During this past year, I read “The Power of Habit,” a marvelous book by Charles Duhigg. Boiling it down, he says you can create habits to achieve goals, almost regardless of the purpose. Create the habit, adhere to it, and you have a greater chance of achieving your goal. The book resonated with me because it seemed like a simple way to improve and become more efficient without immersing myself in a great deal of complexity.
Last month, I listened to all nine CDs of his other book, “The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.” That’s for me. I read his “Habit” book, he’s a fine writer, and thought, “Let’s go for it.” I finished the last CD a few hours before I started this column, and the ending was a thunderclap.
In the spoken appendix, Duhigg (spoken by a professional narrator) talks about his struggles to make some sense in the writing of the book, “Smarter Faster Better.” I thought: “Are you kidding me?” If there’s anyone on the planet who should have a handle on this, it’s Charles Duhigg. He’s the expert’s expert. Given the research he’s done, he’s truly forgotten more about being productive than most of us will ever learn. If he’s struggling, is there any hope for the rest of us?
Here’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, a reporter at The New York Times, and a Yalie who got an MBA from Harvard. Am I missing something? Oh, yeah, there are those books on habit and productivity, a subject on which I’m a sissy. I was amazed and thrilled by the honesty of his admission that he struggled to finish the book. And then what he did to solve it. I battle constantly to maintain some order in my life. And, more importantly, I suspect almost all of you face the same issue. We listen to productivity experts, time experts, efficiency experts. We then apply techniques that seem to work or at least ones that we suspect might be a fit for our personality or style.
Duhigg’s struggle heartened me, not I hope because it made my stillborn efforts seem palatable but because he reminded me of something basic. There is no perfect system that works all the time for everyone. None. The culprit is that bothersome element called being human. At the risk of sounding cynical, here’s an example from life. You view that “perfect” family from afar. Then, later, you discover they’re flawed, too. It’s not relishing in their misfortune; the knowledge is a salve that allows you to recognize you’re not the failure you thought you were.
Remember, you will fail, momentarily, maybe for a day or even a week. It might be in business policies. You’ve implemented a commission structure, and suddenly, you face a rebellion and cave in, maybe in reaching a personal goal like calling a family member who irritates the heck out of you, but whom you care about. Time to clear the air.
In the end, we all take a fall, and you need a reminder and a method for standing up. As I’m fond of saying, it’s simple but not simplistic. You need a reminder because, frankly, it’s not a question of I.Q. points, but it is an issue of committing yourself. And to achieve that goal, you need a plan or a process. Duhigg’s books give you a variety of approaches, but like most of life, you must do it.
Duhigg writes about how he spent an enormous amount of time researching the founder of the modern-day shipping container. After investing extensive effort and time, the information never made it into the book. (I just killed a paragraph in a previous version of this column and felt like someone pinched me.) Duhigg dropped it from the book because it just didn’t fit in the end.
What does any of this have to do with the HVACR business? Sometimes I’m a bit slow in getting to the point, and my delayed lead in this column is an example.
Here’s the point. A bad year or good year, many of you are looking at next year, 2017. Many of you are reading this column at our annual conference. Take time for what I call the “big think.” If you’re at the conference, listen carefully to the speakers. Think, deeply, about what worked, what didn’t, and what requires more effort. When’s the last time you thought about one issue for an hour? (Painful, isn’t it?) Then ask yourself the most basic question of all: If I don’t know the answer, who does? Whether it’s a Charles Duhigg look-alike or some expert you know, find the answer. Then make a move. In December 2017, when contemplating 2018, I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, this little push to find an answer from a big think made your business better or even helped change you — just a bit — as a more productive and better person. DC