dealing, essentially, with the same underlying problem. In short:

It’s such a simple concept, yet it’s something we don’t always do. It’s not exceedingly difficult to do, and yet I think it’s something that would make a world of difference in anyone’s life.

Break your goals into habits, and focus on putting those habits into autopilot.

I immediately recognized the problem of planning, which is intended to be a matter of routinely reviewing and managing plans and comparing the plan to actual reality, and course corrections; but too often it just isn’t. If we manage to plan, we forget to work the plan, revise it, review it, keep assumptions where we can see them, and of course change the plan as reality reveals itself.

As I read on, I saw a recipe for working goals into habits that sounds astoundingly close to what I’ve been saying about business planning (that’s planning, of course, not just plan). Here are the details (as direct quote):

It’s a pretty simple process, but let’s go over it step-by-step:

  1. You goal should be written out very clearly. The better you can visualize your goal, the easier this will be.
  2. Think about the steps needed to get to your goal. There may be many.
  3. Can the goal be accomplished with a series (2-4) of daily or weekly actions? For example, to save money, you will need to make a savings deposit every payday, before you pay your bills. Through that regular action, the goal will eventually be accomplished. Figure this out, and that’s your habit or series of habits.
  4. Figure out the amount of the habit will need to be done to get you to your goal by your timeline. By ‘amount’, I mean that you have to figure out quantity times frequency to get your desired result. For example, I can run every single day but not be prepared to run a marathon if I don’t do enough miles or long runs. So if I’m going to run every day, I have to also know how far (and any other things such as different workouts on different days). If I’m going to have a savings deposit every week, I need to know how much is necessary for each deposit in order to reach my goal. Figure out this ‘amount’ for your habit and make a schedule.
  5. Focus on the first habit for at least one month, to the exclusion of all else. Don’t worry about the other two habits (for example) while you’re trying to form the first habit. For more on forming habits, this article is good place to start.
  6. If more than one habit is necessary, start on the second habit after a month or so, then on the third, and so on, focusing on one habit at a time until each is firmly ingrained.
  7. After all the necessary habits are ingrained, your goal is on autopilot. You will still need to focus on them somewhat, but to a lesser extent. If any of the habits gets derailed, you’ll have to focus on that habit again for one month.
  8. After you’re on autopilot, you can focus on a new goal and set of habits.

Does this remind you of good business planning process? I hope so.


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