How to break your worst working habits

There's little worse than feeling exhausted after a work day, only to look back over your to-do list and realise you haven't even powered through a quarter of it.

Indeed, it's horrible to think that nine, 10 or 12 hours of your life have disappeared into the black hole of a busy work day, never to be seen again. And yet you still feel no better leaving the office in the evening than you did arriving the morning before.

So where did the time go? Why were you not able to cross off as much as you optimistically thought you would when you started your day?

It could be that nasty work habits are holding you back.

Get honest: Determine how you actually spend your time

Yes, it may seem like you couldn't possibly fit anything else into your work day, but is that the truth and nothing but the truth? Do you faff about looking and feeling busier than you actually are – so much so that you forget to actually apply yourself to the very tasks that have made you busy in the first place?

Reflect back over your day. How did you actually spend each hourly block? A good exercise is to create a "time diary" for a week and, like the horrible task of a lawyer, start allocating your time in 15-minute increments. This exercise will help you identify your worst personal work habits, while allowing you to clearly define you "power hours" – the period during the day or night when you're most productive.

Listen: Do you hear the sound of your own voice talking about not much at all?

So, you're a talker. It's not a bad thing. After all, communication skills are vital for networking, building relationships and dealing with clients. But do you possibly share a little too much in the office? Breaking out for a chat with the colleague in the office next door, or stopping by a team member on your way to the kitchen, is a nice way to create a positive and energetic vibe in the office. Productivity problems arise when you spend more time discussing personal matters than you do talking about work.

Thankfully, it's an easy issue to solve. Think back through the last few conversations you've had with colleagues: were they personal or about work? Could you have ended it a little earlier than it did by simply walking away? Could you have steered a personal discussion into a work discussion? You don't have to eliminate the communication habit, but rather reposition it to your advantage.

Endless tasks: Putting unnecessary items on your to-do list

Do you ever wonder about those to-do items that never get done? It makes you think: perhaps you didn't actually need to do them at all. Perhaps they were matters that simply sorted themselves out, or things that should have been delegated to your team previously.

Keep your to-do lists and reflect back on them every now and again. For those items that you aren't doing – but magically end up done regardless – consider how you could adjust processes to ensure they never land on your to-do list in the first place.

Wondering eyes: Sitting at your desk too long

Long stints in front of a computer screen serve no good and will not solve your productivity problems. They lead to distractions, to personal social media interactions and other online time-wasting as our mind searches for anything to do other than work.

A much more productive way to get the most out of your at-the-desk time is to take a break. Get out of the office for half an hour to an hour and take a walk, sit in the park, get some sunshine and start the second half of the day rested. Or, if you're in a home office, do a couple of yoga moves or floor exercises in the room on an hourly basis. No one will know.

Meetings hell: Nothing achieved because you've been in meetings all day

Firstly, attending meeting does not translate to "nothing achieved". If meetings are part of your job, then meetings should appear as items to tick off your to-do list just like everything else. Meetings can also be great productivity boosters: a chance to catch up with team members and determine any upcoming issues, and to regularly delegate where necessary.

So which meetings are bad? If you believe you have nothing to contribute, don't attend. Ask for some meeting notes or to drop in to the room for five minutes to hear any actionable items.

And if the meetings you do attend feel like you're stuck on a merry-go-round heading nowhere, take action and change the structure of the meeting to ensure it has some results. Set clear agendas and time-limits. Assign to-do lists to participants.

What's your worst working habit? Let us know below and Meredith may have some solutions.


Meredith the Mentor

Meredith is a contributing writer to Women's Agenda. She is is not a consultant, or a management guru. She's not even a published author. Just someone who's made plenty of mistakes, and learnt a few lessons along the way.

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