Work habits is a bit of an unusual topic to post about. However, your habits are in effect the only way for you to tangibly reach your goals – no matter what it is you’re trying to achieve. Deep down, we all know this. It’s common place to talk about your habits, whether that be your eating habits to achieve your health goals, whether it’s your writing habits to nail that publication, or even if it’s your sleep habits to help maintain focus and productivity throughout the day. Whatever it is, we know that habits are important, and work habits are no different.
Work habits are deeply important for two main reasons. It helps ensure motivation with what you’re doing. Spacing out a specific task over a longer time frame helps prevent boredom and burnout. Similarly, work habits create a compounding effect on your skills, which may feel slow at first, but the returns later down the line are quite literally exponential. Furthermore, having good work habits are likely to be the difference maker when you have your off days or hit roadblocks. On those days when you really can’t be bothered or want to have a break, knowing that you’ve got a consistent routine is likely to get you through the small blips.
In the context of burnout and motivation, good work habits effectively prevents you from having to operate and work in short but intense bursts. Many people approach a task by avoiding it at all costs, and then effectively ‘wait’ for the intense pressure to kick in which is used as fuel and motivation to get the task done. Occasionally this pays off and may even reinforce this method. But when you have longer-term goals, or things that require consistent effort, this strategy perhaps doesn’t yield many results. For instance, academic research in general is a slow process. It’s not feasible to wait for the final few months of your PhD before starting. Equally, the same applies to other habits – again you’re not going to get in shape in two weeks if you decide to go all out for a short period of time.
Even if you have found a way to perfect the ‘last minute’ approach, it’s likely to be taking a toll on your well-being. Only being productive when you’re placed under extreme stress is not a good approach to self-care. It means that you’re effectively having to put yourself in an unfavourable situation to be productive. On occasion, this is unlikely to have much of a negative impact, but if you’re engaging in this work habit consistently throughout your professional career it’s quite likely you’ve bought a one-way ticket to becoming burnt out.
With this in mind, a more favourable approach is to do small amounts of work, but more frequently and more often. This takes your larger goal and objective and breaks it down into smaller digestible chunks. The benefits of this approach are two-fold. Firstly, you’ll naturally create more headspace to approach the task, it will enable you to plan better, be more creative, and manage your time more effectively. You will effectively reach the same goal but with less effort (ironically). Secondly, you’ll avoid pushing yourself to the limit towards burnout. You’re no longer deliberately making your work stressful and exhausting – which means you’ll enjoy your work more, sleep better, and feel less overwhelmed.
Sure, we all love a tip that makes us more productive, motivated and less overwhelmed. But the real beauty of mastering your work habits is that consistent engagement in any particular task leads to compounding returns. You can think of this in terms of your writing skills. Writing a lot in short, intense, bursts will reach the deadline. However, if you want to better your writing skills, work through writer’s block, and be a better storyteller all round – writing more frequently will be a better approach. Any author or experienced writer will practice a small amount daily. Any artist will paint or draw daily. Anyone who’s mastering a particular skill will be engaging with it on a routine and consistent basis. Aka good work habits.
The reason this approach is more powerful is because your habits compound. They accumulate over time, with more practice means more learning, which means you effectively get better, more efficient and less intimidated by that specific task.
To successfully adhere to and select good habits we need to discuss two more things. The first is being disciplined enough to do a little bit of something more frequently. This is a lot harder because an extra 20 minutes here and there doesn’t feel like enough to make much of a difference. It’s a lot easier to skip it and say ‘I’ll do my 20 minutes tomorrow’ than it is to push yourself to do a little bit every day. However, the sooner you can get into a routine of doing something daily, you’ll not only get into a rhythm with it, but you’ll feel less overwhelmed by the number of tasks you need to do. Before you know it, time management will be one of your biggest attributes.
The other final thing to touch upon is that you can’t physically do everything. Your time and cognitive capacity are finite. This means you must be selective with your work habits. The selection of one habit subsequently means you’ll have less time to focus on another habit. This is where we start to think of our time as our most valuable resource – and we start to evaluate the impact our habits will have in comparison to other habits. We can begin to optimise our habits to be the most impactful and meaningful for us. We shift away from being reactive, just responding to demands and tasks – to thinking proactive, planning ahead and thinking about what skills and habits will pay off in the long term.
Overall, it’s a journey, and finding out and developing good habits sounds easy but it takes a lot of consistent work, persistence, self-compassion, and discipline to put it into action. When you eventually begin to implement good work habits on a daily basis, the results you’ll begin to see will be like never before!
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