Sitting too long, interrupting the work flow to answer emails, eating lunch at our desk … we all have bad work habits. But you can get more done and enjoy your workday more.
We all do it: scroll through email in meetings, skip lunch to catch up on work, or tackle multiple tasks at once. Though ubiquitous in the modern workplace, rather than being models of efficiency, these are learned bad habits that sap productivity, mental prowess, and even long-term health.
We spend most of our waking hours at work, so breaking bad work habits can have a profound effect on our daily quality of life. Developing good work habits can make us happier while we work smarter.
Multitasking and distraction
Multitasking is prevalent in offices where workers spend countless hours in front of a screen. Bigger and/or multiple screens are troublesome because they allow users to have many windows and browsers open, along with chat, news feeds, emails, and social media.
A growing body of research shows that juggling all this information undermines our ability to focus, learn, and do our best work.
Lack of focus and fragmented thinking
Researchers show that heavy media multitaskers have more trouble focusing, are less able to filter out irrelevant distractions, and feel more stress. What’s worse is that reduced cognitive function doesn’t end when you leave work; lack of focus and fragmented thinking persist in other areas of life.
“The biggest and most common bad habit that people have at work is allowing themselves to be distracted by the internet, email, cellphone, social media, et cetera. This hinders productivity. Many places will block ‘time wasting’ sites, but that does not prevent people from using their phones,” says Dr. Frank Bevacqua, a workplace psychologist based in Arizona.
About 57 percent of work interruptions now involve either using social tools, such as email, social networks, and texting, or switching windows among tools and applications. Some 45 percent of employees work just 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted.
Less multitasking = better focus
People who multitask less find it easier to focus in the workplace because they don’t respond to the distractions. “It is most efficient to focus on a single task at a time,” says Bevacqua.
Watch your back
Ergonomics is about designing things such as office chairs and desks to complement the strengths and abilities of the people who use them. Major ergonomic problems can be found in the layout of workstations, employee postures, work practices, and training.
While we don’t usually notice good design of products, bad ergonomics are impossible to ignore, causing back problems, neck pain, eye strain, and a host of other disturbing afflictions.
Preventing health issues caused by poor office ergonomics is best done by having the right equipment, such as an adjustable office chair, along with office ergonomics training.
What’s for lunch?
Attending meetings, running errands, forgetting to bring lunch, and myriad other excuses prevent people from refuelling at lunch. Another common problem is stress. People often become so focused on a project or so stressed and overwhelmed that their stress hormones suppress hunger.
Effects on cognitive function
While your stomach may not feel as though it needs food, your brain does. Skipping lunch causes blood sugar to drop, creating problems with focus, concentration, memory, and other cognitive functions.
What’s more, when people skip meals, they end up eating just as much as they would in a normal day when they finally do sit down to a meal; this means they are eating most of their calories at dinner.
Sitting is the new smoking
Humans are meant to move throughout the day, but research shows that we sit too much. This not only negatively affects cognitive function, including learning and memory, but it also increases the risk of major chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and breast and colon cancer.
Active couch potato
Even if you are very active outside of work, it is unlikely you are doing enough during your 40-hour workweek to offset the negative health effects of a sedentary job. It’s called the “active couch potato” phenomenon because studies show that even if people are getting their recommended dose of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, it does not offset the consequences of prolonged sitting.
“The less active you are during the day, the less likely you are to seek out activity after your workday. Movement encourages more movement,” says Bevacqua.
The beneficial effects of getting up to move frequently during your workday are seen no matter what the total sitting time is; so whether you are sitting for four hours or 12 hours, get moving. a
Increase your focus
Set times for email
Choose specific times during the day to check email, such as first thing in the morning, lunchtime, and at the end of the day.
Hide the cellphone
Try hiding your phone in a drawer and logging out of your email. “You are much less likely to check them the more effort that is required to do so, such as logging back in rather than constantly having it open,” says Bevacqua.
Turn off instant messenger
Other ways to minimize distractions are to turn off email and instant messenger alerts or work with headphones to minimize noise.
Limit social media
Set aside time in your day to catch up on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.
Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are level with your hips. Sit up straight.
Use a wrist rest to minimize stress on your wrists and prevent awkward positions. While typing, hold your hands and wrists above the wrist rest and keep them in a straight, natural position.
If you frequently talk on the phone, use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
If your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor, consider using a footrest.
Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be slightly below eye level.
Take a real lunch break
Leave your desk
Even if you only have a few minutes, walk away from your work area to get some food.
Pencil it into your calendar—and stick to it each day, even if it means moving the scheduled time a little.
Grab a friend
Chatting with a colleague over lunch is much more rewarding than scrolling through your Facebook feed.
Manage meeting times
Work hard to leave space available to eat and schedule meetings outside of your lunch breaks.
Stock your desk
If all else fails, have some nuts or another snack stashed in your desk for emergencies.
Get up for water
Try doing small things to get out of your chair and move during the day. Bring a smaller water bottle that you must fill up at the water cooler more frequently.
30 to 45 minutes
Get up and walk around every 30 to 45 minutes. Incorporating this simple habit into your workday is associated with
- smaller waist circumference
- lower levels of inflammatory proteins that increase the risk of heart disease
- better blood sugar levels