Feeling like your habits need a refresh? Bad work habits can be tough to break, but there are scientifically-proven ways to not only shake off ones you find unhelpful but to create great habits to put in their place, too. We take you through a few bad habits (procrastination, digital addictions, overworking, negativity) and discuss how you can push yourself to change each into better, more creative behaviors.
Bad Habit: Procrastination
The reasons for procrastination are as varied and individualistic as the many who suffer from it. But the ways in which we view ourselves, and handle the resulting emotions, may be key to recognizing, acknowledging and addressing the problem. A lack of confidence, fear of failure, or an abundance of anxiety may lead us to (wrongly) believe we are not up to a particular task, or that certain aspects of a task are too new or unfamiliar.
Most of us are hard-wired to focus more on present comfort than future happiness, which can make it easy to put off a task we imagine to be stressful or difficult. Others allow rampant perfectionism to keep them from getting started on a challenging project. And time management issues — underestimating how long a task will take or how quickly you’ll get it done — can constitute major roadblocks and lead to procrastination.
Creative Solutions: The best way to move beyond procrastination based in negative emotions or self-image may be to make it extremely easy to get started. Break down a large task into smaller ones, ramping up slowly until you’re working at a comfortable pace. Remind yourself that past successes have lead you to the challenge at hand, which suggests you are the right person for the job. Address truly difficult problems by asking a mentor or colleague for advice. Perfectionist should remind themselves there’s really no such thing as “perfect” — your best will do nicely. And those with time management issues should try to get in the habit of starting a project much earlier than they believe they should.
Bad Habit: Digital Addictions
Is there anything more annoying in your work life than colleagues who constantly check their smartphones in meetings? For some, social media and online gaming can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol. And there’s a reason for that: social media use similarly increases the production of dopamine, the chemical that controls the pleasure centers in your brain. Thought the average adult internet user spends more than two hours a day on social media, a recent study by England’s University of Salford shows that 50% of social media users admit the activity “makes their life worse” — yet continue to do it. That awareness fits long-held definitions of serious addiction. And The World Health Organization recently added “gaming disorder” to its list of addictive behaviors, classifying it as a disease.
Creative Solutions: If your phone is your Achilles heel, try setting setting up alerts for the few things you really need to know about while working, and do away with the rest. Logging out of your social media accounts (and other enticing web apps) can be a powerful deterrent by increasing the task-to-reward ratio. Resolve to schedule two social media checks in an eight-hour workday, and resist the urge to Google things not specifically related to your current work. And try turning off portable devices entirely for extended periods whenever you can — many report experiencing elevated moods, reduction of anxiety, and a stronger sense of self as a direct result of cutting back.
Bad Habit: Overworking
It’s important to remember that working longer hours than your peers or colleagues doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being more productive. In some cases, the opposite is true: Over-workers are sometimes compensating for poor time-management skills, hoping to be perceived as over-achievers, or simply looking for the shortest route to career advancement. Even if you believe those descriptions don’t apply to you, others may disagree, especially if your long hours attract too much attention. Some pay a heavy price for overworking in the form of burnout, which can end a career far too early. Even worse, overworking can destroy your health, which some have to learn the hard way.
Creative Solutions: When you’re finally ready to put overworking behind you, the first step usually involves taking a little time for honest reflection. Some overwork to compensate for perceived failures in their job, to avoid more difficult problems of a personal nature, or just to reassure themselves that their work is truly important. Whatever the root cause, fixing the problem almost always requires getting better at prioritizing you time. The key is not to get everything done, but to get the most important things done within the limited hours of each day. Allow yourself to take daily breaks and real vacations, and delegate tasks whenever possible. And remember that overworking seldom leads to long-term career success.
Bad Habit: Negative Attitudes
Don’t let the minor (and major) annoyances of everyday life spoil your working hours. Negative attitudes are the enemy of creativity, and can make crucial communication and teamwork impossible. Ask yourself how much time you spend griping about work-related problems that are beyond your control when you could be focusing on things you can actually improve. Negative energy is contagious and tends to feed on itself.
Solutions: Push back against any negative tendencies by first making an effort to separate personal struggles from work challenges, and striving to leave bad feelings at the door. Make it your business to anticipate problems before they happen so you can begin the process of developing positive solutions. Be aware of your own body language and avoid sending out negative signals that may not match your words. Seek out those who have no time for negativity and absorb their positive vibes.
Keep in mind that no matter what your bad habits, the rewards for defeating them may resonate far beyond the workplace. Developing more efficient and healthy ways of conducting your work life means more time for other things that matter — time with family and friends, deeper relationships, and more leeway to develop interests and skills outside the confines of your job. For many, that work-life balance is the secret to a successful career.
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