Habits, Good and Bad

Have you ever seen how different people will do the same task in different ways? If you ask them why they do the process that way, they will generally tell you they do it in that particular fashion because it’s the easiest way to get it done. I have enjoyed years of teaching people how to use a computer. Everything from simple typing to designing spreadsheets and waterfall charts. And through the years I have gained a few insights.  I would like to share a thought or two with you. Understanding these interesting interactions may help you in your line of work.

As we go through life, we learn how to get something done or make something happen. The more we study, train or work at a task the more likely we are to find different ways to accomplish it. Quite often I will ask someone why they do a process a particular way. They usually tell me they do the process the way they do because it is the easiest way.

Sometimes when I am told a student is doing a process the most natural way, I will show them some shortcuts that can save them time or extra work on the task. They thank me and try it a few times. Later on, I will notice that they are still doing the job the way they were doing it before I showed them new techniques. When I initially saw this, I thought they were just not paying attention, but I was wrong.

When you have five different ways to do a task (and many large and advanced computer programs have these ways), the question is no longer what is simplest or quickest. The question becomes ‘what is the best way for the user to accomplish the task.’ At that point, you have to consider the knowledge and habits of the student.

If the student has done something for several years, they have developed a habit of doing the task in a certain way. As long as the job is completed and the end result is correct, the student has acted correctly. We find that a habit which completes the process precisely is a robust tool for someone to use. And, we should use the information to our advantage if it works better for the end product.

Some habits are destructive in nature because they can skip critical steps that must be completed to correctly complete the procedure. These habits are the ones we want to train out of people. How hard is it to remove a bad habit? Many supervisors prefer to have new people who have never perform the process work for them simply because they don’t have to train out bad habits. The supervisors would instead train the people themselves.

Some of these thoughts can be debated back and forth, pro and con, and never come to us satisfactory conclusion. It does put the onus on us as trainers to ensure that the people we teach, understand the proper ways to do a task, and why other methods will not work. We can help them to break bad habits and reinforce good habits. Yet, we cannot do it for them, we can only show them the way.

Thank you for being with me today. I hope to be with you again soon.

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