8 Ways to Change Your Bad Work Habits for Good

Bad habits can sabotage your work efforts. These 8 actionable tips will help you get rid of bad habits and be more productive.
Contributing Writer, SmallBizTrends.com
April 04, 2013

Do you wish you could accomplish more at work? With only 24 hours in a day, and the need to sleep for at least a few of them, bad habits can really hold you back from getting things done. Here’s a guide to help you get a grip on the habits that hold you back so you can make truly productive changes.

1. Identify the habits that are preventing you from reaching maximum productivity. You may already be aware of some bad habits such as procrastinating on big projects while you busy yourself with checking little stuff off your to-do list; or sitting down to fire off one quick email, only to look up two hours later and wonder where the time went. To identify other bad habits, keep track of how you spend your time for two weeks. Don’t let any working time go unaccounted for. If you’re a pen-and-paper person, jot it down in a notebook; if you prefer digital, set up a quick Excel file or download a simple time-tracking tool like Toggl. At the end of two weeks, review what you’ve tracked, and figure out which habits you want to get rid of.

2. Start small. You may find 17 time-wasting habits. Don’t try to change them all at once—focus on a couple (or even one, if it’s a big one) and wait until you see the outcome before moving on to another. Getting results will motivate more change.

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3. Identify replacement habits. It’s a lot easier to change one behavior if you replace it with a different one. For instance, if you’re trying to stop the habit of checking your email every time it pings, create a new schedule and check it once an hour. If attending every status meeting anyone at your company holds is wasting your time, replace these smaller meetings with an all-hands-on-deck weekly status meeting.

4. Give it time. There’s a widely circulated statistic that it takes 21 days to cement a new habit. Turns out this is somewhat of a myth, and based on a single study. (This article delves deeper into research on the topic.) Basically, while it does take time to change a habit, there’s no magic number—so don’t give up if 21 days aren’t enough for you. Just keep plugging away, and don’t let setbacks throw you off course.

5. Reward yourself. Setting goals and rewarding yourself is a great way to instill new habits. Determine which rewards will work for you. You can even reward yourself with the “fun” tasks on your list when you finish the less-pleasant tasks—for instance, allow yourself 15 minutes on social media after you spend 90 minutes focusing on completing a big proposal.

6. Anticipate challenges and plan for them. One way to deal with setbacks is to create a plan for handling the “triggers” that could lure you back to your old habits. If you big lose a big sale, will you want to watch cat videos on YouTube for the rest of the afternoon? Plan ahead and figure out an alternate, more positive habit, like taking a 10-minute walk around the block to recharge.

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7. Get support. Tell people how you’re trying to change, and enlist their support in helping your new habits take root. Maybe you survive on caffeine all day and want to replace that habit with drinking lemon water (or actually eating lunch). Let your staff know, so they stop buying you lattes and start asking you to grab a bite. You just might inspire them to change their habits too.

8. Use tech tools. Take advantage of technology to help support the desired change. It’s easy to turn off the email sound alert or set your phone to go straight to voicemail while you’re trying to concentrate. If you’re trying to drop the habit of mindlessly surfing the Web instead of working, install the Freedom app that lets you block yourself from Internet access for a set period. Anti-Social does the same thing for social media sites you select. Concentrate or FocusBooster help you focus on a single activity, such as writing.

Get more useful tips. Read these productivity articles.

Photo: iStockphoto