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6 Common Work Habits that Sabotage Your Productivity

6 Common Work Habits that Sabotage Your Productivity
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    We all have our weekday morning routines. You roll into the office a little before 9 am (or a little after, if traffic was really bad), settle in at your desk, maybe grab a cup of coffee around 9:30 or 10, check Twitter and Facebook, and then dive in to your inbox.

    And while it’s obvious that your time playing Farmville or reading Kanye’s latest tweet is going to hamper your productivity, you might be surprised to learn what other common work habits can sabotage your productivity.

    1. Checking Your Email Constantly

    If you’re like most people, you check your email frequently. Like, 5 times an hour frequently…or “every time my phone dings” frequently. Maybe a better word than “frequently” would be “obsessively.”

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    But despite the urgings of your boss to “stay on top of everything”, it turns out that checking your email too frequently actually reduces your productivity.

    Now, of course the experts can’t seem to agree on when you should check your email. There are a few people who say that checking your email as soon as you get into the office is a no-no, among them Sid Savara and Oprah’s pal Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check Email in the Morning.”

    Savara argues that checking your email first thing when you sit down to work ruins whatever game plan you came into the day with. Instead, he advises, “Work on something important for 30-45 minutes, and only then check it. If you can stand it, wait even longer.  Some days I don’t check email at all until after lunch… As long as you’re ignorant of everything else that’s going on outside, you can concentrate on what you want to work on. You don’t know what fires need to be put out, you don’t know about that special sale that’s going on today and you don’t know about that funny video your buddy sent you.”

    Elizabeth Grace Saunders takes a slightly more moderate approach, telling her clients that all her emails will be answered within 24 hours so they don’t get on her back. She generally clears out her inbox during the first 1-2 hours of her day, and formulates her game plan for the rest of the day after that. After that, she doesn’t generally look at her email again for the rest of the day, allowing her to focus completely on business development and client projects.

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    2. Scheduling Weekly/Project Status Meetings

    Meetings are a time suck, but some would argue that they are a necessary evil. Still, losing hours every week to conversations that could just as easily have been handled over IM or email can be really frustrating.

    Instead, use a shared project management system with a progress bar or timeline or calendar. You might like Central Desktop, Basecamp, or a system you’ve cobbled together using Google Docs. With a detailed list of project milestones and deadlines mapped out in a shared workspace, any team member at any time can log in and get the status of a project, without having to ask you for it. And you get those hours previously lost to weekly status meetings back!

    3. Working Late

    Let me ask you something. How productive are you after 5 pm, really? Chances are that even when you do work late, you spend a good chunk of that time reading blog posts and figuring out what restaurant you want to order delivery from.

    And even if you do work your butt off after hours, you’re just going to get burned out, making you more likely to get sick and lose even more productive hours. Staying late is okay when it is really needed, but if you do it habitually in hopes of getting ahead, you’re likely doing yourself (and your company) a disservice.

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    4. Mismanaging Your To-Do List

    This is my own personal failing. I am a compulsive “to-do” list writer, and while I always have an easy time prioritizing my list, I don’t always tackle things in the right order.

    Say I have a list of 5 action items, all of which need to get done today. They are all the same priority, but they vary in terms of how much time it will take to complete them.

    So I might tackle the “easiest” things first, the two or three tasks I know will take just 5-10 minutes to do. And then I’ll be able to move on to “the big project”, and I’ll have already made a dent in my to-do list.

    Trouble is, by the time I’ve done everything on my list except the one big task I’ve been putting off, I’m tired and cranky and low on energy. In other words, I’m not even close to the right frame of mind for addressing the hardest part of my list.

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    The solution? Just bite the bullet, and do the big task on your to-do list first, no matter how tempting it is to scratch off the smaller tasks on your list first.

    5. Drinking Too Much Coffee

    Caffeine does not give you lasting energy; caffeine that’s loaded with sugar even less so. Especially if you live the desk jockey lifestyle, that sugar in your coffee is likely to make you hyper, spike your insulin levels, crash, and then get stored as fat. In other words, it’s not really the best thing for boosting productivity. Skip the morning Joe (and the mid-morning Joe, and the afternoon Joe) and eat a balanced breakfast instead to keep your energy up.

    6. Eating Lunch at Your Desk

    You might be perceived as more productive by your boss when you don’t take a full lunch break, but will you actually be more productive?

    Well, probably not. For one thing, what if you spill your soup on an important report, or your keyboard? If you are clumsy, eating near important work documents is a sure fire way to have your productivity plummet. And unless you have a spare shirt in your car, you might have to go to an important meeting with beef stew down your front.

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    Plus, eating at your desk increases your odds of overeating, since you aren’t eating mindfully. You get chubbier, your heart gets weaker, and then your productivity really takes a nosedive.

    Do you sabotage your own productivity? Tell us in the comments below!

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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