Business development 25 February 2016

Four ways to keep on track with your business resolutions this spring

New year's resolutions are easy to make, but often hard to keep
New year’s resolutions are easy to make, but often hard to keep

So if you’re already struggling to keep your resolutions, how can you ensure that you stay on track with them? Matt Perkins, head of SME engagement at FreeAgent, gives his top tips for successfully keeping your business resolutions.

New year’s resolutions are a great way to focus your attention on trying to run a better business, but they can also be incredibly hard to maintain when the January honeymoon period is over. That’s because once the reality of day-to-day work kicks in – and the initial optimism of making a fresh start begins to fade – it’s difficult to maintain your focus on all those new, and potentially daunting, goals you’ve set yourself.

Think small – not big

You may think that achieving a big goal like being more productive or creative requires an equally large change in your behaviour, but that’s not necessarily the case. Psychology studies actually suggest that when faced with “big” projects, we’re actually less likely to complete them because they appear to be too hard.

Therefore the key is to start small and establish new habits that are so tiny they seem trivial, so you’ll be more likely to accept them into your routine. Therefore if you set yourself a far-reaching new year’s resolution such as “I will be more organised with my work”, try replacing this with smaller goals instead – for example, “I will spend five minutes every morning tidying up my emails” – and build these up into your routine over time.

Break your old habit loop (and create a new one)

It’s very easy to find yourself falling into a bad habit loop. That’s because our behaviour tends to be shaped by whether we perceive any reward from our behaviour – and bad habits such as hitting the snooze button on your alarm or compulsively checking your email give us a rush of relief that encourages us to keep performing these actions.

The good news is that if you identify the “reward” that you get for your behaviour you’ll find it easier to find what triggers your habit and, ultimately, be able to hack the loop. Then it’s just a question of replacing your “bad” routine with a “good” one that gives you the same perceived reward, and you should find it easier to make a lasting change.

Don’t rely on motivation to complete your goals

Motivation can be a powerful force for getting things done, but it can also undermine all of your efforts too. That’s because it’s easy to succumb to desire (i.e. your wider hopes and dreams), and that can drive you into a frenzy if you’re trying to solve multiple problems – or one gigantic, far-reaching issue – all at once.

Instead of trying to motivate yourself towards huge goals, it’s much better to implement tiny, repeatable habits which can trick your brain into changing its behaviour gradually and remove the need for motivation altogether. Remember, it’s far more beneficial to introduce something small and manageable into your routine than something you need to psyche yourself up to tackle.

Don’t worry if you get off track – just keep going

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and achieving your resolutions won’t necessarily be a smooth process. You’ll face hurdles along the way, but the key thing is to keep trying and not to get too demoralised if you fail.

Buffer co-founder Joel Gascoigne’s method is to start with a habit that’s “so small you can’t fail”, so that it’s easier to gradually make small additions to it and eventually achieve the bigger, awesome habit you wanted all along. Just remember to factor in some flexibility as you go, and try to avoid the guilt or disappointment that arises from failure. If you expect to break a habit at some point, you’ll be better placed to learn from your failure, stay focussed on your goal and succeed in the long term.

On a similar theme, here are the best and worst business advice Owen O’Neill has had as an entrepreneur.

Matt Perkins is head of SME engagement at FreeAgent, which provides cloud accounting software for freelancers, contractors and micro-businesses.

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