5 Bad Work Habits and How to Break Them

When you’re under the gun to get things done at the office, you hurt yourself with bad work habits. You may not even realize you have some of these challenging tendencies, but each of them hurts your productivity. So we’ll break down five bad work habits, and we’ll give you ways to break them so you can get more work done.

1. You Spend Most of Your Day Responding to Email

We’ve worked in offices where emails were the only thing really getting done. It’s ugly, it’s unproductive and it’s unnecessary. First, email is a drain on your day because it contributes to task-switching, something we regularly discourage here. Second, although it’s asynchronous, many people use email inefficiently, when the phone or an in-person conversation can really save time. For example, scheduling a meeting can require many back-and-forth volleys, while a phone call could produce a time & date in a few seconds. The solution can take three forms: schedule email breaks (to minimize task switching), write succinctly (notes should be one or two paragraphs), and use phone calls or in-person conversations for more complex conversations.

2. You’re Always Late

When you arrive at work late or show up to meetings that are already underway, you hurt your reputation as you simultaneously reduce the productivity of others. Colleagues resent your tardiness (“Hey, if I can get here on time…”) and no one likes to repeat concepts already discussed “to catch you up”. Over time, you’ll undoubtedly miss opportunities, so it’s a key habit to get right. We all have tricks to cheat: set your watches and clocks five minutes ahead, leave earlier than you ever think you need (bring a book to fill any “extra time”), and make sure you always have a quarter tank of fuel in the car. Anything that causes you to be late for something can reveal a new trick.

3. You Procrastinate

“If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Ouch. Yes, deadlines help things happen, but waiting too long leads to mistakes, stress and frustration. Start early – “eat the frog” – to build momentum and alleviate finding last minute challenges. The alternative is that when faced with a deadline that you can’t meet, you must either add resources (e.g., work harder), move the deadline, or cut back on deliverables. Your team would prefer not to have to choose from that menu of options.

4. You’re Always a Pessimist

Winston Churchill once said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” On occasions, it is wise to play devil’s advocate, act as a contrarian and challenge your colleagues. That act grows tired, however, if it’s every time. Taking the other side, being a supporter on occasion, can redeem you.

5. You’re Checked Out in Meetings

Are you always on your laptop or mobile device during meetings? If so, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Meetings can be a huge collective waste of resources. If you’re too busy to attend, don’t. If you’re not important to the meeting, don’t accept the invitation. If you’re key to the outcome, help the team stick to the agenda so you can all get on to other tasks. Being focused on the goal, not attempting to multitask during a meeting, helps get results.


Breaking Bad…Work Habits

Bad work habits can create animosity with your team, and with a few minor adjustments to your plans and presentation, you can prevent being your own problem in the workplace. The first step is awareness – are you doing any of these things? If so, tackle the one that you feel would be easiest to fix (build momentum – don’t procrastinate!). You’ll be glad you did.


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