We can break our bad habits by monitoring our performance with a simple checklist, says Sabina Nawaz, an executive coach who works in 26 countries, in an article for Harvard Business Review’s website.

Anyone who has read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande won’t be surprised by Nawaz’ assertion that checklists are powerful tools for individual and organizational excellence.

But the checklist she proposes to help us break bad habits, which she calls a “Yes List,” is an incredibly simple device.  It can be set up in no more than a couple of minutes and updated in less than a minute daily.

But the key is to keep it updated daily.

She says the checklist is an especially valuable ally after we pick a habit to break and then “the newness wears off. Our energy drains, and we lose sight of our goal. Ultimately, we slide back into the status quo.”

Track progress

She adds: “No matter how sophisticated your strategies to rid yourself of bad habits and create good ones, you’re less likely to succeed if you don’t track and review your progress frequently. Noting your improvements each day encourages you to keep going.

“And by identifying where you’re falling short, you’ll notice patterns and make adjustments, so you won’t feel stuck in habits that feel unnatural or aren’t producing real change.”

She tells the story of one senior leader who received negative ratings in three areas. He decided to work on each of them. First, he created a goal in each area. But the goals were too general and impossible to measure. So Nawaz had him identify one small step he could measure each day. For example, the first step to reach his goal of listening better” was to attend one meeting a day where he did not take any electronic devices with him.

On his checklist each day he simply wrote Y (for yes) or N (for no). At a glance he could see how well he was doing with this indicator. When he consistently strung a long series of Ys across the list, he raised the ante to measure if he could avoid taking his devices to two meetings. Eventually, he achieved his goal of not taking the devices to any meetings.

New insight

The daily checklist also revealed that in his effort to micromanage less, he stumbled most often on Mondays.

After a little thought he realized this pattern was due to the fact that he met with a consistent underperformer on Mondays, and he was reluctant to delegate anything to this person. That led him to devise a new plan for how to deal more effectively with this one person’s development rather than just repeat his bad habit of keeping the person on a very short leash.

Nawaz says a year after the executive started using his simple Yes List, his staff members rate him much higher in all three categories where he was initially considered deficient.



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