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What are good work habits? Do you want to develop a strong work ethic?
Exhibiting good work habits not only makes you stand out to managers or other employees, but it can help you achieve your work goals. These work habits can cater to anybody—whether you want to run your own business, want to get solo projects done, or want to get a raise.
Here are some great work habits to develop so you can have a successful career.
How Bad Habits Negatively Impact Your Work
Many people assume that business operations—the routines and processes that allow a company to function—rely on a continuous sequence of rational and deliberate choices. According to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, this is not the case. He argues that businesses rely on automatic routines to save energy. Automatic routines help managers and employees get things done without having to question every action they take.
However, Duhigg continues, many of these collective habits grow organically from an accumulation of individual decisions taken by different managers and employees. Over time, the company loses track of the individual decisions that initiated the habits that are now deeply ingrained in the company’s culture. As a result, they end up acting out these automatic routines without an awareness of why they’re engaging in these behavioral patterns. New employees quickly adopt these habits to fit in, and the cycle of automatic routines perpetuates.
Duhigg argues that, when a company is unaware of the automatic routines that underpin its organization, it can easily fall into the trap of adopting deconstructive habits that undermine its operations.
For example, one manager’s habit of missing important deadlines may encourage her entire department to develop a relaxed attitude toward meeting target dates, and this has a domino effect on the rest of the company. To avoid failing company-wide deadlines and undermining their reputation, other employees and managers may develop the habit of compensating for this department’s inefficiencies. However, this habit encourages them to feel overworked and resentful and ultimately leads to further inefficiencies.
To resolve these types of situations, Duhigg suggests that companies deliberately cultivate habits that support every practice in the company such as communication, collaboration, and morale.
TITLE: The Power of Habit
AUTHOR: Charles Duhigg
The Different Kinds of Habits
In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that implementing good work habits called “atomic habits,” or small improvements in behavior, changes your life because behaviors compound—that is, they build on each other to create more and more changes. Performing one good behavior leads to another, then another—and soon, you’ve transformed your life.
Clear identifies three levels of atomic habits: goal-driven, system-driven, and identity-driven habits.
Clear explains that a goal-driven habit is a behavior you do to achieve a specific goal. This is the most common way people try to change their behavior: For example, you might choose to study two extra hours each day to ace a specific test.
Clear contends that system-driven habits are those that focus on the systems, or processes, that will get you to your goal, instead of focusing on the goal itself. For example, developing a study routine is a system-driven habit because it focuses on the process of studying rather than the goal of acing a specific test or course.
Clear explains that identity-driven habits are behaviors we perform because they match our beliefs about who we are—in other words, our identity. For example, if you believe you’re a good student, you have a study routine because that’s what good students do.
Habits to Get the Most Important Things Done
Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy says that to succeed, you need to develop good work habits. The key is overcoming procrastination and tackling your most important task. With diligent practice, it eventually becomes automatic.
Making a habit of getting your most important things done has two payoffs: immediate satisfaction and long-term success. Doing challenging tasks successfully sets up a positive feedback loop. Completing a big job releases endorphins in your brain that make you feel good. You experience a burst of energy and self-confidence. The more important the task, the happier you are getting it done.
A secret of success is that you can get addicted to the endorphin-induced feelings of self-confidence and capability that come from completing a big job. Subconsciously, you aim to complete more such tasks because you’re addicted to success.
It’s one of the keys to long-term success and living a happy life. When you have a success habit, it becomes easier to do the important things than to dodge them.
There are three steps to developing the focus and perseverance to get things done: decide, discipline yourself, and practice:
- Decide to make getting important things done a habit.
- Discipline yourself to apply the principles in this book.
- Practice the habit until it becomes automatic.
TITLE: Atomic Habits
AUTHOR: James Clear
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey distills this timeless wisdom into seven lifelong practices for building a successful, fulfilling life. Collectively, these good work habits help you to identify and accomplish the things that are most important to you.
Covey writes that to improve your behaviors, yourself, and your life, you must first examine and shift your paradigms, which are the lenses through which you see the world. Your paradigms, or perspectives, shape how you interpret your situations and surroundings, and your interpretations dictate your behavior; thus, changing your perspective changes your behavior. Taking this a step further, your behaviors determine your outcomes, which collectively shape your life.
Habit 1: Take Initiative
Take initiative (Covey labels this habit “be proactive”). In other words, change the problems that you can change and accept the ones you can’t.
