Biting your nails. Chewing with your mouth open. Speaking before you think. This is the kind of stuff we usually think about when we think of “bad habits.”
But what about the bad habits that are hurting your performance at work?
There’s a whole host of things many of us are guilty of doing every single day that research shows ends up really hurting our productivity. And the more aware you are of how these things are affecting your productivity, the more proactive you can be at taking responsibility for your choices.
So, ask yourself: Are you guilty of any of these bad habits? If so, it may be time to cut it out.
12 bad habits that are making you less productive
1. rushing in the morning
We all have those mornings where you’re rushing your morning routine and barely have time to brush your teeth before running out the door to make it to the office on time. It’s when the morning rush becomes a habit that there can be negative consequences to your sense of well being and your overall productivity.
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.
If your mornings lack time and space to breathe, try waking up 10–30 minutes earlier and starting off with a quick meditation session. According to a 2012 study, people who mediated “stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance.” Try the free app Headspace to start: It gives you 10 free guided meditation sessions, with the option of signing up for a monthly subscription.
2. skipping breakfast
I’ve never been able to skip breakfast, but I know plenty of people who do. Whether you blame it on being too rushed (see #1) or just not feeling hungry, eating a well-rounded breakfast just isn’t a priority for a lot of people.
But it should be. Why? Because, technically, when you’re sleeping, you’re fasting — meaning you wake up with low blood sugar. That low blood sugar is exactly why many of us feel tired, apathetic, and even a little irritable first thing in the morning. It’s not you; it’s your inherent need for the sustenance that, you know, keeps you up and running as a human.
What about replacing food with coffee? Sure, the caffeine rush from your morning coffee can help hide the symptoms of low blood sugar — but it won’t satisfy your need for food. In fact, it’ll likely cause you to crash later in the day, which can really harm your productivity.
Prioritizing a healthy breakfast is a key to boosting productivity for the rest of your day. Try healthy breakfast foods that have the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that’ll give you energy. Foods rich in vitamin B — like oatmeal, bananas, pineapple, and avocados — can help improve your concentration. Avoid breakfast foods with added sugar like sugary cereal, donuts, Pop Tarts, and even bagels.
3. tackling the easy stuff first
It can be very 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 that challenging task. You push it further and further down your to-do list … until you’ve left it untouched for days or even weeks.
But tackling the most difficult tasks on your to-do list early on in the day is actually better for your overall productivity. Researchers have found that willpower is a finite resource that steadily decreases throughout the day, according to the book The Willpower Instinct.So your brain is much better at handling the hardest tasks at the beginning of the day when you’re more focused.
Mornings also tend to lend fewer distractions, making it easier for you to get things done. My colleague James Gilbert suggests that folks “take advantage of morning hours to crank through meaty projects without distractions, and save any calls or virtual meetings for the afternoon.”
Creating a to-do list is the easiest way to prioritize tasks effectively. Everyone has their own to-do list style, so check out this list of the best to-do list tools and apps out there and see which ones works best for you.
4. checking and responding to emails as they come in
Email is supposed to help us do our work, not distract us from our work. So why does it always feel like a productivity suck?
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 in chunks of time, turn off those pesky email alerts and limit checking your email to specified breaks.
To turn off notifications in Gmail: Click the gear icon and choose “Settings. In the “General” tab, scroll down to the “Desktop Notifications” section. From there, select “Mail notifications off” and click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page.
If you’re worried about missing an important email, try selecting “Important mail notifications on” and Gmail will notify you for emails it thinks are important to you based on past activity.
To turn off alerts in Outlook: On the “Tools” menu, click “Options.” Open the “Preferences” tab and click “E-mail Options,” then “Advanced E-mail Options.” Under “When new items arrive in my Inbox,” clear the “Display a New Mail Desktop Alert (default Inbox only) check box.
Pro tip: Even when you’re checking email, you don’t have to respond to every single one right away. If you’re worried about forgetting about email, I highly recommend using Andreas Klinger’s method for triaging email in Gmail, which you can read about here.
The premise behind his method is to triage emails by urgent emails that need action/reply, not-so-urgent emails that eventually need action/reply, emails that are awaiting reply, and emails you delegate to someone else.
5. checking twitter, facebook, and your other social feeds
The whole “easily distracted” thing goes for social media notifications, too. Turns out we actually have a psychological urge to check for social media notifications, which makes it hard to check our News Feeds “just this once” — and usually ends up in a lot of mindless browsing.
To turn off notifications in Google Chrome: Open Chrome, click “Chrome” in the menu bar on the top left of your screen, and choose “Preferences” from the dropdown menu. In the n ew browser window that appears, choose “Settings” from the menu on the left-hand side of your screen, and click “Show Advanced Settings” at the bottom. In the “Privacy” section, click on “Content Settings.” Scroll down to the “Notifications” section.
From here, you can either choose “Do not allow any site to show notifications” if you want to turn them off altogether. Otherwise, click “Manage Exceptions” and see what Chrome currently allows notifications for — and then alter that list as you see fit.
To turn off Twitter notifications on desktop: Click on your profile picture in the top right-hand corner and select “Settings” from the dropdown menu. From the sidebar on the left-hand side of your screen, choose “Web notifications,” and uncheck every box. Click “Save Changes.”
6. keeping your phone with you at work
Raise your hand if you have a small panic attack when you realize you don’t have your phone with you — whether you’re sitting at your desk, attending a meeting, grabbing coffee … heck, even going to the bathroom. (I’m guilty of this, too.)
There’s a reason Blackberries were nicknamed “Crackberries” back when they were popular: It’s because smartphones are probably the easiest distraction on the planet. And when you keep your phone with you at work, you’re putting your productivity levels at risk.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found that when people who were performing a task that required intense focus received a text or call on their phone, they had more incorrect answers and were more likely to make quick guesses. People who received notification of a call — even if they didn’t pick it up — were 3X more likely to make mistakes. In fact, error rates were about the same whether or not people answered that call or text.
Why does receiving that text or call hurt our productivity so much? Researchers from that study say that, although the actually moment of interruption is short-lived, our thoughts are disrupted for a considerably longer period, making it tough to refocus.
There are a lot of different ways to curb your phone addiction. The simplest is to turn your phone on silent and put it away while you’re at work. If that isn’t cutting it, try an app likeForest. This app will prompt you to plant a virtual tree when you start working, which “grows” over the course of 30 minutes. The more 30-minute periods you don’t use your phone, the larger your forest will grow; but if you leave the app, you’ll have to start all over again.
Next week we will follow on with 6 more bad habits that make us less productive.