Learning a new way to do something – like managing e-mail – necessarily requires changes in behavior. Though self-evident, the difficulty of successfully making those changes in behavior is routinely underestimated.
For example, we all know that managing our e-mail better will lower our stress level and increase our productivity. These are terrific reasons to make the necessary changes. We may even make a conscious decision to better manage our e-mail by adopting a new system. Yet, we always experience internal resistance when the new behaviors required to make the change are introduced. In fact, the resistance is often so great that it significantly diminishes the result, if not undermine the effort altogether.
In short, change is hard. End of story, right? Maybe not.
Step One: Types of Reactions
I am often confronted with this need for behavioral change while working with professionals both during seminars and in one-on-one coaching engagements. After all, it’s my job to help my clients get more done – an environment rooted in effecting positive change.
The first step in successful change management is to understand that there are three fundamentally different types of reactions we exhibit to the inputs we experience during the day. [pullquote position=”right”]Once we have a firm grasp on these reaction types, we can effect meaningful change.[/pullquote]
- Instinctive Reaction. This is a reaction over which we have little conscious control. Our behavior is almost wholly involuntary. For example, we flinch if someone unexpectedly blows an air horn near us. Even if we watch the person press the horn, we still react a little in spite of the fact that we were prepared for the noise!
- Emotional Reaction. These are reactions rooted, obviously, in our emotions. Our ability to control them depends largely on how strong the emotional tug is. For example, wanting something – a new suit – is an emotional reaction that has some pull on us, but we can generally overcome the urge to purchase the suit. On the other hand, jonesing for a hamburger can gnaw on us until we succumb to the desire and head to our favorite burger joint. Both of these are “wants” – emotionally rooted – but each has a different level of power over us.
- Intellectual Reaction. These are considered reactions. Thought is given to how we will respond to a particular stimulus. Consequently, we have a large degree of control over how well the change goes. When someone asks you where you’d like to go to dinner, you might consider the type of food you’d like to have, the day of the week, and the distance to the various choices. In the end, the reaction – your answer – is entirely in your control.
These are the basic reactions I’ve found are important when improving the time management skills of professionals. The next step is to map the way the desired result is achieved given these possible reactions.
Step Two: Mapping Results to Reaction Type
Mapping the desired result to the possible reaction types is a fairly simple process. In fact, achieving the targeted result becomes relatively straightforward once the type of reaction we’re dealing with has been identified in a particular change management situation.
- Instinctive Reaction. Since we can’t change the reaction – it’s mostly involuntary – we need to find ways to change the stimuli. If the desired change is better e-mail management, one easy stimulus change is to turn off the new e-mail alerts in our Inbox. Our reaction to these visual and/or audible signals is instinctive and largely involuntary. [pullquote]We look up or turn our heads toward the movement/sound, which distracts us from what we are doing.[/pullquote] The solution is to turn off the alerts altogether (and check e-mall periodically). Here we change the stimulus because the reaction type is mostly beyond our control.
- Emotional Reaction. Because emotions are so strong they regularly overpower our intellectual discipline. The trick is to reduce the emotional tug enough so we can manage it consciously. For example, diets often fail because they often deprive us of the foods we desire. One of my greatest weaknesses is M&Ms. To effect my goal of successfully losing weight and keeping it off, I now purchase the regular size packet of M&Ms instead of the larger Tear ‘N Share size. My desire and my intellect are both happy with this middle-ground result and I’ve kept the weight I lost off for the last three years.
- Intellectual Reaction. The best method to effect change in an intellectual reaction situation is knowledge and confidence. Gathering together the information we need to make an informed decision makes us confident as we move forward with the change effort. For example, QuietSpacing posits that there are only three kinds of stuff that come at us each day: trash, filing, and work. Trash gets thrown away, filing gets put away, and work gets queued up for our attention. Once a client learns this simple triaging method, they can confidently face their littered desk or bulging e-mail Inbox.
Change is Easy if It’s Kept Easy
This approach won’t solve all the change management problems we face, but it will solve a vast majority of them. By determining what type of reaction we will have to a particular situation, we can develop a strategy to address the change we wish to affect.