Instant gratification defines so much of the modern world. But lasting changes are made incrementally, over the course of years. Self-improvement is built upon good habits.

The same principle applies to growing a business--a productive, positive company culture requires every person on your team to practice good professional habits.

I recently sat down with James Clear, author of the New York Times best seller Atomic Habits, to talk about why habits are crucial for both personal improvement and business growth. Here are his three steps to building habits that can boost your business.

1. Focus on one percent improvements.

Many of the world's best leaders inspire greatness from others by setting audacious goals. While aiming high can be inspiring, it's important to plan out the work that needs to be done in smaller chunks.

"What's the difference between studying a language for an hour tonight or not studying at all? Probably not much," Clear said. "But the only way to learn a language, to master it, then become fluent in something new, is to study for a little bit every night."

This principle applies to company growth too. Your business won't reach its annual revenue goal with one gigantic sale-- success is a process that involves achieving many small objectives along the way.

So, while it's important to share annual goals with your team, those goals need to be broken down into something more manageable. Set weekly goals that build into quarterly goals. Then ask each member of your team to commit to what he or she will do each day to accomplish that weekly goal. Be sure to hold everyone accountable to that commitment. Eventually, the daily actions will become second nature, and your team will have gotten into the habit of being productive.

2. Learn to "stack" habits.

If you want to develop a new habit, a good strategy is to tie that activity to something you already do. Clear calls this "habit stacking."

For example, a coffee drinker who wants to meditate daily could start by resolving to meditate while brewing coffee each morning. Instead of an abstract goal, meditating becomes a planned, concrete action.

At Acceleration Partners, we've deliberately connected tasks in this way in order to develop a positive culture. For example, we use a service called TinyPulse to collect feedback. This service sends the entire staff a question about their work experiences and then invites each person who answers the question to give a "cheer" to a fellow employee. This helps employees develop the habit of praising their colleagues.

Try to build positive habits on top of your everyday tasks. You could, for example, take one small step toward a long-term goal immediately after answering emails each day. This will not only clear other parts of your schedule to attend to other projects, but it will also bank some vital progress toward an important--if not necessarily urgent--task.

3. Be intentional about activities.

One great thing about habits is that they add intentionality to life, and once you are intentional in one area of your life, that often spreads to other endeavors. I owe much of what I have accomplished in business over the past several years to the habits I've adopted--from my morning regimen to my exercise routine to my resolve to put away my phone each night before getting ready to sleep.

Such habits won't automatically make you a better professional, but they will help you develop discipline and intention. Once you have brought productive order to one part of your day, chances are you will start to notice other instances where disciplined habits can help you improve.

Many people don't think about the unproductive things they do every day. It's easy to spend hours on Facebook without thinking about why, or considering that you could have used that time to make five sales calls. If you start your day with positive activities such as exercise, meditation or journaling, you will be naturally become more discerning about how you spend the rest of your day.

These benefits will also accrue to the way you run your business. Any team that goes into the day without a plan will inevitably waste time. Forming productive habits will make team members more productive as individuals, and all those habitual improvements will compound over time.

James Clear reminds us that little improvements add up. This is true for improving yourself, and it's just as true for growing your business. Start some good new habits today, and encourage your team to do the same.

Published on: Apr 29, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.