As the new year gets underway, many of us are striving with renewed vigour to accomplish our career goals for the year. Despite our best intentions, certain habits can sneak in and sabotage our focus, productivity, progress and enjoyment in the workplace. We’ve outlined five habits to watch out for below, and ways to tweak them so they support our growth.
Habit to break: workaholism
Habit to build: balance
Working overtime, not taking breaks, prioritising work over all else, and being on call 24/7 are just some of the ways toxic workplaces expect ‘ideal’ employees to operate. While this can lead to getting plenty done in the short-term, it is not sustainable. This approach often leads to burnout, fatigue, disengagement, anxiety and other issues which impact our ability to function optimally and enjoy life. This year, be sure to build balance into your schedule. Take those lunch breaks, exercise daily, allow time to rest and invest in connections at work and outside of work. Remember that life – and work – is about more than just productivity.
Habit to break: procrastination
Habit to build: lists and plans
A key cause of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by multiple tasks and being unsure where to start. It’s human nature to want to tackle the tasks we find the most interesting and achievable, which means our less favoured tasks (i.e. the ones we find intimidating, boring, confusing, etc) will get pushed to the back of the line. An excellent way to combat this is to start each week with a list, prioritising your tasks not by preference but by deadline and importance. This can then be broken down daily. At the end of each day and week, review your list to ensure nothing is getting repeatedly pushed to the back of the queue. A little forward planning also allows you to make those tedious tasks more bearable by spreading them out on your schedule, interspersed with more interesting tasks. For the tasks you find extra challenging to tackle, try the Pomodoro technique: set a timer for 25 minutes, work on that task only with no distractions, when the alarm sounds take a five-minute break, and repeat.
Habit to break: ignoring your natural energy cycles
Habit to build: energy management
Some of us are early birds and some of us are night owls. Some of us love to work steadily in a sustained manner for hours, while others prefer to work in short, intense bursts, followed by short breaks. We all manage our energy in different ways. For some of us, we can’t function without caffeine, while others need exercise, sunlight and meditation before work in order to focus. It’s important to understand your natural energy cycles and use them to your advantage. If you don’t have the flexibility to choose your working hours, it can still be powerful to schedule your tasks around your natural energy cycles. For example, if you are a morning person, schedule your most challenging tasks for the morning, when you have the most energy and focus. Block out a few hours in the morning for meaningful work and then schedule your less intense, more administrative style tasks in the afternoon. If you are someone who needs to move your body or get fresh air and sunlight in order to focus well, consider taking a walk outdoors in your lunchbreak – it may have a significant impact on your productivity in the afternoon.
Habit to break: an unfavourable workspace
Habit to build: optimise your environment
Is the space you work in helping or hindering your productivity and enjoyment at work? Beyond the basics of making sure your environment is safe and ergonomic, are there tweaks you could make to optimise your space? Whether your work in an office or at home, what improvements could you make to help support your focus and productivity as you work? Small steps such as clearing out clutter and organising your space can shift your mindset from overwhelm to focus. Getting a plant or two has been scientifically proven to boost happiness and productivity. Personalising your space can increase your emotional connection to work – although be selective and only choose personal items that help inspire you to be productive. Creating opportunities for movement and change can also keep your mind fresh – such as using a sit/stand desk or even working from a different location. If you work in an office, booking a meeting room or perhaps working from a nearby coffee shop for a few hours can boost productivity if your mind is craving a change of scenery.
Habit to break: constant distraction
Habit to build: scheduled time for deep focus
In his book ‘Stolen Focus’, Johann Hari discusses how powerful forces in our modern life are constantly stealing our attention and as a result, we’re all losing the ability to concentrate for sustained periods of time. According to Hari, studies show that office workers focus for just three minutes on average, before being distracted. How can we block out the many things fighting for our attention, and achieve the deep focus that is essential for creating, achieving and producing our best work? There will always be emails to read, people to talk to, and internet or phone distractions waiting for us. If we can be disciplined enough to shut out the world for solid chunks of time each workday, we will move the needle forward in an exponential way. Within the limits of what your role permits, schedule time for deep focus each day. For some, this may mean closing your email; for others it may look like switching off the internet. For some it may mean putting your phone away; for the more addicted phone users, Hari recommends buying a ‘phone jail’, where you can literally lock your phone away in a box with a timer. Whatever you need to do to shut out distractions for set periods of time is well worth it – achieving deep focus and flow will allow you to thrive.