How to ditch bad work habits

Bad work habits might be tendencies that you subconsciously develop over time. They’re comfortable, easy and quick, but could also be killing your performance. Much like eating a dreamy quadruple chocolate biscuit (and its effect on your waistline), the short-term benefits have long-term disadvantages, such as fewer customers for your company.

So how do you break them? It’s actually pretty simple…

Habit-breaking basics

A habit is a repetitive behaviour that involves a cue, a reaction and a reward. A cue is the thing that initiates a habit, and a reaction is the actual doing part – so maybe procrastination in lieu of a task. The reward is the beneficial result of the habit, like getting a laugh while browsing YouTube when you shouldn’t.

No matter which book you read, or self-improvement speaker you listen to, the starting point is the same: recognise the cue for your bad habit. This is both about spotting the urge and the ‘why’ behind it.

When you’ve identified your trigger, you can either try and avoid it or plan what you’re going to do instead of your normal reaction, a.k.a. your habit.
If we were talking about a diet for example, you wouldn’t reach for that muffin with your morning coffee, you’d pick up a banana instead. ‘But why would I choose fruit over gooey, chocolate goodness?’ we hear you cry. That’s where the reward side comes in.

First focus on recognising the good your new behaviour is doing, and the bad that it’s not doing.

Those foundations of breaking bad habits should equip you with the skills to kick most common practices to the curb. But we’ve got some specific advice for a few common behavioural ticks, too.

Habit 1: Talking too much

with your colleagues, but this also means that you’ll have less time to do quality work, and in turn, feel more stressed, and make more mistakes. So when you feel that urge to strike up a conversation (your cue) tell yourself you can have that chat in 10 minutes after you’ve done a few more tasks.
Although you might still be having a time-consuming conversation at some point, getting more work done beforehand, can mean that you’ll feel less stressed about your workload.

Habit 2: A phone fixation

You’re looking at your screen but you feel your hand seeking the smartphone sanctuary of Facebook or the last text from your friend.

Obviously that’s not the most productive use of time; because now you have the same amount of work to fit into fewer minutes.

Putting your phone on silent and out of sight reduces the chances of your habit being triggered, while offering yourself a reward for smartphone abstinence (treating yourself to a coffee after work, perhaps) should keep your digits on your keyboard.

Habit 3: Hooked on emails

You know you’d be a lot more productive if you could stop yourself continuously checking and replying to emails. While your colleagues will have all their questions answered, your work will pile up, leaving you frustrated and spreading yourself thin.

One approach is not to open your emails when you start the day. Sounds strange on face value, but it’ll remove your compulsion to hit ‘reply’ every few minutes because you can’t even see your emails (your cue). Leave it an hour or so. You’ll make headway on your work and your colleagues still get their answers.

The alternative solution could be to allocate a set amount of time to send and respond to any emails so you don’t get distracted by email notifications all day.

Habit 4: Doing the minimum

You could go the extra mile, but don’t see the point. The down side is you’re not in the boss’s good books and you’re progressing up the pay scale slower than you’d like, not to mention your company isn’t turning any heads on account of your pedestrian performance.

When you feel yourself switching on cruise control (the cue), set yourself a challenge that encourages you to work harder (new reaction) with the promise of something you want (reward), like buying a book after work or that new pair of jeans.

Your challenge might be to get the work done an hour early and spend the remaining time improving it, or trying to do something that’ll get you kudos from your boss.

With the above tips in tow you should be set for putting your bad habits straight and improving your work performance, leading to less stress and more productivity.