How to break bad work habits

In our last post, we warned you about some of the bad business habits that can snatch even the most diligent worker in their unforgiving clutches. Perhaps you recognized a habit or two. Perhaps you have resolved to banish buzzwords, to establish a better sleep schedule and to focus doggedly on the right priorities. Great!

Uh… so now what?

Just like with breaking a bad personal habit, you have to want to stop before you’ll stop. And it may not be easy; the whole meaning of habit is that it’s something you do without thinking. (Worth noting: there can be some confusion between habits and addictions. A person gets addicted to nicotine and heroin, but not, presumably, to writing rude emails or relentlessly yes-manning a boss. On the other hand, Facebook overuse may be habitual for one person but an actual addiction for another.)

Give it time

Don’t trap yourself in a mindset of needing to change your habits in a set amount of time; some habits are harder to shake than others. The idea that there’s a fixed number is, to quote The Guardian, “poppycock and horsefeathers.” On average, though, it’s somewhere around 66 days. Give yourself time to (de)program.

Know your triggers

“The best way to change a habit is to understand its structure,” says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. If you’re overly adversarial, is it triggered by certain coworkers? Is the root cause that you feel like your opinion doesn’t have weight? When you find yourself lapsing back into behavior that you want to change, try to trace it back.

Recognize your rewards

One of the bad habits we touched on was demanding to be in the loop when you don’t need to be included. That’s annoying and counterproductive behavior, but the motivation behind the behavior could be quite admirable. You may want to be involved because you want to be a valued core member of your company, or you’re looking to build your skill set. Or maybe you’re plotting something Machiavellian. Bad habits can trace back to any number of root causes. They’re certainly not always (or often) the result of ill intent.

Go public

There’s a plethora of apps available for setting and tracking goals, some of which will encourage you to go social, which can be a powerful motivator. I have a friend whose weight loss strategy was essentially to dangle the threat of social media shame over his own head. Hey, it worked. Proceed with caution, though: oversharing during your quest for habit-smashing self-improvement can become a bad habit in and of itself.

Of course, you don’t need to take it to the masses. You can find an office confidant or two and tell them about your goals – maybe even someone you trust enough to call you out when you have a lapse.

Remember your history

A brief personal story: there’s a Starbucks so close to Central Desktop HQ that I could literally roll myself there – at least once I made it down the steps. I visit regularly for iced tea (black or green, unsweetened, light ice, thanks). Prior to this year, I’d gotten a drink from Starbucks maybe… two, three times in my life. If I reach a point where I feel like I “need” it, I’d be wise to revisit those many, many workdays when I was sans Starbucks cup and yet lived to tell the tale.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.