What’s the recipe for a successful career? Are your skills the most important qualifier? Your fancy university degree? Your long resume of achievements? The fancy bookshelf in the background of your zoom calls?
Sure, professional traits matter. But personality matters too. There are brilliant employees at all levels - interns, assistants, team leaders, managers, CEOs - who are held back by their bad workplace habits.
Bad workplace habits don’t make you a terrible person, and a single bad habit isn’t likely to get you fired. But if you let them persist, the cumulative effect can be damaging to your career.
Luckily, it only takes a few weeks to permanently train yourself into better habits (or ditch your worst ones). Check yourself against this list. I bet you’re guilty of at least one - I know I am!
1. You’re in a relationship with your email
Your email is not your firstborn child - it doesn’t need constant love and affection. Yet many professionals develop unhealthy relationships with their inbox. Being responsive is good in moderation, but if you check emails 24/7 you’re putting other people’s needs before your own.
Why? Because obsessive email checking destroys your productivity. To achieve anything good in our day we need periods of uninterrupted focus time. This is true for creatives, managers, architects, engineers - in fact pretty much anyone!
In psychology it’s known as finding your state of flow. Each time your flow is disrupted by an email it can take up to 25 minutes for your brain to resume a state of deep focus. Count up all the interruptions during a single day and that’s a lot of wasted time.
- Hide your inbox, don’t keep it open in another tab
- Designate certain times of day for answering emails
- Designate ‘focus sessions’ of at least 3 hours with no inbox checking
- Turn off your phone’s email notifications
2. You delay tough tasks
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work? Pour yourself a coffee and indulge in morning gossip? Scroll through Facebook? Answer some simple emails, maybe watch a video? It’s always tempting to take it easy in the mornings. But you’re actually harming both your productivity and happiness.
This is because our brains are wired to enjoy the opposite process. Psychologically, we prefer our experiences to improve over time. So by tackling painful jobs early in the day and letting things get better in the afternoon, we actually boost our positive emotions and sense of achievement.
So write that dazzling presentation or groundbreaking analytical report in the morning, and save your less intensive brain activities for after lunch. Do this every day until it feels as natural as breathing.
- Make a daily task list every single morning
- Rank tasks on a scale from easy to nightmare
- Tackle the toughest things before midday
- Use the WorkflowMax calendar to track deadlines
3. You're buried in clutter
I’m naturally messy at home and I once had a partner who, in exasperation, drew a line down the middle of our bedroom and declared the left side ‘my crap mountain’. I had to promise my possessions would never cross his line. Needless to say the relationship was short lived.
But clutter at work is a different matter entirely. Desk clutter can manifest in all sorts of way, from the ordinary (scraps of paper, folders and stationery), to the kitschy (excessive decorations and souvenirs) to the obnoxious (old food, piles of dirty dishes, mysterious used tissues).
While having some personal items on your desk can boost creativity and make you feel more comfortable, excessive clutter (this includes your digital filing system, too!) can mean distraction and wasted time looking for things that haven't been put in a sensible place. Plus, if you're working from an office, excessive clutter can harm your career image. Most people associate messiness with laziness, or being swamped and unable to cope. Not exactly the impression you want to give managers or clients!
- Be intentional about each item you keep on your desk. Ask, does this need to be here?
- Keep a personal trash can near your desk
- Get in the habit of digital note keeping and make sure you have a filing system that makes sense to you
- Never leave dishes on your desk overnight
4. You struggle with time management
Poor time management is one of the most dangerous workplace habits in existence. It can cost your business money, and lots of it. How many hours, days or weeks of precious time have been lost due to poor time management? Projects are delayed, invoices forgotten, clients feel neglected and angry.
Of course, you’re only human - sometimes we need a little help juggling all the balls we’ve got in the air. The good news is that there are tools to help you. Investing in a comprehensive project management software like WorkflowMax can make a world of difference to your time management habits.
