One of the classic studies in psychology revealed what has become known as The Hawthorne Effect … that observing and measuring someone tends to change their behavior.
Hopefully for the better.
And although much has been written about this study from 1966 that intended to look at the effects of different lighting on workers at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, the bottom-line findings have impacted everything from dieting to peak performance among athletes.
When you start measuring your own behavior, your awareness of what you’re doing gives you everything you need to change it. Improve it. Especially if you feel like you’ve plateau’d and can’t figure out how to break through to the next level.
Since the Hawthorne study, there have been quite a bit of research suggesting that measuring something makes it conscious again so that you can begin evaluating what you can start doing to improve performance. It’s used in many diet/health improvement regimens, for example, because it’s common for people who are asked to write down everything they eat to start eating less!
If you make coffee in the morning, you may notice that you do it so often, it’s like you’re on auto-pilot when you’re doing it. You know it so well you have stopped paying attention to the individual steps.
The same thing can happen in your own career. Whether you’re an attorney, a surgeon, a marketing executive or anything else, getting good requires so much practice that you can level off as your skills become unconscious.
The key is to make those unconscious moves/patterns conscious again. Just like the overweight person who starts writing down what they eat and can start changing it right at that moment.
Let’s look at a simple example of how to do that, starting with your morning coffee.
Tomorrow morning, count the number of steps it takes you to make the coffee.
I know, deceptively simple. Counting something requires conscious effort, and that brings it back into your conscious mind.
Now that you know how many steps it takes, try to make your coffee the morning after that with as few steps as possible. You will find it’s pretty easy to improve once you have made it conscious again.
This concept applies to the things you do so well at work, too.
This is not a high-tech exercise or when you need to download a template for. Just pick — to start — one thing you do right know very well, and write down (or sketch out if you think more in terms of shapes than sequential steps) every thing you do to execute that process. Your goal at this point isn’t to modify anything, it’s simply to chart out what you’re doing for a process that has become largely routine.
Is that time-consuming? Yes. Will it help you bring each step to the fore of your mind so you can weigh whether or not it’s absolutely necessary? Absolutely.
I did this myself with a fairly complicated process and realized, in the middle of writing up the steps (measuring) that there were aspects of the process that were unnecessary and other things that could be improved.
The changes I made were radical in the sense that I started getting better responses to the process and more buy-in from the people I had to engage in it.
The goal isn’t to write things down, the goal is to become more conscious of what you’re doing BY WRITING IT DOWN. And once it’s conscious again, you will find ways to refine it. Improve it. Change it. And make it better.
It’s amazing what you can change once you’ve had that first cup of coffee.