To Improve Your Personal Productivity, You’ve Got to Change Your Habits

Does your team need practical help with personal productivity?

You have a pretty good sense that most of your team has too much to handle and not enough time to get it done – you may not have a sense of how much you are contributing to the problem.

In our fast-paced, get-it-done-now culture, the fact is that almost everyone on your team could use some help in increasing their personal productivity. Why not show them how by modeling effectiveness in your leadership?

By its very nature ministry makes the “I’ve gotten something done today” feeling elusive. For many church leaders, there are no edges to their work – it’s not easy to tell when the work is finished, because it really never is. Most of your team have at least half a dozen things they are trying to achieve right now – today! And a pastoral need could arise at any moment to make that to-do list completely irrelevant.

Solution: Change Your Habits

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential.

At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.


Following habits is an important part of our personal routine, whether at home, work, or play. When you get up in the morning, you go through a routine to get ready for your day. When you arrive at work, you go through a routine for the day. When you arrive at home after work, you go through a routine for the evening. When tomorrow arrives, you begin it all over again.

Most habits are benign, but even some habits you maintain – at work, for instance – can be ineffective at best and detrimental to your job at worst.

If you desire to be more productive, you need to understand more about habits – and how to change them.

Research has documented that habits are a three-step loop in our brains. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. You become locked in to the habits to the point that you no longer think about it. When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks.

While many of your habits are positive and productive, there are probably a few or more that could be improved. The problem is, habits are hard to change.

Unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.

Changing a habit might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.

Here’s the framework for changing habits:

  • Identify the routine
  • Experiment with rewards
  • Isolate the cue
  • Have a plan

Step One: Identify the Routine

Researchers at MIT discovered a simple, neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that consists of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. To understand your own habits, you need to identify the components of your loops. Once you have diagnosed the habit loop of a particular behavior, you can look for ways to supplant old vices with new routines. The first step is to identify the routine – the behavior you want to change.

Step Two – Experiment with Rewards

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings. But we’re often not conscious of the craving that drives our behaviors. Most cravings are obvious in retrospect, but incredibly hard to see when we are under their sway. To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving.

Step Three: Isolate the Cue

To identify a cue, identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to scrutinize in order to see patterns. Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional state
  • Other people
  • Immediately preceding action

Step Four: Have a Plan

Once you’ve figured out your habit loop – you’ve identified the reward driving your behavior, the cue triggering it, and the routine itself – you can begin to shift the behavior. You can change to a better routine by planning for the cue and choosing a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving.

– Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit


Set aside two hours to examine your typical ministry weekday schedule. Identify at least three habits in your schedule that are not effective in helping you be as effective for the gospel as you could be. Of the three, choose the one habit that, if changed, will benefit you the most.

Using Steps Two – Four from the framework above, begin the process of changing that habit. Follow each of the steps, spending time each day for two weeks on building personal effectiveness into this part of your schedule.

After two weeks of your experiment in modifying the change of habit, evaluate your progress with the following questions:

  • How easy was it to first identify habits that needed to be changed and then select just one?
  • How many rewards did you experiment with changing? What was the key to finding the most successful one?
  • How easy was it to isolate the cue among all the noise of your daily activity? Which of the five categories was the clear leader in the cue?
  • How easy was it for you to begin making choices again in changing your behavior?

Make a calendar reminder for three months to determine if you are still following your changed habit. Once you feel some momentum, lead your team to walk through this process.

Becoming effective in your own work habits will serve as both an inspiration and guide for your team. By demonstrating an effective, balanced role model, you are leading your team to effectiveness of vision, not just managing their output of activity.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 16-1, published June 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.