According to Covey, Habit 1 lays the foundation for the subsequent habits because taking initiative is key to adopting new behaviors. Rather than being reactive (externally influenced) and allowing your environment or circumstances to dictate how you feel and act, being proactive (initiative-taking) empowers you to choose your thoughts and actions.
For each of your concerns, determine which category it falls into, and act accordingly.
- If it’s related to your actions, alter your behavior.
- If it’s related to other people’s actions, alter your interactions with them in hopes of influencing their behavior.
- If it’s something you can’t impact, like the past, accept it.
Habit 2: Envision the Life You Want
Determine who you want to be and what’s important to you, and keep these goals front of mind with a personal mission statement.
Covey argues that you have to imagine the life you want before you can achieve it. Vividly envisioning your goal keeps you focused on your destination amid daily demands and distractions.
Habit 2 is a two-part process:
- Identify who you want to be and what you want to do; picture yourself at the end of your life and reflect on what kind of impact and legacy you want to leave.
- Write a personal mission statement that details who you are, your long-term goals, and the values you want to live by. Review and revise this mission statement regularly.
Habit 3: Prioritize Important Over Urgent
Prioritize your time and actions to live up to your personal mission statement.
To prioritize the tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your life, Covey promotes a time management matrix originally designed by President Eisenhower that categorizes tasks based on their urgency and importance (meaning that they contribute to your goals, values, and personal mission statement). The matrix has four task categories, which Covey refers to as quadrants:
- Category 1: Urgent and Important—The crises and problems in this category eat up your time and distract you from preventing future crises, creating a vicious cycle.
- Category 2: Not Urgent, but Important—This is where you should spend most of your time because it includes activities that could easily be put off, but that bring great benefits in the long term (like exercising).
- Category 3: Urgent, but not Important—These activities are typically things that other people want you to do but that aren’t important to you.
- Category 4: Neither Urgent nor Important—These leisure and entertainment activities contribute nothing to your life, and effective people tend to avoid them.
Covey asserts that weekly planning is the most effective way to manage your time and achieve your goals: A weekly schedule is narrow enough to ensure important tasks get done promptly, and it’s broad enough to be flexible when things come up unexpectedly.
Follow these steps to create your weekly plan:
- Identify your roles (such as employee or volunteer).
- Identify one or two goals you want to achieve for each role in the next week.
- Assign a day to accomplish each goal.
- Schedule time for activities that renew and revitalize you.
- Build in open, unscheduled time for the unexpected.
- When things come up unexpectedly, evaluate how they fit your goals and schedule.
Habit 4: Seek Mutual Benefits
When tackling a problem or negotiating with someone, always strive to find a mutually beneficial solution.
While Habits 1-3 focus on personal effectiveness, Covey says that Habits 4-6 focus on building interdependent (or collaborative) success through strong relationships and effective interactions.
Habit 4 is the first step: Approach every interaction as an opportunity to find a mutually beneficial outcome, which Covey calls a “Win/Win” mindset.
- Description: This mindset values cooperation over competition, and believe that one person’s success doesn’t come at the expense of another’s.
- Benefits: It strengthens the relationship of the people involved—improving the quality of future collaborations—and leads to more innovative solutions.
Once you’ve adopted the right mindset and you sit down to negotiate or work together, how do you actually arrive at a mutually beneficial solution? Covey offers these tips:
- Try to understand the other person’s perspective. We’ll explain how to do this in Habit 5.
- Describe each person’s biggest concerns as objectively as possible.
- Identify what results constitute a “win” for each person.
- Determine a new solution that achieves those results.
Habit 5: Listen and Understand the Other First
When communicating with others, Covey urges you to try to understand their perspective before asking them to understand yours.
Covey points out that you can’t reach a mutually beneficial solution without first understanding the other person’s interests. This requires empathic listening, or striving to understand the other person’s perspectives by interpreting what they’re saying as well as how they feel.
Covey suggests you practice empathic listening with these exercises:
- Watch people to practice interpreting nonverbal cues. Observe an interaction from afar. What can you discern about people’s emotions based solely on their body language?
- Practice switching views. In a debate or negotiation, try to describe the situation from the other person’s perspective. Then, explain your point through their lens.
- As a friend or family member for feedback. Explain the concept of empathic listening, and ask them to tell you in a week how well you listened empathically to them.
Habit 6: Collaborate to Create Possibilities
Covey contends that collaborating (creating what he calls “synergy”) with another person enables you to achieve more than either of you could alone.
