Work Wellness

14 Worst Work Habits to Cut in 2021

Avatar of Molly Stoneman Molly Stoneman | Jan 25, 2021
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What are some bad habits you’ve developed? We all have work habits we wished we didn’t have, so now that a new year is upon us, it’s time to look at some of them and work on turning a new leaf. Here are our picks for the 14 worst work habits that you should try to avoid in the new year, for a better and more productive workday.

What do you think of as your ‘bad habits’? Perhaps biting your nails, chewing your mouth open, or falling asleep with the television on. But what about the bad habits that hurt your productivity at work?

They say that “humans are a creature of habit,” and it’s true—your habits work their way into your subconscious such that you may be doing a bad habit every single day without realizing it. This makes sense when you think about it; if an action has become a habit then usually it happens automatically, and bypasses the thinking process.

These habits will define how effective—or ineffective—you are in your life and work. In fact, a University of Minnesota study found that people who exercise a high degree of self-control tend to be much happier than those who don't, both in the moment and in the long run.

With 2021 on the horizon, this is a perfect time to identify your bad habits so that you can take control and make an effort to minimize them. In case you’d like some inspiration, below is a list of the most common habits that kill productivity—try to leave them behind in 2020.

work habit

Multitasking

Of all the bad habits, multitasking may be among the worst and most common. Multitasking gives you the illusion that you are hard at work and keeping busy, but it really tricks you into producing subpar work.

When you multitask, you temporarily giving partial focus to each task while using the majority of your focus to the act of switching tasks. In other words, your energy is being used to switch tasks rather than finish them.

Studies show that chronic multitasking is baffling for the human brain, since people who multitask are more prone to irrelevant distractions and also more likely to misrepresent their memories. Research from Stanford University suggests that heavy multitaskers suffer from reduced memory, and compared to those working on just one task at a time, had reduced function to pay attention, recall information, or complete a task on time.

Another research study by RescueTime found that the average worker jumps from one task to another nearly 300 times per day and switches between different documents and pages around 1300 times a day.

Think you're an exception? Unlikely; researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that only 2% of the population is capable of effectively multitasking. For the other 98%, it tends to make us 40% less productive while making 50% more mistakes.

Instead, be a completionist. Each time you start a new task, do not stop working on it until it is finished, which might be hard at first, but will eventually improve your focus and—in all likelihood—your work quality.

You can also try to do similar tasks in a “batch” as long as they take similar mental energy. This can be a happy medium as you try to break your multitasking habit, and allows you to better preserve mental energy.

Rushing in the morning

Rush in the morning

When you start off your day in a frenzied state of mind, you're not giving your brain any time to decompress, reset, and prepare for the day. Instead, you're pumping it with adrenaline first thing in the morning, which can cause you to crash later on. Try waking up 10-30 minutes earlier to have a calmer beginning to the day, and even meditate first thing in the morning.

Working from a poor desk station

Poor desk station

Using a subpar desk is one of the top productivity killers that people do not even recognize they suffer from. If you are serious about your productivity, you should be serious about your work space.

To optimize your efficiency, it is time to invest in an ergonomic desk. These sorts of desks are specifically designed to help you work better and faster, with improved posture and back support.

The best ergonomic desks are standing desks, which are proven to result in more productive work. Standing desks from Autonomous are adjustable so that you can alternate between sitting and standing, improving your health and blood flow. Once you’re set up with a proper standing desk, though, be sure to check for common mistakes to avoid.

Not having a work routine

Are you in the habit of just working whenever you feel like it? Then you are setting yourself up for disaster. A work routine is essential to getting your mind into productive gear. 

With a routine leading into work—such as where you work, your desk setup, having a cup of coffee, or a consistent music style playing—you are always going into work mode cold, which makes getting in the zone that much harder. 

Tackling the easy stuff first

Once you’ve made it to your work space, it is quite tempting to get all the easy tasks out of the way first before tackling the tough stuff. This is especially true when you're dreading a challenging task. But putting off daunting tasks means pushing it further and further down the to-do list, and often procrastinating until it becomes urgent and all the more terrifying.

However, researchers have found that tackling the most difficult tasks on your list early on in the day is actually better for your overall productivity. This is because your willpower and brainpower decrease throughout the day, so your brain will be better at handling the hardest tasks at the beginning of the day when you are more focused and have fewer distractions that have popped up.

