Five bad work habits and how to break them

Good habits have the potential to propel you toward personal and professional success. Before you can cultivate those good habits, though, you need to nix the bad ones. If you notice you’ve fallen into any of the following poor work habits, it might be time to buckle down and make some positive changes.

Poor communication

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” You should never assume that other people know what you mean or that you always understand what other people want from you. Some signs that you need to work on your communication skills include:

  • Not responding promptly to emails and business-related text messages and phone calls.
  • Not asking others for their opinions. When they do offer their point of view, you don’t pay attention.
  • Others offering you constructive criticism, but you make excuses instead of being grateful someone else wants to help you improve your work.
  • Often finding yourself caught up in arguments with others.

Poor communication can waste time, lead to mistakes, and cause your co-workers to become frustrated with you. In serious cases, it can cost your company money and have a severe impact on productivity.

Taking too many breaks

You’re entitled to take occasional breaks from work, but if your breaks are too frequent or last too long, you’ll give the impression that you aren’t a hard worker — or even that you don’t care about your work at all. If you’re easily distracted or you find yourself getting up from your chair every five minutes to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or just see what the folks in the break room are laughing about, you may have a problem.

Being disorganized

If you’re disorganized, you could miss important details, squander time, and lag behind your co-workers when you’re engaged in a collaborative project. Some signs that you need to improve your organization skills include:

  • Your workspace being cluttered. You might have pens and paper scattered everywhere, or you might even have old food wrappers and last month’s concert tickets floating around, too. You have trouble finding things at your desk, in your briefcase, or even in the files on your computer.
  • Lacking a system for planning out your days and weeks. You always tend to fly by the seat of your pants.
  • Often showing up to meetings unprepared.


Things happen. Traffic causes delays, alarm clocks don’t always work, and sometimes everything just goes wrong at home. It’s inevitable that you’ll be late once in a while. However, if you frequently find that you show up to meetings five or 10 minutes late, you need to make some adjustments. Tardiness is seen as unprofessional


It’s time for an attitude check! Some signs of a negative attitude include:

  • Often complaining, even about things that no one else seems to have a problem with.
  • Looking for things to be unhappy about.
  • Noticing your peers seem to be in a bad mood when they’re around you. Remember, attitudes are contagious.

If you have a negative attitude, you could waste time dwelling on problems that aren’t problems at all. Furthermore, you could cause yourself unnecessary stress and experience premature burnout.

Positive work habits

The best way to break bad habits is to replace them with good habits. Be patient. Remember that it can take three weeks or longer to adopt new daily habits. Here are some tips on how you can turn things around.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

To promote the flow of communication, start with your listening skills. Ask questions. When people respond, listen to everything they have to say before you respond. This will prevent you from making harmful assumptions.

If you tend to argue with others, look for ways to promote peace. Why do you argue? Is it because you feel you have something to prove, or do you use arguments as a way to hash out ideas? Figuring out why you attract conflict is the first step toward remedying the situation. If there are huge differences in personalities between you and your co-workers, work hard to understand their point of view.

Control your tone when you’re speaking to others. If you’re not sure how your tone comes across to others, ask for honest feedback. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Take your blossoming communication habits to your technology, too. You don’t have to respond immediately to every email you receive, but you should respond in a timely manner. Set aside one or two blocks of time each day that are dedicated solely to reading and responding to emails; depending on how much material is in your inbox, this might be a half-hour or longer.

Sometimes, messages are urgent and need you to respond as soon as possible. You may be able to set up your inbox to mark messages from certain sends as priorities.

Avoid distractions

Being distracted can lead to you taking too many breaks and wasting valuable time. Breaks are important for avoiding burnout and keeping productivity up, and you should let your breaks serve their purpose. When you have a scheduled break, use the restroom, get some refreshments, and move around a bit. Your goal is to free up your mindset, so you can get back to concentrating on work.

Eliminate distractions at your desk. You might have to train yourself to avoid certain websites, such as your personal social media. If you find that ambient noises pull you away from work, you might want to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Listen to white noise or soft music while you’re working so you can really zero in on the task in front of you.

Find a system that works for you

To become more organized, start with your personal space. Take some time to clean your desk. Eliminate unnecessary items and paperwork that should have been recycled ages ago. Then, set aside 5 or 10 minutes at the end of every workday to do a little tidying up at your desk.

Look for a reliable way to plan your workdays. One method that works for many is to write a list of what you want to accomplish and assign a certain amount of time to each task. This should help you stay on track. It will also increase the likelihood that you’ll be well-prepared for your next big meeting.

You could also use collaborative calendar apps, such as Google Calendar, that will help you and your co-workers stay on the same page.

Aim for punctuality

Having trouble with being on time? These hacks might help:

  • Set your watch and car clock so that they’re 10 minutes fast.
  • Set reminders on your phone about meetings and events that aren’t part of the normal routine.
  • Become better at estimating how long things take, especially the commute to work. For example, if you work in Westlake Tower in Seattle, you’ll have to fight traffic to get to the office. Allow plenty of time for this.
  • Wake up 10 minutes earlier every morning.
  • Be all right with waiting. It’s better to arrive early and have to wait than to arrive late and make someone else wait.

Think happy thoughts

If negativity is bogging you down, you might simply be stressed out. To ease your stress, work on your personal habits. You might need to get more sleep, eat more healthy foods, and get into a good exercise routine. If managing your stress doesn’t boost your positivity as much as you had hoped, try the following:

  • Smile. Science has found that while happiness causes smiling, the reverse may have a bit of truth in it. Work on smiling. You might even cheer up other people, which will cheer you up in turn.
  • Change the way you think about things. It sounds cliché, but always try to see the glass as half full. There is a positive side to every situation.
  • Before you complain, pause. Ask yourself if it’s really that big of a deal. If you don’t complain about it, are you going to regret your silence next week?
  • Anticipate problems and plan how you’ll respond to them. When issues don’t take you by surprise, you’ll have a more positive attitude about being able to handle them.

Bad habits can hinder your success and bring down your co-workers. Improve yourself by replacing the bad with the good and create a positive effect for both yourself and others.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.