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10 bad work habits that you might be doing right now (& how to stop them)

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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. 

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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


Bad habit #5: Multitasking anywhere

About three years ago, experts swore that multitasking was the next best thing or a “thing” of the future that was good for you. However, many recent studies, articles and research have found that when you multitask, you’re actually losing focus and either doing things halfway or decreasing the quality of your work, ultimately damaging your career (and your brain), according to Forbes.

Multitasking can disguise itself in many forms: popping in to check your email, checking your various social media networks, browsing the web for things unrelated to your work or anything that takes away your attention span and focus from the task at hand. That is not good.

How to change it:

Recognize that you’re multitasking and stop yourself. Go back to what you were working on or focusing on. If you feel like you are drawing a blank, step away from the task and take a short break: a walk usually helps clear one’s thoughts.

You can also set a schedule for popping in to see what’s going on. The key is to do this on a schedule, not every five minutes.


Bad habit #4: Being late

There’s an app for that and it’s called a good ol’ watch. There are no excuses when you are late for anything. In school, you would receive a warning, which had immediate consequences: going to the principal’s office and trying to explain why you were tardy. In life, it’s bad manners, rude and shows a lack of consideration for others’ time.

Being late to work or a meeting is a great way to start your day with a nasty look from your coworkers, or a frustrated look from a client. While sometimes we are late to places because of external and uncontrollable situations, like a flat tire, if you’re consistently late, then you really need to adjust your alarm clock or meeting times.

How to change it:

Track the times that you’re late and why you were late. Within a week or two, you will have figured out if you need to leave your home earlier, take an alternate route, wake up earlier, take an earlier or a later lunch, or schedule the meetings later in the morning or afternoon. Remember that you’re not only wasting your time, but everyone’s time. In a career that’s based on trust and building relationships, this is too big of a mistake to continue making.


Bad habit #3: Planning poorly/not delegating

It can be difficult to let go of your project, your baby, but if you really have a supportive team of experts, you should be able to delegate the tasks accordingly. Remember that you hired your team members for a reason. Plus, you can’t really do it all alone, can you?

This bad habit can also be interpreted as poor planning. You are likely a poor planner if you find yourself sitting at your desk in the morning wondering what you have to do that day. Poor planners can come across as lazy, unprepared, inconsiderate and even disrespectful to the people around them. And don’t pull the “I’m too busy to delegate properly” card: Everyone is too busy, after all.

How to change it:

You should trust your team and delegate tasks. If you can’t, then it’s time to re-evaluate your team’s strengths and weaknesses and figure out which roles they play.

If you find yourself in a planning haze, schedule what tomorrow will look like before you leave work today. Write a to-do list and follow through or keep a calendar of tasks. Prioritize these tasks, determining what needs to be done now vs. later.

See also: 6 more self-motivation techniques


Bad habit #2: Saying “yes” or “no” all the time

The “yes-man” has no life and the “no-man” is closed off to life. Which one are you? Either extreme is bad for you.

If you say yes all the time, you might find yourself biting off more than you can chew. You know what happens next … you can choke. Saying yes all the time to your clients is not setting realistic expectations. And saying yes to something that you don’t want to do only sets you up for failure to enjoy the activity, to get your work done on time, etc.

On the other hand, saying no all the time will only make you seem too rigid, closed off or close-minded.

How to change it:

Life is all about keeping a dynamic balance, so if you find yourself saying too much of one or the other, try saying yes or no more for a week or two, and see how that feels. Small steps will help you replace the bad habit.

Make sure that you set up healthy boundaries and down-to-earth expectations with your clients and prospects from the beginning. Doing this will also help you retain clients and avoid the “didn’t met expectations” talk. You’ll have a higher client retention rate as a result.

Remember: You can’t please everyone. Find a balance that works for you and stick with it.

See also: 5 ways to escape client objections


Bad habit #1: Waiting to do something

You have taken a closer step to doing something … great. Now go out and do it! “Anything worth doing is worth doing now,” says Jeff Haden, contributing editor for Inc. “You have nothing until you actually do something. Every day, we let hesitation and uncertainty stop us from acting on our ideas. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure often stop me and may be what stops you, too. Pick one plan, one goal, or one idea. And get started. Do something. Do anything. Just take one small step. The first step is by far the hardest. Every successive step will be a lot easier,” he advises in that same article.

How to change it:

Nothing rings more true than Haden’s words: Put more effort into little somethings that will have a greater impact in your life. If an activity doesn’t contribute to one of your goals, it’s wasting your time; drop it. 

How to replace any bad habit

This TED four-step method is geared toward younger people, but it can work for anyone. (You can watch the video below.)

Step 1: Write the bad habit.

Step 2: Learn to avoid the triggers – what stresses you out? List them. Then write how to avoid them. 

Step 3: Teach your brain by repetition by learning a new habit. And repeat, repeat. Write a substitution to every trigger.

Step 4: Enlist an army of family and friends. Tell them what your bad habit is, how you’re going to change it and that you need their help. Give them the permission to remind you of your mission

And take it easy, as New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferriss recommends. Do not overwhelm or self-sabotage yourself; tackle only one or two habits at a time, step by step.

See also:

Old habits die hard

Break these 10 bad marketing habits

8 bad sales habits you need to quit

Sources: TEDHuffington PostTimeINC.Reader’s DigestNational Institutes of HealthTheMuseThe Wall Street


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