Settling for an uncomfortable chair

Uncomfortable chair

Not all chairs are built the same, which is especially true if you suffer from back, shoulder, hip, or neck pain. Similar to ergonomic desks, many people overlook the impact that their chair has on their brain function, energy levels, and soreness—all of which impact productivity.

Settling for an uncomfortable chair to work from for days on end will eventually take its toll on your back, which needs adequate lumbar support and curvature to ensure your spine stays healthy and pain-free. 

Although ergonomic office chairs may be more pricey than standardized ones, there are certainly affordable options, and should be considered an investment in your own health and productivity. The ErgoChair 2 from Autonomous is a really popular option that can be customized to fit into just about any space, and is highly adjustable too.

Once you’re set up with an ergonomic chair to support your back and posture, check out these other tips to avoid common ergonomic mistakes.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism means having unrealistically high work standards, and/or being thrown off-balance when things do not go exactly as you had imagined.

However, when you have unrealistic work standards, you will work on your tasks to death. This leads to falling behind schedule and causes a mountain of tasks to build up. Furthermore, many perfectionists mentally “quit” when things don’t go as they had envisioned, even if the project is still on track to someone else.

To curb this bad habit, focus on finishing, not on perfecting. Once a project is done, you can go back and fix/improve as long as there is enough time. Also work on accepting your mistakes and realizing that we only grow from failure.

Checking email every 2 minutes

Email is supposed to make work smoother—so why does it always feel like a distraction right as you’re hitting a productive stride?

In an effort to stay on top of a constantly overflowing inbox, it can be tempting to check and respond to every email as soon as it comes in. Receiving email notifications in real time certainly doesn't help. But constantly switching tasks between work and email can really hurt your productivity.

To help you focus, turn off email notifications and only check email in solid blocks of time, so that you limit checking your email to specified times without distraction from other work.

Having a giant to-do list

having a giant to-do list

If your to-do list has ten or more tasks, you’ll most likely be unable to complete them all. And by the end of the day, you may feel discouraged by the many still-awaiting tasks.

Keep to-do lists between 1-5 tasks. Doing this will ensure that you do not become overwhelmed, and will help make sure you complete your to-do list.

Black hole browsing

You know the feeling when you search for something on the internet, then click on a "related article" or another link, and before you know it, you've learned everything about the Bermuda Triangle?

That’s called “black hole browsing,” and it is one of the most productivity-sucking psychological addictions out there. Resist the temptation to click endless related articles/videos/links, especially if much of your work involved internet research.

Saying yes to every meeting

Meeting

The average person wastes 31 hours in meetings per month. These unnecessary meetings are ones where you or the organizer was not prepared, the time was not used effectively, or you didn't really need to be there.

You might think that saying yes to everyone is a good thing, but you are You’re doing yourself a great disservice and hurting your productivity. To stamp out time-sucking meetings, be sure that you only attend meetings you actually need to attend. If you cannot actively contribute, politely decline.

For the meetings you do need to attend, schedule meetings in bulk if you can. This is a strategic way to ensure that you’ll also have time blocks outside of those meetings, and don’t waste the energy re-focusing on work for the precious minutes in between each meeting.

Working through your lunch break

Working through lunch break

Eating at your desk is not only a grim sight—according to NPR, it is also "bad for thinking, bad for creativity, bad for productivity, [and] bad for your body." Sadly, only one in five people actually leave their desks or the office for a lunch break.

On the other hand, research shows that taking the midday break can be mentally rejuvenating, ensuring you come back to your projects refreshed and focused.

Scheduling too many tasks into your calendar

Like with to-do lists, it is easy to get caught up in the idea of accomplishing a ton of work in a small amount of time. However, only causes unnecessary time-bound stress and makes it hard to be flexible. Imagine how much work it is to rearrange ten tasks just because a new one popped up at the last second.

Only add essential tasks. Don’t try and fill up your calendar, just ask yourself what would actually make a difference if you did it, then add it. If you are truly worried about having your calendar fill up with meetings without enough personal working time, try adding just one “Working Block” to your calendar for 1-2 hours at a time, rather than be too specific with which tasks fit into which time slots.

Being too hard on yourself for not finishing work

There will simply be times when you just cannot complete your work in a timely fashion. It could be because of an emergency, a different urgent task, or simply one of those days when it is hard to focus productively.

When this happens, do not dwell on the situation. Sometimes that is just how things go. Go easy on yourself and do a de-stressing activity that evening so that the next day you can come back refocused, pick up where you last left off, and continue on. We are all human! 

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WRITTEN BYMolly Stoneman

Freelancer passionate about design, travel, and innovation.

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