What’s the recipe for a successful career? Are your skills the most important qualifier? Your fancy university degree? Your long resume of achievements? Your stylish pantsuit?
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 cruisy 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).
Many people can work efficiently despite having a messy desk. But regardless of how well you work, 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!
- Go minimalist - what do you really need at work?
- Keep a personal trash can near your desk
- Get in the habit of digital notekeeping
- Never leave dishes 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're a sickness martyr
When it comes to sickness, there are two extreme types of people. 1) People who stay at home because they have the slightest headache (and churn through their annual leave in a month). 2) Sickness martyrs who come to the office when they’re clearly at death’s door, trying to prove their dedication. Busy managers often fall into the latter category because they don’t want to let their team down.
Neither is ideal, but being a sickness martyr is worse. Coming to work when you’re obviously sick is selfish. That pile of tissues on your desk isn’t a badge of honour - your sniffling will infuriate your colleagues and probably infect them.
No matter how important your role is, it’s better to stay home than contaminate the whole company. Trust us, the earth will keep turning.
- Stay home if you’re sick, no-one wants you here!
- Install software that helps you work remotely
- Schedule regular exercise outside of work
- Get a flu jab in winter
6. You evade the little responsibilities
You pour yourself a coffee from the machine. The light flashes. A filter needs changing. Shit! You glance furtively around the office… no one is watching. Hands in pockets, you stroll away as if nothing happened. Later you dump your cup in the sink. Hey, that’s what cleaners are for right?
We’ve all been guilty of shirking the small responsibilities occasionally. The bad news is that people eventually notice who the repeat offenders are. Being a good employee isn’t just about fulfilling your job description; it’s about working well as a community and treating others with respect.
- Read the 10 Commandments of Office Kitchens
- Familiarise yourself with rosters and rules
- If you don’t know how to fix something, ask
- Treat others with consideration & respect
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.
But guess what? No one cares about your morning hell. Whether you live 3 hours away or 3 minutes, your colleagues still expect you to arrive on time. Take responsibility for your own situation. Does your train run half an hour late on a regular basis? Get up half an hour earlier. It sucks but that’s life.
Being consistently late to meetings can also hurt your career. Forcing clients or colleagues to wait for you shows a lack of respect, by implying that their time is less valuable than yours.
- Avoid the deadly snooze button
- Put your alarm away from the bed, so you have to get up to turn it off
- Allow breathing room between meetings and appointments
- Install GoogleMaps on your smartphone and plan every route
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. 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. You can also work on your mood triggers; I know that I get hangry (hungry + angry) around 3pm so I keep a stockpile of healthy snacks nearby.
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 and willpower. So stick it out! You’ll be thrilled when your career and workplace relationships improve.
And if time management is still your deadliest sin, read more about how WorkflowMax can streamline your projects in three easy steps.