3 addictive habits that derail your productivity

It may be too early to start planning New Year’s resolutions, but it’s always a good time to break a bad habit. Whether carried over from questionable practices from student life, ingrained in corporate culture, or just insidiously adopted over time, everyone has at least one bad habit they can live without in 2015.

Feeling blameless? Or overwhelmed and unsure of where to start? I asked around for a few suggestions that will help you focus your attention.

Put down the sandwich (and the excuses)

If your desk is your lunch table-for-one, or you’ve been working through lunch lately, congratulations! You’ve already spotted a bad habit to break. It’s a disgusting place to eat and it melds work and food, two worlds you should be taking great pains to keep separate. “Lunch is not the act of eating, it’s the break,” says Akos Jankura, owner of My Cool Inventions Radio. “I have tried to get everybody around me to break the habit. Even when people’s expectations are not being met, you have to get out of the workspace and reset your brain.”

This isn’t always easy when eating at one’s desk is considered a sign of dedication and commitment. If that means finding new ways to communicate, collaborate, and prove yourself, so be it. “The world can live without you for a half hour, and the productivity lost from that half hour will come back in other ways,” Jankura says. “You don’t have to go long and you don’t have to go far, but you have to get out of the work environment.” And yes, that means the Friday afternoon brown-bag presentation lunch is definitely verboten, too.

If your gut reaction is to make excuses for your working lunches, you’ve stumbled into another bad habit to break. Over the long term, reasonable explanations morph into intractable excuses—as exhibited by the 49 percent of Americans who insist that the long-finished recession lingers on. Excuses make it easy to explain away poor performance. “Are we done with the convenient excuse of the recession yet?” says Anne C. Graham, author of Profit in Plain Sight. “Excuses like that are probably preventing you from doing a lot of things, like considering whether you have a bad value proposition, sludge in your sales team, or are not priced properly.”

Abandon the cult of busyness

Almost everyone to ever work a service job has suffered a supervisor walking by and sneering, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” That attitude extends far beyond the minimum wage world. Looking busy is revered, or at least widely encouraged, and can lead people to focus on tasks which are urgent rather than those which are important.

“When all you do is tackle the thing staring you in the face, you’re using a more primitive portion of your brain and getting things done without really thinking about them,” says Adam Merrill, VP of Innovation at FranklinCovey and co-author of the upcoming The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity. “When all you do is plow through items at the top of a list you can miss big, important opportunities simply because they never make it to the top of your list.”

Are you part of the cult? Think about the last hallway conversation you had with a colleague. Cultists are prone to broadcast their busyness in a manner distinctly lacking in joy or relevance. “Have either of you asked if what you’re doing is cool, valuable, or interesting? Or do you just want to know if you’re both busy?” Merrill says. “It’s the existential claim of the 21st century: I’m busy, therefore I am.”

Step away from email

Stop thinking about your colleagues, partners, and customers in terms of the email pile they bestow upon you every morning. Chiseling through an inbox for an hour or more sets a poor tone for the rest of the day.

About half of all email is now opened on mobile devices. That’s a trend you can learn from. Instead of tethering yourself to an email client for the first hour-plus of every workday, use mobile tech to tackle email in bite-sized chunks on an as-needed basis. “You need to start your day with customer-focused activity and let email fill in the gaps,” Graham says. “Mobile email means we can do five minutes here and five minutes there.”

Email is a perfect example of the disconnect between the urgent and the important. Using email for important messages requires collaboration and coordination, but the results are far more rewarding than any Inbox Zero strategy you might adopt on your own. “You need to set up rules for the use of technology and electronic devices with your family and your team,” Merrill says. “Don’t Cc: unless it’s necessary. Don’t Reply All unless it’s necessary. These protocols make it easier to break away from the addiction of immediate stimulus and response.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.