Skip navigation
stomping-out-cigarette.jpg Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images Plus

Three Techniques to Break Unproductive Habits

Eliminating bad habits will save you time, which you can then devote to productive ones such as growing your business.

“I have too much to do and too little time.”

“I have a lot on my plate right now.”

“I’m only one person, I can only do so much.”

Sound familiar? We’ve all heard or used these sentiments before. However, as coaches we commonly uncover the primary issue is not stemming from a mountain of tasks or lack of activity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s doing a lot of unproductive activity.  

We all develop habits, good or bad, as we go through the routine of our day. Eliminating negative habits is just as important as developing positive habits. Why? You will save time, which you can then devote to productive habits such as growing your business.

There’s no shortage of negative, time-wasting habits to which advisors can find themselves falling victim:

  • Email—We realize the urge to respond immediately to every email that hits your inbox. However, it’s just not advisable or necessary. Schedule only certain hours in your day to check your email. Outside of those hours, turn off notifications and set boundaries. 
  • Texting—Personal messages happen, just don’t let it get out of hand. For the most part, your personal contacts aren’t expecting an immediate response during work hours.
  • Social Networks—Unless you’re corresponding with business relationships or creating valuable content, you’re better off saving these communication mediums for your “off hours.” It’s easy to get distracted and before you know it, you’ve watched 30 minutes of Instagram Reels.
  • Web Browsing—This is a “creeper” habit. It starts with a little web browsing, then grows into a more serious issue. Draw a hard line as to when you’ll allow yourself to get lost in the ever-enticing internet black hole.
  • Office Socializing—Advisors waste a tremendous amount of time talking with other advisors. Sure, you want to be friends with others in your office, but it’s best to keep the chatter to a minimum.
  • Slow Finish—When you get started with an action, take the time to see it through. There’s nothing more frustrating than a quick starter, slow finisher.

How do we kick our bad habits and get focused on productive habits? How do we break negative compulsions we’ve developed and programmed into our subconscious over the years?

The following are three techniques for assisting advisors in breaking their unproductive habits. They require discipline, but they can be extremely beneficial in terms of increasing productivity.

1. Acknowledgement

The first step in breaking any habit is to recognize it. If we catch ourselves in the act of a certain negative habit (e.g., adjusting our fantasy football roster), self-realization occurs. The idea is to make a note of every time you catch yourself engaged in this time waster. Your goal is to increase your awareness of the habit. For example, if you catch yourself aimlessly surfing the web, mark down the time it occurred, why you were doing it and how much time it wasted. This acknowledgement alone can be enough for some advisors to realize the amount of time and energy they are wasting throughout the day and make a change. 

2. Replacement

One strategy for eliminating a negative habit is to find a replacement activity that’s positive. The idea is every time you catch yourself engaging in a negative habit, immediately replace it with a new positive habit you would like to develop. This takes practice but can be extremely powerful. For example, if you catch yourself checking your personal phone too often at work, make a habit of making a prospect call (or any other marketing activity) every time you check your personal phone. This takes strong discipline but is an effective way to both break bad habits and build new positive ones.

3. Boundaries

Set a boundary for your negative habit that you don’t cross. Eventually your undesirable habit will slowly dissipate. For example, checking email constantly throughout the day makes you reactive and unproductive. With this example, we want to set a boundary that’s reasonable—maybe three times a day. Once you determine a realistic boundary, allow yourself to check your email only three times throughout the day at certain predefined intervals (e.g., 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

We like to focus only on activities we do—but what we don’t do is equally important. If we continue unproductive behaviors on a regular basis, they quickly become habits that we must break. Breaking unproductive habits isn’t easy, but it will pave the way for advisors as they advance in their careers.

Kevin Nichols is a partner with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research and training for the financial services industry. @KevinANichols

TAGS: Careers
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.