A woman on the phone while typing on her laptop at work. She looks like she has good work habits.
Image: © Jacob Lund/Stock.adobe.com

How to evaluate and improve your work habits

21 Mar 2019

Work habits can help or hinder you on any given day. Want to know if your habits are really working for you?

During Workhuman 2019, I met Tony Schwartz, the CEO and founder of The Energy Project, a consulting firm that helps people and companies manage energy levels and be more successful as a result.

We talked about the dangers of hyperproductivity, and the need for workers to be more self-aware and better manage energy levels.

Future Human

While not a major advocate of ‘quick tips’, Schwartz did note that one thing workers can do to help manage their energy levels is to develop highly specific habits and rituals.

Creating work habits is an essential part of being productive in a healthy way. We are no longer striving for maximum productivity and squeezing every ounce of work we possibly can out of every minute of the day.

In order to feel productive without overworking, you need to create positive work habits that will nurture your energy levels and protect you from burning out.

The best place to start is to evaluate the work habits you have at the moment. Track what you do on a daily basis as part of your working day. Look at the rituals you repeat and examine each one carefully. Do they all serve a purpose? Are they stressing you out? Do you dread getting around to them? And, finally, can any of these rituals be improved upon?

Once you’ve thrown out the bad habits or made a note of the ones that need to change, you can move forward to create positive ones.

Time-of-day habits

It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing the same task first thing in the morning or to leave a particular job until just before you leave.

When evaluating – and possibly changing – your work habits, make sure you have a better reason for doing certain tasks other than simply the time of day.

Doing the same thing at the same time every day just for the sake of it is a surefire way to get sluggish in your workday. If a task needs to be done at a certain time for a reason, consider changing up what you do around that task.

Email habits

Whether it’s checking your emails too regularly or taking too long to read through them in batches, your habits surrounding your email checks can really slow down your energy levels at work.

If you’re getting bogged down with your emails, it’s worth changing up your system. Checking in every time you get an email can pull your brain away from other tasks far too much. However, leaving them for massive batch-checking can be a major time-suck.

The best way to avoid bad email habits is by balancing the two extreme sides of the coin. When you’re in the middle of other tasks, you should not allow emails to distract you. When you do check in, make sure you try to only look at what needs the most immediate response. Give separate time to the emails that will take longer.

Social media habits

Whether it’s checking Facebook or looking up news on Twitter, social media can be one of the major bad work habits for most employees.

A certain level of social media is fine, particularly if you use it as part of your job, but it’s a good idea to make a plan for how you work it into your day so that you don’t get distracted and waste too much time and energy.

Unlike email, social media is something that might be better set in a specific block of time to ensure it doesn’t bleed into other parts of your day. Be sure to experiment with the time of day, too. Are you more likely to get sucked into social media in the morning or the evening?

Regular breaks

You need to make regular breaks part of your new work habits. While you might feel like taking regular breaks is eating into the time you could be spending working, dodging breaks will have the opposite effect.

If you’re trying really hard to power through tasks and your brain is getting distracted by other things every few minutes, your body is more than likely telling you that it needs a break.

Your brain needs to take breaks in order to function at full capacity, so if you force yourself to take regular breaks and form a habit around them, you will perform more efficiently in between them.

Watch out for trigger habits

When you’re evaluating your work habits, it’s important to watch out for the connections between certain behaviours.

If you have a habit of taking a regular break, that’s good. But does that break include a trip to the vending machine? Does that snack give you a bad sugar rush that can lead you to feel sluggish in the afternoon?

There are always connections between habits. Make sure you identify how one behaviour affects another, and don’t allow triggers for bad habits to continue.

Include a habit of self-reflection

Evaluating and reassessing your work habits is a form of self-reflection in itself, but it’s important to self-reflect regularly.

Therefore, be sure to build a plan to re-evaluate your system every so often into your new habits. This will make sure your new habits are working for you in the best way possible.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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