Habits: When Roadbumps Occur


This is the beauty of having a blog: I can put myself out there and committ to something, and then two days later I can roll my ankle and have to start again. And so it is.

Let’s compare this situation to Reliability work, and look at some strategies for not getting frustrated when your best intentions are thwarted. A similar situation could be when you have a schedule you’ve set for yourself to get your work accomplished, but you are relying on another’s input.  And those people are unavailable.

When you can’t move the train forward on the tracks you’re on, there are still things you can do to make the time productive and worthwhile. Three things I learned during this speed bump:

1. Train your weakness.  In my particular case this means focusing on strength training and nutrition.  For a reliability worker, it could be studying the first principles of the machine, going out to see the problem and learn something new you didn’t have time to learn before, or working on that difficult project you’ve had on the back burner because you don’t really want to start it.

2 . Recovery and preparation: switching out my shoes, doing some foam rolling to work out lingering tightness, planning future routes and workouts. For the other: gathering all the data you need and setting up the analyses, talking to other experts to understand what they do (context), planning your next project beyond.

3. Reflection:  If you’ve been committed to a habit, and it has to pause…this is a good time for reflection.  Is there anything missing in your overall approach? Is this habit still serving you?  This is the time for introspection and questioning.  For me, I can start again, and my committment is more sure because I’ve taken that time to question and decided it is for me still.

All these things can help when you are ready to go again.  Often its better to change direction instead of stopping all together.

What are your thoughts on restarting when you get hung up?

Consistency and Habits: A Positive Feedback Loop to Greatness

(Happy Canada Day, folks!)

I’ve learned about myself and my habits over the last few months.  After Around the Bay, I pretty much stopped running for a month and a half.  Not because I don’t like running, but because the race felt like the finish line, an end.  That was not part of the plan when I set out to make running a part of my life.

Turns out results – sustainable results – don’t happen in one big shot for me.  Habits drive consistency everyday, and that’s where the magic happens.  Gretchen Rubin clarifies why habits are especially powerful: when something is truly a habit, we don’t have to use willpower to convince ourselves to do it.  Getting over the hump where we have to force ourselves to do something to where it is a part of our daily routine happens when we commit to consistency (a positive feedback loop between consistency and habits).

Consistency should be one of the Virtues of Reliability. Because “big R” Reliability is not about the Hail Mary pass. Every day, the same focus and effort. Every day, the attention to detail. This is where heros are made. The daily grind, the habits, the commitment to excellence (not perfection). Reliability is not about the finish line.  I don’t think we’ll ever be “done.” Positive steps in the right direction day in and day out it what will make change for our business (and our careers).

Is habit strength something I struggle with?  Of course! Currently, I’m committing to a 100-day running streak (running every day), and I’m on Day 32. This is my attempt to make running a part of my routine. Some days I just go a mile, but it’s the habit I’m after now, (I assume greatness will follow!).

Here are some of my favourite habit strength resources. They all use the intentional development of habits to build something great.

Are you working on developing any habits? Any tips for effective routines?

Getting to the End Goal: I Like Metaphors

This one is about running.  I find it a pretty good metaphor for reliability work, and I’m all about the metaphors. I’m still a novice, and I’m looking to achieve new distances right now. This involves me following a training plan with set mileage and gradual improvements towards an end goal. This past weekend I finished the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, with a dramatic improvement in my time.

This one is also about discouragement.  Bumping up against my perceived limitations and realizing I’m going to have to change something, going to have to get a little uncomfortable. I haven’t been logging the splits I wanted to meet my Around the Bay goal (see my 2016 goals here).  Getting distracted by pace is discouraging if the end goal is distance.  It’s helped me to look at where I was and how far I’ve come, but even that doesn’t always work.  Similarly, reliability work can mean taking the long route to get to the end goal.  It helps to have that end goal clear in sight, and a plan to get there.  It can also be hard to keep going when you don’t really know what the end goal looks like (a complete, perfect maintenance program? Reduced budget? Reduced risk? Engagement of others to build a foundation?).  Uncharted territory means a few stumbles and wrong turns and detours.

This one is about persevering and prevailing. Not to be the best that ever was (though certainly that’s a laudable accomplishment), but to be the better than you were.  Better than you used to be. So you can accomplish things quicker, more surely, than in the past.  Figuring out what the end goal feels like, not having it be a sentence or line item.  This could be developing rapport with a colleague as you work through a project together.  Or it could be nailing a maintenance strategy for a piece of equipment, and knowing what to do next time.  My run last weekend felt like victory to me for these reasons.

And this one is about getting comfortable again fast, so you can conquer the next goal or project.  Always learning, getting steady with your feet under you, and using that new base of experience to do more.

Either way, I’m learning a lot.

How about you?  Any favourite metaphors for reliability?

Reliability and Running

I’m a novice runner. I just finished my first “big” race last weekend (I finished!).  While I was trying to develop my running habit, it struck me how training for a race is similar to Reliability Engineering.

Stay with me, here.

Both Reliability and Running (or any habit, for that matter), require similar things to see progress:

  • Focus: working on the same goal every week
  • Baby steps: incremental advancement as you do those easy runs, or monitor the process, or generate failure modes
  • Repetition: only by doing something over and over again can you develop proficiency
  • Avoiding distractions: similar to focus, but instead f different work, this is about not procrastinating when something more fun comes along, (like sleeping in)
  • Listening to your gut: if it feels like there’s something else going on – an injury or a hidden failure – it pays to investigate

Once you get a little good at it, it becomes easier and you can play instead of grinding out the miles. Or the Root Cause Analyses.

What’s the end goal you could be looking for by developing a Reliability habit? A stable process is one that can be improved.  An equipment maintenance plan minimizes costs and headaches.  These can be your end goal, or part of something larger: a new product line because the process capability is understood; healthy equipment because there is room left in the budget to tackle your backlog.

In future posts, I’ll share some habit-building skills to help. How do you relate Reliability to habits in your life?