Managing, Leading & Personal Effectiveness

Habits you swear by…and why they're actually doing you more harm than good

QA's Learning Programme Director, Jennie Marshall, looks at how to stop bad working habits.

Burnout doesn't happen overnight.

Usually, the feelings of extreme exhaustion, ineffectiveness and general apathy accumulate slowly. Until one day you wake up one and say, "I cannot and will not get out of bed and go to that office."

And while most causes of burnout - such as project overload, unfairness, and insufficient rewards - come from work itself, there are things you can be doing differently.

Spoiler: You've heard this before. And you've probably ignored it all before because you want to be successful. Well, big news, these three habits might make you feel more successful in the short run, but down the road, you're going to find yourself hitting a dead end.

1. Checking email all the time

With our phones next to us every second of the day, who can blame us for being glued to our inbox?

What harm does it do just to see what's coming in? Well, studies from the American Psychological Association show that 'workplace telepressure', or the urge to respond quickly to work-related messages, leads to higher levels of stress, worse sleep, and more health-related absences from work. And it's not hard to imagine why. By continuing to refresh our inbox even after we've left the office, we're erasing all the boundaries that should exist between our professional and personal lives.

Sure, sending back immediate replies might occasionally help you stay on top of your responsibilities. But, more often than not, it's just putting more work on your plate. Odds are low your boss or co-workers need a reply before the next morning - and if they do, it's usually very clear when that's the case.

How to stop it

Refraining from checking your email after work hours requires - you've guessed it - self-control. But if you lack the willpower to resist your inbox (the temptations are strong, we know), start by turning off all notifications on your phone and making sure that they don't show up on your lock screen.

2. Working through lunch

The clock strikes noon, and the decision of the day arrives: Do you rush out and get something and come back to your desk and spend the next hour eating - and working - in front of your laptop, or have a meal with real humans, a.k.a. your colleagues? Just kidding: There is no decision. You'll be eating at the desk because you've convinced yourself that you'll get so much more done this way.

But, by repeatedly choosing to work during lunch, you're deprioritising your physical and mental health. WebMD's research shows that eating at your desk encourages mindless eating and overeating. Plus, you miss the opportunity to get your blood flowing and your heart pumping - two things that are key to survival.

How to stop it

To ensure that you spend at least one to two lunches a week away from your screen, schedule meals ahead of time with a co-worker you haven't spoken to in a while, or the new staff member who's noticeably still figuring out the company culture. Once an appointment is scheduled into your calendar, it's much less likely that you'll bail and decide, last-minute, to just rush out and come back.

3. Not scheduling 'me time'

Take a look at your schedule. When's the last time you allotted time to yourself to do something that has zero work benefits? If your calendar's only reserved for meetings, networking, and more meetings, it's unlikely that you've ever considered relaxation time as a to-do.

How to stop it

To start the habit of pencilling 'me time' into your calendar, we suggest scheduling a very specific activity that will help you unwind instead of making vague promises to yourself about finding free time. That is, think about what you love and, rather than pencilling in an hour of 'downtime' on Wednesday night, write 'catch up on my favourite blogs with a cup of coffee' or 'take a bubble bath'. By being precise about the activity and the time, you're making your 'me time' much more actionable.


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