By Robin Madell
Today’s poor choices can morph into tomorrow’s bad habits. Research from a classic study on habit formation found that it takes just over two months on average for an action to become habitual. That’s not long in the span of your career to end up reinforcing behaviors that can sabotage your professional success.
Do you feel like you’re not maximizing your full potential at work? Review the three common bad habits below that trip up many employees. See if any might be the culprit:
Never taking breaks
Many view working straight through the day without pausing for breaks as a badge of honor. Yet while it may be counter-intuitive, taking more breaks has been scientifically linked to improved productivity. Research from Tony Schwartz revealed that every 90 minutes, people experience a natural shift from feeling focused and energetic to feeling physiologically fatigued. When you experience this predictable energy drop, your body is telling you that it’s time to pause from your work.
Unfortunately, many people opt to ignore the red flag and soldier on. They think a “nose to the grindstone” approach will accomplish more work more quickly. The reason this is so foolish is that many studies have proven the value of work breaks for greater productivity as well as creativity. Breaks not only restore motivation; they also lead to more frequent “aha moments.” When you periodically refresh and recharge, you regain the needed perspective for innovative problem-solving.
Failing to plan
To set the tone for what you want to accomplish, you must plan ahead. If you leave what happens to chance, it’s easy for this bad habit to slide into a pattern of last-minute sloppy thinking. A lack of proactive planning also leaves your schedule a virtual blank slate for others to write on. To avoid this, Harvard University suggests developing a simple morning ritual. As part of your ritual, you can map out three key goals for your workday. Use them to guide your priorities.
If you’re unclear about what your most critical goals should be, expand your planning time. Try carving out 30-60 minutes each week to identify your priorities. A dedicated goal review—in which you write down what you plan to accomplish in the upcoming week—will help you start off Monday on the right foot.
Personalizing every interaction
As you go about your workday, you’re likely to encounter a wide range of inputs and responses from people, both in-person and via email or social media. Encounters with teammates can throw you off course if you take everything people say and do as a personal commentary on you and the job you’re doing.
Approach collaborative work knowing that people may express their views in ways that seem personal but aren’t. When in question about the tone of a message, give colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Imagine someone walks by in the hall but doesn’t greet you. Don’t assume ill will or a personal grudge against you. Instead, brush it off to busyness and keep your thoughts positive. Doing the opposite can quickly turn into a habit of negative thinking.
While you may not be the boss in your office, you’re fully in charge of the habits you create. And the ones you break. Developing self-awareness about your own workplace patterns and habits, and being willing to modify behaviors that don’t serve you, can help steer your career in the right direction.