Do you ever feel like you’re constantly working, yet not accomplishing nearly enough? I did. I was overwhelmed with projects and working around the clock, struggling to meet one deadline while another loomed around the corner. There has to be a better way to manage this, I thought. As it turns out, there was.
I learned to work smarter, not harder, by paying attention to my habits. Whether good, bad or somewhere in between, habits shape our lives. They are those familiar acts we do without thinking, as though we’re running on autopilot. I don’t think twice about brushing my teeth when I wake up in the morning or checking my phone for messages. Nor do I think about opening my favourite news app while sipping my morning coffee. They’re just things I do. Habits, ingrained in me from repeating them over and over again.
As much as habits affect our day-to-day lives, they affect our work lives, too. Sitting down at our desks. Looking over our to-do lists. Responding to emails. Habit, habit, habit. Now, if only every habit would take us down a straight and narrow path of productivity, we’d have no problems getting our work done in an efficient way. That’s not usually the case. For many, there are some bad—or at least, unproductive—habits sprinkled in with the good.
Maybe it’s browsing social media when a deadline is looming or chatting with a coworker about your weekend long after your meeting has ended. It’s easy to get sucked into these unproductive patterns, perhaps even more so if you’ve been working from home. You’re surrounded by constant reminders of things that need to be done around the house, on top of things that need to be done for work. I mean, what’s the harm in folding a few piles of laundry or doing the dishes between work tasks?
If giving into these distractions becomes habitual, then the harm to your productivity could be pretty big. And given that habits are things we do without thinking, you might soon find yourself feeling like you’re constantly dragged down by work when in reality you’re giving in to bad habits.
So, how do you create good work habits and avoid the bad ones?
Choose your habits wisely
Since we fall into most habits without thinking, I made a conscious effort to develop habits that would better serve me.
I found myself struggling through the workday, having been up late working the night before. It seemed counterintuitive to give up those precious work hours to get more sleep, but I decided to give it a try anyway.
I made it a habit to put my work away at a certain time and wind down for bed. With more rest, I also had more mental energy to take on those projects I’d once lagged through.
Really think about the habits you’d like to develop and find practical ways to put them into action. Don’t take on too many at once—focus on one or two habits at a time to be sure they stick in the long run.
Consider your environment
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes about priming your environment. If you want to be more productive, you might consider priming your office so it’s ready for you to work. Clear away the distracting clutter. Turn off your phone and leave it in another room. Designate your office a work-only area, so your brain switches into work mode the minute you take a seat at your desk. By making the good habit the path of least resistance, you’re more likely to keep at it.
Keep track of your habits
Habits only become habits when you do them consistently. There are apps available to help you keep track of habits as you adopt them into your life, or an old-fashioned pen and paper will do, too. The important thing is to monitor your efforts until they become effortless.
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