In an era when everything is scheduled almost to the nanosecond, there might be a few habits you (or your coworkers) need to kick that are taking up valuable time.
Have you heard of the “not-to-do list”? It’s as real as the “to-do list,” and is designed to boost productivity by acknowledging and writing down the things that are sucking away your time and energy.
We set out to find not only the worst work habits and time-wasters, but also ways to stop them, or at least improve them.
Keep in mind that while some of these tips might work for you or those around you, others might not. It’s fine to start small. Any step taken is a step in the right direction. At the end of the day, it’s all about working smarter.
Are there other bad habits that you can’t seem to get rid of? Leave them in the comments section below.
Bad habit #10: Making noise
With open office layouts and barely-there privacy becoming more popular in offices today, loud coworkers have become one of the most annoying phenomenons of the corporate world. Some people love the hustle and bustle of a busy and noisy workspace and don’t mind people being loud, but some people prefer a quiet space to concentrate.
The bottom line is that we all have to work together in a small space, so having a peaceful work environment where everyone feels comfortable and welcome is a must to be productive. Also, keep in mind that whenever someone is on the phone talking to clients or prospects in close quarters, all of that background noise can be heard on the other side. There’s nothing more awkward than trying to have a serious conversation on the phone with a client or prospect, while a group singing “Happy Birthday” rings out loudly in the background. It destroys your ability to concentrate, and can ultimately destroy the relationship, too.
How to change it:
If you’re the agency owner, the rules come from you, right? You must lead by example. If you’re one of many employees in an office, politely and professionally talk to your neighbors. Maybe they don’t realize how loud they really are or how the clicking of their pen drives you to the brink of your sanity.
Tell them something like, “We can hear all of your private conversations.” If that feels awkward, talk to the person in charge. Don’t rat out your coworker, but say that you’re having a hard time concentrating on work because of the noise and suggest your manager talk to the team about it, send out an email or move your desk, recommends a Time senior editor in their Ask the Experts videos.
If you’re the culprit noisemaker, ask your coworkers how they feel about the level of noise in the office. If they need a quieter space, be accommodating.
Bad habit #9: Complaining incessantly
Either you have worked with a “chronic complainer” or you are the chronic complainer. Either way, complaining all the time never solves anything. Au contraire! It creates unnecessary tension and leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, like fake Dorito cheese.
But, should you find yourself on the other side of the Complaint Department’s counter, be careful. It’s usually a great bonding experience to talk to coworkers and share worries, but a chronic complainer is not looking for a bonding experience and it could be a trap. Be careful about your reaction and what you say to the chronic complainer; it could come back to haunt you. Complainers are going to complain, it’s in their nature.
Another negative side effect of being the chronic complainer’s confidante is that they suck away your time and energy.
How to change it:
You can tell when the chronic complainer is about to strike. Their concern or worry could be well-founded. But if you already recognize their patterns and they are just coming to your workspace to complain for “complaint’s sake,” stop them in their tracks by saying politely, “I’m sorry, but I’m really busy today. Can we talk about this later?” or change the subject with, “Let’s talk about something else.”
If the chronic complainer has something specific to talk about and you have dealt with that issue before, tell them how you solved it. Most of the time, however, you won’t have the solution. In that case, suggest that the complainer take their issue to their boss.
See also: 3 habits of millionaires
Bad habit #8: Meetings with no agenda
Do we really have to schedule a meeting to discuss something that could’ve been agreed upon via email? How important is the issue at hand? Does it need to be explained visually?
Meetings can be the bane of many workers’ existence, but they don’t have to be. Depending on the nature of the issue to be discussed, you can forgo a meeting with a quick phone call or email.
How to change it:
If you’re the one organizing the meeting, make sure it has clear start and end times, have an agenda and stick to it. Should extra items arise, write these down and discuss them at the end of the meeting. Or you can reply to questions as they come up during your conversation, if you prefer a more laidback method. However, keep to the points at hand and steer the meeting and conversation in the right direction, so that everything is addressed and time isn’t wasted in idle chit-chat or awkward silences.
Bad habit #7: Checking email constantly aka “Email reaction mode”
OK, so the severity of this bad habit is dependent on your line of work. Sometimes you’re waiting for an email from a very important client and sometimes you’re waiting for an email about very important company news. But neither of these things can be true all of the time. So why are you checking your email constantly? It’s a bad habit that you have to change. Take it with a grain of salt and a word of caution: email checking is addictive (there have been articles and studies written about this, like this one). It’s got something to do with how technology and our instant gratification centers in our brains relate to each other, but we’re not going to expand on that here. Plus, it also feels like you’re getting tons of work done.
Popping into your inbox every few minutes not only interrupts your train of thought, it interrupts your day and your routine. Despite valiant efforts to convince ourselves otherwise, multitasking never really helped anyone (see bad habit No. 5 for more on that).
How to change it:
In order to focus on the task at hand, turn off that email notification — or at least, resist the urge to click on it — for a set amount of time. If you find yourself unable to do so, try scheduling times specifically for checking your email.
Some recommend checking email first thing in the morning and organizing it by prioritizing what needs to be replied to ASAP vs. later. Others say to assign a checking time mid-morning and mid-afternoon, never first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. Play around with checking times and find a routine or schedule that works best for you. But please, resist the urge to click open an email every time the computer, tablet or Smartphone pings!
See also: Self-discipline is the key
Bad habit #6: Looking at your phone while talking to someone
Hello, I am right in front of you! Looking at your phone while someone is talking to you or you are talking to them is not only rude, but it also takes away a very important part of the relationship-building process that happens when people are having a conversation: paying attention.
But hey, if you want to make the other person feel neglected, unimportant and forgotten, keep looking down at your phone and ignoring them.
Some people might also do this when they’re feeling uncomfortable or to deliberately tune out.
How to change it:
If you’re heading into a meeting, leave your phone in your office, unless you absolutely need it. If you must have it, put it face down on the table, in silent (not on vibrate) or stash it away from your easy reach in a computer bag or purse.
If you’re talking to someone or they are talking to you, simply put the phone down and pay attention to them. You’ll be surprised what non-verbal cues you might’ve missed had you been looking elsewhere.
If you’re in a social setting and you’re feeling out of place, don’t use your phone as a crutch. Think about what it is that’s making you feel that way and try to change your behavior — or leave. If you would rather tune out the speaker or simply feel like the conversation is going nowhere, excuse yourself and step out.
See also: 6 killer actions with the power to transform your practice