WorkflowMax lets you manage client details, quotes, job costing, invoicing and reporting all in one place. It also offers time tracking and daily or weekly project calendars, so you never lose track of your goals. You can even access the app from your mobile and other devices, allowing you to manage tasks 24/7. How handy is that?
- Invest in project management software like WorkflowMax
- Designate daily ‘focus sessions’ where interruptions are minimised
- Use the Pomodoro technique for individual tasks
- Enrol in a time management course online
5. You don't separate work and leisure
One of the worse habits many people picked up during the pandemic is blurring the lines between home and work. If you're still at home, or even if you're back at the office, it's so important to make sure you're taking breaks and switching off when the workday is over (yes, this includes your late night email habit!). Blurring the lines between work and leisure can be a recipe for burnout.
- Set a (realistic) goal each morning about what you will achieve for the day. Walk away from the desk once it's done
- Schedule after work activities to mentally switch to 'leisure mode' and recharge
- Make use of WorkflowMax features to see where your time is going. Are you taking on too much or is there a productivity issue?
6. You stay inside all day
You wake up at 7am and head straight to your desk, where you sit under artificial lighting all day until 6pm. By the time you leave the house, it's probably getting dark. If this sounds like you, this is your intervention! Humans were not designed to exist indoors all day - it can actually make our brains think we're sick! We need a bit of fresh air and movement to stay productive and to keep stress levels down (just don't forget the SPF).
- Try out walking meetings
- Get some fresh air on your lunch break
- Start exercising outdoors - perhaps try a morning jogging habit
7. You're frequently late
If you’ve experienced the wretched, soul-draining experience of commuting in Auckland (or any other major city with terrible infrastructure) you’ve probably been late more than once. Buses scheduled to run every 10 minutes come once an hour. The southern motorway at 8am is a unique kind of torture.
Punctuality may not come naturally, but it's important to remember that we don't know what other commitments our colleagues or clients are juggling. Being on time and factoring in a buffer for delays says 'I respect your busy schedule'.
This goes for working remotely too - beware of start time creep if you're a night owl like me. Being disciplined about being at work by a certain time and creating good morning habits can set the tome for the day ahead. If you prefer to start and finish later, and have a flexible work schedule, make sure you stick to the schedule that works for you. And for heaven's sake, don't be late to online meetings!
- Try setting a bed time alarm if you're the type to stay up late and feel tired the next day
- Try a smart watch and set up timely alerts for your meetings. This way, you'll get a nudge when it's time to get ready
- Schedule in prep time on your calendar for important meetings and commitments
8. You spread negativity
Have you ever sat next to a sigher? I’m not talking about your casual, once a day “I’m tired” sigher. I’m talking about the person who exhales loudly and miserably every time they open an email, or sends daily 'I'm dyyyyying' messages to the team slack channel. Every time they start a project. Hell, every time they look at their screen.
If you’ve ever worked with someone like this you’ll know that negativity is contagious. When one person is permanently frustrated it drags down the whole team. Try not to be that person.
Several websites offer brain training exercises to help your outlook on work, and strengthen your cognitive coping mechanisms. Many people remote working might find the lack of face-to-face social interaction can bring down their mood too - so it's super important to schedule in some time with family and friends.
And of course, if you’re suffering chronic stress or depression please don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Many companies offer free counselling services - ask your HR department if you’re unsure.
- Identify what’s causing you stress and unhappiness
- Manage your mood; take regular breaks and eat well
- Seek professional help if you are struggling
Time to calculate your score! How many bad habits are you guilty of? Even if you answered 8 out of 8, there’s no need to despair. Almost any bad habit can be broken - it just takes a little planning. Check out this podcast featuring psychologist Wendy Wood on the good habits of top performers if you're ready to crank things up a notch in 2022.
And if time management is still your deadliest sin, read more about how WorkflowMax can streamline your projects in three easy steps.