Covey believes that collaboration creates outcomes greater than the sum of the parts, as in 1+1 = 3 or more (for example, one singer plus another singer creates harmony). This is possible because the relationship itself adds value by creating the opportunity for collaboration.
The mutually beneficial mindset from Habit 4 and empathic listening from Habit 5 foster trust and goodwill, which are necessary for effective communication and collaboration. Covey suggests that the collaborative process then strengthens the relationship, which benefits future collaborations.
To effectively collaborate, Covey says you need “internal synergy.” In other words, be both analytical and intuitive, because life can be logical as well as emotional.
Habit 7: Practice Self-Renewal
Covey’s final good work habit, self-renewal, maintains your well-being so that you can continue doing the work of Habits 1-6.
Covey asserts that keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy prevents burnout, supports productivity, and actually improves your overall efficiency and effectiveness, creating an upward spiral of growth. Self-renewal also helps you stay disciplined and focused on your goals and values.
Covey advises practicing four aspects of self-renewal:
- Physical—Eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep and relaxation.
- Spiritual—This can include praying, meditating, reading, and spending time in nature.
- Mental—Read, write, and expose yourself to new information.
- Social/emotional—Since emotional health is so closely tied with social interactions, Covey argues that this form of self-renewal actually comes from practicing Habits 4-6.
TITLE: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey
Habits That Will Reduce Technology Intake
Technology is one of the biggest distractions from work today. Television, social media, and even emails can distract you from getting work done during the day. Let’s look at a few good work habits to make that include limiting your technology intake.
Schedule Internet Time
The first good work habit you should make when it comes to technology is scheduling in advance when you’ll use the Internet. Avoid it completely outside these times. In Deep Work, Cal Newport gives some tips on how to make the most of this practice:
- Keep a notepad nearby where you record the next time you’re scheduled to use the Internet, and any ideas you need to revisit once you’re online again.
- Plan your work so you don’t need the Internet to make progress. If you get stuck by not being able to access the Internet, then move on to another task. Plan better next time.
- If you do this primarily at work, then don’t stop this practice at home after work. This will undo the training you did at work.
Examine Your Tech Tools
Newport says that social media is insidious in that it seems like you’re doing productive things when really the gains are minor. To begin managing the way you use tech, Newport suggests taking the following steps to examine each of your tech tools in regards to their benefits, cost, and opportunity cost. This will help you clearly see which tools are worth your time and which aren’t.
- List your goals. Make a list of your most important goals—professional and personal—and then list the two or three activities that help you progress most toward these goals. Newport notes that these activities should be specific enough to give you direction, but general enough to be repeatable.
- Examine your tech tools: For each of your major tools—for example, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit—describe how they contribute (or don’t contribute) meaningfully to your important goals.
- Try quitting: If you’re on the fence about how much you need a tool, do an experiment: Quit for 30 days and see what happens. Afterward, consider whether your life would have been notably better if you had been able to use that tool.
- Keep or discard the tool: Newport says to only adopt a tool if you’re sure the benefits substantially outweigh the negative impact and the opportunity cost.
Lock Down Your Phone
The single most pernicious device that impinges on your ability to concentrate is your smartphone. Phones have completely revolutionized society by bringing great advances to our ability to communicate and access information. However, the price we’ve paid as individuals is a massive drain on our time and attention.
Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky recommends deleting all social media apps, games, and even your email from your phone. If that’s too extreme, they suggest you turn off all notifications and remove the apps from your homescreen, forcing you to choose when to use each app. Finally, you can leave your phone behind, especially while you’re working. Leave your phone at home, in another room, or even in a locker if one’s available. In other words, turn your phone into a tool that serves you, not the other way around.
Slow Down Your Email
Many people make clearing their inbox a priority every day. This can become so overwhelming that responding to email uses up most of your productive time. While many jobs require quick email responses, Knapp and Zeratsky point out that for most of us, always responding isn’t as important as you’d think. Your employer or business will benefit more if you make a good work habit of doing meaningful work than squandering it by reacting to random email queries. If your job is such that some communication is time-sensitive, you can set up an email autoresponse to let people know how to reach you by other means (such as your business phone).
The authors present several strategies to take control of your email time:
- Only respond to email at the end of the day, when your energy is lower. (Email doesn’t require as much mental work as other tasks.)
- Create an email schedule to check two or three times per day. (This can be especially useful if you need to communicate with people in certain time zones around the world.)
