Time management is key to productivity. Yet, according to a recent poll, 82 percent of workers don’t have a clear system to manage their time effectively. As a result, the average employee spends about 1.5 hours each day on tasks that are irrelevant and non-essential to their role. This is where work habits come into play.
Most survey respondents agree the least successful time management method is to just deal with whatever comes up in the moment. However, that’s exactly what happens if you don’t cultivate smart, strategic work habits.
In this month’s installment of The Productivity Box, we examine what makes an effective habit, as well as how to build these work habits into your normal routine to streamline workflow. Before you know it, these practices will start to feel automatic and you’ll have another useful tool in your job performance arsenal.
What is a work habit?
A habit is a recurring behavior that you act on without conscious thought. While a habit doesn’t necessarily start out like this, over time, it will become entrenched in your routine from constant, methodical repetition.
Productive habits can significantly benefit work performance. When you automate an action or thought process, this frees your mental space. In turn, you’ll be able to focus on tasks that require more cognitive effort and resources, suggests Frontiers in Psychology. It can also help you minimize distractions and manage time efficiently.
Good habits vs. bad habits
It’s important to remember that not all work habits are good. Some can interfere with your work performance. For example, if “check emails” is the first line item on your agenda, this can set the tone for a whole day of non-essential tasks. In fact, more than 50 percent of workers open their email inboxes at least every 20 minutes, according to the previous poll.
Likewise, if you are in the habit of snoozing your smartphone alarm, then scrolling on social media before you’ve had a cup of coffee in the morning, these behaviors can also take a toll on productivity.
It might shock you to learn that even just the presence of a mobile device near you can impair attention orientation, task performance, and cognitive function overall, suggests the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.
This is why it’s so important to be intentional about the habits you’re nurturing. Do these habits jumpstart motivation, conserve mental energy, expedite workflow, and increase the quality of output? Or do they slow momentum, cause distractions, waste valuable time, or stand in the way of excellence and success?
Use these questions to check in on some of your current habits:
- Are you well-rested each morning?
- Do you start working at a consistent time each day?
- Do you use a to-do list to prioritize your tasks?
- Do you submit deliverables when (or before) they’re due?
- Is your schedule and workspace organized?
- Do you plan ahead for team meetings and presentations?
- Do you eliminate distractions from your work environment?
- Is stress management and self-care part of your routine?
If you answer yes to most or all of them, you have a great foundation of work habits. If the inverse is true, it’s time to think about what you need to change to be more productive.
How do good habits form?
On average, it takes about 3 months for a positive habit formation to take root and become an automatic part of your routine, Frontiers in Psychology reports. The more you perform these actions on a deliberate, consistent basis in that three-month period, the stronger your impulse will be to subconsciously continue this practice over the long term.
Just like the muscle memory that builds when you do a recurrent physical exercise, the brain also associates frequency with permanence. If you want a productive habit to stick, repetition is crucial.
The other part of habit formation is being able to identify current habits that do not serve your goals so that you can change them. Habits can become ingrained, but they are not fixed, immovable entities.
In order to successfully eliminate a negative habit, you must replace it with a different, more constructive behavior. Below are a few simple ways to achieve this.
Notice what influences the habit you want to change.
All behaviors are initiated by a cue or stimuli. When you feel the urge to act on a habit, pay attention to the why behind this urge.
For example, if you want to break the habit of scrolling on social media, ask yourself what drives the impulse to open those apps in the first place.
Are you looking for a sense of connection? Do you need an escape or distraction from stressful obligations?
Once you know the root cause of a habit, you’ll be self-aware enough to take another action the next time you feel the urge.
Identify patterns in your routine built around this habit.
Routines are the outcome of habitual behaviors. Look for recurring patterns in your routine that were created by the habit you want to change.
Let’s assume your objective is to stop turning on the TV while you work. Is there a sequence in your current routine that leads to this behavior? Do you watch an episode of a certain show on your lunch break, then forget to power down the TV before returning to your job? Rewire this pattern by turning off the show after just one episode or initiating another lunch break activity.
Link the habit change to a reward that will motivate you.
Whether they’re positive or negative in nature, all habits satisfy a craving.
For example, the habit of snoozing your alarm satisfies the craving to sneak in a few more minutes of rest before tackling a busy schedule. When that craving is met, the brain’s reward center activates, releasing the pleasure chemical dopamine, Frontiers in Psychiatry explains.
That neurological process connects the habit to the reward, telling you to repeat it. So to change a habit, associate the new behavior with its own rewarding outcome: if I wake up when my alarm goes off, I will finish my tasks faster and earlier in the day.
Make good work habits part of your routine
No matter how many items are on your to-do list, productive habits can streamline your workflow and help you accomplish them more effectively.
This will supercharge your performance and enable you to build a routine that supports your goals, increases your motivation, bolsters your progress, and furthers your success.
It’s a simple strategy—like all the small hacks we analyze in The Productivity Box each month—yet it can make all the difference.