New year, better you! 7 work habits you should ditch in 2022
Ah, the new year: the time when all of us reflect on the things we’d like to do better with our fresh calendar: eat better, sleep better, spend more quality time with loved ones, etc. And while some of these resolutions stick better than others (raise your hand if, like me, you’re already slacking on your gym resolution), it’s still a good chance to think about how to do better professionally as well as personally.
As we get started on the potential for greatness that is 2022, here are some work habits that should be left behind in 2021.
This one is a challenge for nearly all of us at one time or another. Things get busy, or an unpleasant task somehow just keeps moving behind everything else on the to-do list. Procrastination is one of the hardest habits to break, but doing so can have some of the best benefits. You’ll feel less anxious about the things you need to do, and you’ll have more time and mental space to give to other things on your list.
Start small, because that’s how procrastination rolls. If you have something you know you need to do, and you find yourself saying, “Eh, I’ll do it tomorrow,” stop yourself and do it now. It can be something as minor as setting up an appointment, or as productive as getting started on a project that isn’t due for another few weeks. By taking small steps, you’ll help yourself get in the better habit of tackling things as they come up and teaching yourself to prioritize more effectively.
2. Letting anxiety ruin your time off
The “Sunday Scaries” is a real thing. Maybe they’re a holdover from childhood Sunday night sadness when you knew you’d have to go to school the next morning. Only now, instead of school, it’s an endless stream of tasks, emails, and problems to solve. If you’re taking time off, or just in weekend mode, don’t let the anxiety seep into your much-deserved downtime.
One way to help manage this kind of forward-looking anxiety is to do a bit of pre-work before the weekend, or before you leave work for a break. Jot down a quick to-do list, so that your brain isn’t struggling to get its bearings while, say, you’re trying to sleep Sunday night. When you come back, you’ll have the list of things right in front of you, without the anxiety of trying to reset the routine.
It also helps if you give yourself a reward on Monday mornings. Whether it’s a special kind of coffee or tea you like, or a treat you don’t usually give yourself, it can help take the sting and stress out of getting back to work.
3. Not taking advantage of sick days
Sick time is a major issue for U.S. workers–often, we don’t get enough time to deal with our health, and when we do, we don’t often take advantage because culture pushes us to be “on” and productive all the time. That is a recipe for poorer health overall, and an unhealthy relationship to work. If you’re sick, take the time off. You don’t get extra work ethic bonus points for answering emails when you’re down with the flu, or being on call when you should be resting.
And with the pandemic, with so many people working remotely, the pressure is even greater to keep working through illnesses of all kinds. Even if you can do some work from your couch when you’re ailing, that doesn’t mean it’s helpful for anyone if you push yourself too hard. Your body needs a break to recover. Sick time benefits are important and should be taken seriously as part of your job.
4. Not prioritizing small, regular tasks
This is actually similar to procrastinating. When you have a routine task (like running a weekly report or sending regular updates), it can be easy to let those get shuffled around while you deal with other, maybe more timely, priorities. That makes these tasks prime candidates to get forgotten, delayed, or done after hours just to make sure they’re completed.
Instead, build in scheduled time throughout your week just for these tasks, so you can give them the attention they need, and just get them off your plate.
5. Saying way more than you need in emails
Do your emails often include a paragraph of preamble and polite greetings, before you get to what you really need to say? (Guilty.) Now’s the time to start being a little more direct with what you write. This doesn’t mean you should stop being polite, or using greetings like, “hi,” but rather pare down your communication to the most important parts. Everyone is busy, so getting right to your point is not only a time-saver for you but also helps people read and respond more efficiently.
Overexplaining is common because we want to be understood; but honestly, if you just need to ask someone for something specific, do they really need to know the “why”s? To start, take an email you’re about to send and apply the mental pruning shears. Is all of this information absolutely essential to what’s being discussed or asked? If not, time to start cutting.
6. Letting distractions disrupt your day
There are so. Many. Distractions. From the really non-essential (scrolling social media or latest headlines) to the unavoidable (sharing a home workspace with others), our attention is more fragmented than others. That means taking greater pains to be more present with our tasks. Put the phone out of reach for an hour. Treat yourself to those noise-canceling headphones. We may think we’re multitasking, but letting all these things claim our attention at the same time is really undercutting productivity and well-being.
Again, we all want people to think we have superstar work ethics, and can handle everything that comes our way. And we can handle things–to an extent. This year, think hard about the things you’re committing to do, and the time you really have available. Sure, your work ethic looks great if you say yes to everything, but if you’re unable to get all of it done properly, what has anyone gained?
It’s time to take a realistic look at your schedule–including things that wouldn’t normally be called out in your calendar. Everything takes time, and if you have an unrealistic picture of what you can accomplish in, say, a standard 40-hour work week (or whatever yours happens to be), then it’s a recipe for burnout. This year, focus on the things you can do well, in a realistic time frame. And if something comes up that just wouldn’t be possible with other priorities, then it’s time to either say no or make substantive changes to your other commitments.
Changing habits is hard. Otherwise, they wouldn’t really be habits, would they? But if you focus on making small, manageable changes to your work life in January, it sets you up for a more productive, happier year. Good luck!
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