- Budget your email time, using apps to lock you out if you have to.
These practices will probably stop you from cleaning out your inbox every day. In that case, Knapp and Zeratsky advise that you set “once a week” as a more realistic goal for an empty inbox. Whichever method you choose, let your colleagues (and friends and family) know that you’re going to address email slowly, and not to expect a rapid response.
Turn Off Your TV
This good work habit may be particularly hard to adjust to, because relaxing at the end of the day is so important, and we’re currently living in a Golden Age of quality TV content. However, most of us don’t realize how much time we actually give up to the TV. The authors suggest making TV an occasional indulgence, not an everyday activity.
Also, you can save money on your TV by being intentional about what you watch. If you cancel continuous streaming subscriptions, you can still rent individual movies or shows from platforms such as Amazon and YouTube, or borrow DVDs for free from your local library. Most streaming platforms make it possible to subscribe long enough to binge a series and cancel when you’re done.
TITLE: Deep Work
AUTHOR: Cal Newport
Habits to Get Rich and Work Less
Most people want to be millionaires so they can quit their day jobs, travel, buy nice things, spend time with the people they care about, and pursue a hobby or a passion. However, in The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss argues that you don’t need a million dollars to have a millionaire lifestyle. He explains that one way of getting rich and working less is to develop good work habits that involve avoiding busywork and people, and handling routine tasks all at once.
Eliminate Work That Doesn’t Matter
Most of us probably approach our chores and tasks by managing our time, prioritizing, and finding efficient ways to get things done. However, Ferriss says the best way to save time is to do only things that matter, and stop doing everything that doesn’t. To do this, keep two principles in mind: The 80/20 rule and Parkinson’s Law.
The 80/20 rule (the Pareto principle): This rule states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. Therefore, you can greatly reduce your efforts without having a large negative impact on your outcomes. For example, imagine that you sell magazines and that 80% of your orders come from 20% of your customers. If you completely ignored any customer who wasn’t in the top 20%, you would lose customers, but you’d still retain 80% of your orders. You’d also save a great deal of time, which you could use to do something more profitable.
Parkinson’s Law: This law states that a task will take as much time as you give it; a corollary states that the more time you devote to a task, the more significant that task seems. For example, if you give yourself five days to write an essay, it’ll take you five days and feel extremely daunting; if you start two hours before the essay is due, you’ll get it done in two hours and feel like it was no big deal.
To stop doing things that aren’t important, apply both laws—only do the 20% of your tasks that give you the greatest return, and give yourself short deadlines for each of those tasks.
Ferriss says when you work a day job, there are three categories of work that take up your time unnecessarily: busywork, routine work, and work that requires input from someone else. He explains how to identify these time wasters and offers suggestions for minimizing the time you spend on them.
Busywork happens when people pile unimportant tasks onto you, either because they don’t want to handle those tasks themselves or because they want you to “look busy.” Therefore, Ferriss suggests avoiding busywork by limiting people’s access to you.
He says that people will try to access you in three ways, and he offers suggestions for limiting each:
- Email: Only check your email twice a day, and set up an auto-reply that explains this to anyone who emails you. Include a phone number in your auto-reply so people can still reach you with urgent matters.
- Phone: Set up two numbers, one for urgent inquiries and one for non-urgent. Answer the urgent number and set the non-urgent one to go straight to voicemail. Like your email, check your voicemail only twice a day, and record a message explaining that to callers.
- In-person: Avoid meetings, especially those that don’t have a clear agenda or end time. If someone tries to get you to go to a meeting, suggest they email you instead, claim that you have another commitment, or go to the meeting and then leave early. Also, avoid informal chats in your office or cubicle—put up a “do not disturb” sign, wear headphones, or pretend to be on the phone.
Do Routine Work All at Once
Routine work consists of repetitive and time-consuming tasks that need to be done. Ferriss suggests you handle these tasks by doing them all at once, at a scheduled time, instead of handling them as they come up.
- For example, if you have to go shopping every couple of days to restock the store, you could save a lot of time by planning ahead and buying a week’s worth of supplies all at once.
TITLE: The 4-Hour Workweek
AUTHOR: Tim Ferriss
Do You Have Any Good Work Habits?
Bad habits can be hard to break but can be done if you consciously start developing good work habits. The habits above can help you push your career in the right direction by making you more productive and committed to your work. If you have any good work habits of your own, leave them in the comments below.
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