Work habits for career success

Good work habits combined with the right attitude towards work can help you grow professionally and advance your career, says Iwona Tokc-Wilde

Your daily habits, whether good or bad, make you who you are. These peculiarities and routines also play an important role in influencing how others perceive and judge you.

In the workplace especially, habits can seriously affect your performance and what your colleagues and managers think of you. Bad habits, such as procrastination, poor time management and being disorganised, reflect poorly on you, make you less productive, and could even cost you your job. Good work habits, on the other hand, have been proven time and time again to be very healthy for your career.

Just do it

Procrastination is one of the main causes of career self-sabotage. In surveys, 90% to 95% of employees admit to procrastinating, and one in five say they do it so often that they may be putting their jobs at risk.

‘The temptation and the potential to procrastinate at work have never been greater – the rise of social media, smartphones and easily consumable websites like BuzzFeed mean that possible distractions are almost endless,’ says Simon Clow, specialist financial recruiter at Clayton Recruitment.

People often delay or postpone what they should be doing when they perceive a task as unpleasant or overwhelming. ‘We also put off things we find dull or a chore,’ says John Lees, careers expert and author of The Success Code: How to Stand Out and Get Noticed. He adds: ‘People stretch out other tasks or distract themselves with web-surfing, only putting the real work in when the deadline looms close.’

Lack of motivation to get our head down and ‘just do it’ can also stem from our perception that a particular task is not a priority so it can be done or finished later, says Mohammed Rahman from the London School of Business and Finance. But early on in your career you may not yet have learnt how to prioritise tasks properly. Also, you can never be too sure when the next big project comes in, requiring all hands on board. ‘Procrastination can therefore lead to you missing deadlines, or to a backlog of unfinished tasks when you really have more urgent priorities,’ Rahman says.

The cost of procrastination and self-caused low productivity can be high. ‘Very few organisations are likely to promote people they see as slacking off, or not being as productive as they could be,’ says Clow.

Small tweaks

Thankfully, you only need to make small tweaks to your daily work habits to become more self-disciplined and more productive.

When you find yourself putting things off every time you feel overwhelmed with too much work, make a conscious decision to better organise your time and all the jobs that need doing. A to-do list is an obvious help. ‘Ticking jobs off as you complete them keeps you focused on your goals and keeps you motivated to keep going,’ says Clow. He adds that this way of organising your work is particularly effective if you put your largest or most important task first on the list – once you have completed it, you will feel like you can tackle anything.

You can also try pecking away at an overwhelming task by setting a time limit, at which point you move on to do something else, only to return to the main task at a set time later.

‘However, while it’s all well and good saying you will get your head down and work, give yourself a break every now and again as not doing so may cause you to procrastinate further down the line,’ Clow says. Recharge your batteries by stepping away from your desk, and go and chat with your colleagues. But don’t overdo it – too many water cooler chats a day is just another way to procrastinate.

To jumpstart yourself when you feel bored, look for a challenge. ‘Try to negotiate more variety in the tasks you do to ensure you keep on being stretched,’ Lees says. He adds: ‘Simply adding new content to your job mix or new learning opportunities will refresh your week; exposure to new people and problems also helps.’

And just think how you will feel when you get to the end of your to-do list. ‘Your brain produces pleasure-inducing substance seratonin when you get important things done,’ says John. You can motivate yourself even further with rewards. ‘Plan a few treats in your week for being able to tick those boxes,’ Lees says.

To start building good workplace traits into your daily routine, try ‘stacking’ habits. Clow explains: ‘It involves tying in a desired trait with a pre-existing habit. For example, if you’re looking to strengthen workplace relationships, try stopping and chatting with a colleague when you finish your lunch every day. It may not sound like much, but making such small adjustments can ultimately make a big difference.’

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, journalist

"People stretch out other tasks or distract themselves with web-surfing, only putting the real work in when the deadline looms close"

John Lees - Author of The Success Code: How to Stand Out and Get Noticed and careers expert