Transform your work routine with these proven work habits and join the ranks of those who work smarter, not harder.
Imagine adding red paint into a glass of water, drop by drop. At first, you will not notice any change. However, as you add more paint, the water turns pink – till eventually, it starts looking like blood orange juice.
It is small things we do on a regular basis that matter. They define our lifestyle, identity, and, as a consequence, our future. And like eating healthy can improve your overall physical and mental state, the right work habits can help you build a successful career.
Let's discuss the nature of work habits and see which of them can lead to professional development.
A habit is an action we do regularly and without thinking, formed by several repetitions. Logically, a work habit is any action we routinely do at work. This could be chatting with colleagues before the workday starts, sending weekly reports on Fridays mornings at 10 am, or immediately informing your colleagues about a change of plans, without any delays.
By itself, a habit is neutral. It is a survival mechanism that lets us act on autopilot, guided by our subconscious mind. The tricky thing about it is that we don’t fully realize our own actions. And it's both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it saves our mental energy, as we don’t have to make extra decisions all the time, which would be exhausting. But on the other hand, we do not assess the situation critically. A certain decision may have worked for us once or twice, but now, there could be a better way of doing things – but we don’t see it.
This way, habits can be either helpful or harmful. Good working habits can bring you respect and prosperity, improving the quality of your work and relationships with colleagues, while bad habits can hinder your performance and damage your reputation.
Little actions accumulate and create a snowball effect, leading you to a specific outcome. That’s why it’s crucial to stay self-aware. To be a master of your habits and make your work meaningful, you should take a step back and look critically at the actions you do automatically.
Self-awareness can significantly change you, pouring more light on the roots of many problems and pointing to the right paths to solve them. Once you figure out the patterns of your behavior, all you have to do is incorporate the right actions into your routine, developing good work habits.
And this is how you prepare fertile soil for your professional development. As James Clear underlines in his book “Atomic Habits”, big changes do not necessarily mean big effort:
Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.
So what work habits can help you become more productive and successful?
Theoretically, the world will not collapse if you do not submit your task on time. However, you may become the first link in the chain of problems.
In an organization, team members depend on each other, and your colleagues may not be able to finish their part of work without yours. This will slow things down for the whole team and, if you work in a bigger organization, for other departments, causing frustration. The client will not be satisfied, either.
To avoid such an outcome, set realistic deadlines. Take into account possible issues that might arise, and give yourself some cushion time, just in case. Talk to your manager if the time limit is too strict and if you feel overwhelmed with your workload.
It’s easy to get distracted by scrolling your social media or gossiping over a coffee break. But time flies, and the workday will be over before you know it – and your assignments will not be ready, so you will either have to explain what happened or work till late night at home. Neither of these options sounds attractive, does it?
Meeting deadlines, like dealing with many other professional challenges, is impossible without time management and time management skills specifically, like prioritizing critical tasks, managing information, and setting intermediate short-term goals. They help you get a better understanding of your time, respect it and use it wisely, achieve good results, and keep a good work-life balance.
In addition to developing time management skills, which are more abstract, you can also apply specific time management techniques that will allow you to get control over your own time and work faster:
Pick a technique you like most of all and start using it, developing your time management habit. Over time, you will feel that, finally, time does not slip through your fingers like sand.
Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade! – Tony Robbins, an American coach, writer, and speaker.
We may be blissfully unaware of how much time we steal from others without any malicious intent. We overstep boundaries and cause stress, trying to solve our problems at the cost of others’ time. This is egotistic and does not make us look better in the eyes of others.
Let’s see how we inadvertently disrespect other people’s time, and what positive habits you can adopt instead:
For a team of people working together, effective and open communication is a key that determines the outcome of projects and operations. Passing information to those who need it, using the principles of transparency, can be the magic wand that helps a team succeed. It reduces the chance of error, helps to get things done on time, and creates a beneficial and cooperative work environment.
Here’s some advice on how to develop good communication skills:
We’re often too hard on ourselves. We feel uncomfortable admitting a mistake, and feel horrible listening to criticism, taking it as a threat. However, making mistakes is human, and negative feedback is not necessarily aimed at destroying your career. On the contrary, it can help you grow.
Brene Brown, the author of “Dare to Lead,” emphasizes that perfectionism is simply a coping mechanism that protects us from feeling unworthy. But since no one is perfect, it’s a way to nowhere. This is why she recommends being vulnerable – admitting that you don’t know something and asking for help. It will not damage your image. It will help you become a better version of yourself.
The same is true for constructive criticism. In her book “Radical Candor,” Kim Scott explains that negative feedback can lead to great results, on the condition it’s depersonalized.
A comfort zone is not a bad thing – indeed, we’re most productive when we feel safe and confident. At the same time, staying there for too long causes stagnation. Your brain doesn’t produce new cells. You don’t add value, and you fall behind your competitors.
Look for new challenges. Educate yourself, do some work-related research, and learn something new. Ask your boss to assign you a task you have never done before. Volunteer to take on a more complicated project or visit some courses. You may discover new talents in yourself, such as leadership or analytical skills.
We all have different work styles, tackling our tasks in different ways. But even if you’re not the detail-oriented type, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start noticing little things to understand how they affect your work. You may see hidden patterns, avoid unnecessary mistakes, and make better decisions.
Double-check and proofread your work, or ask others to help you. Follow instructions and use checklists. Look for reasons why things happen. This will require you to spend more time on your task, but the result will be different, too. Not only will you perform better, you will also demonstrate that you’re a responsible person others can rely on.
You may be a shy person, hiding in your shell and avoiding taking risks. However, sometimes it takes just one try to understand that you’re better than you think. After all, you will never know before you try.
Don’t be afraid to take initiative. Do not wait to do something before you’re asked to do so – offer your assistance or advice. Voice your ideas. When you see an opportunity where no one else sees it, say about it. When you see a problem, bring the issue up, describing possible consequences. Be decisive. This way, you will show your colleagues that you’re independent and can handle issues without the presence of your boss, gaining their respect.
Although we’re often told to separate work and personal problems, we should remember that we work with people, and people have emotions. Our mental state directly influences our ability to work. However, we cannot know what battles our colleague is going through because this person may be hiding her pain.
This is why we should try to be kinder to those around us. Ask people about their weekend, family, or anything that might be worrying them. It may turn out that they’re grumpy because things are not going well for them at home. And instead of fighting over some tasks they’re struggling with, you should offer help.
Working too much is a bad work habit. Your resources are not unlimited. Without a good work-life balance you risk developing serious physical and emotional health problems, such as heart disease and depression. Moreover, by overburdening yourself, you may also decrease the quality of your work. You cannot be as productive when you’re experiencing burnout.
Listen to your own body and make a pause when necessary. Maintain a healthy sleep routine, do exercises, or practice meditation. Of course, these are more lifestyle habits, but it’s your lifestyle that to a large extent determines your productivity.
There is no need to overwhelm yourself, trying to become a perfect professional. Start with healthy work habits that seem right to you, and practice them with consistent effort. Track your results and enjoy the process! Soon you will notice that your performance is better, the relationships with colleagues are warmer, and you get job satisfaction, feeling accomplished.
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