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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

5 Bad Habits That Are Holding You Back in the Office—and How to Put an End to Them

There’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin that says, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” Since reading that recently, I’ve been contemplating exactly what my net worth would be if I dialed down some of my own less-than-desirable habits—especially in the office.

And what better time to contemplate that than right now—with 2016 just starting out. After all, according to good old Ben, it’s only by ridding yourself of the bad that your true impact on the world can shine through.

On that note, here are five all-too-common bad habits that might be holding you back in the office:

1. Saying Sorry When You’re Not

How often do you start a hard conversation at work with, “I’m sorry but…” Quite often, I bet. (Especially if you’re a woman.)

But automatically using this defense mechanism doesn’t do you, or the person you’re saying it to, any favors. In an article on The Muse, writer Angeline Evans says that it “can actually undercut your professionalism by introducing doubt and diminishing others’ confidence in you.”

The next time you’re tempted to say it, test out one of these responses instead. You'll feel better—and you'll have more productive interactions.

2. Being a Conversation Hog

Yes, you have wonderful ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Oh, also jokes. (Can’t forget the jokes!) But despite all this, you never get all that much praise after a meeting in which you so generously took the lead.

That’s because, if you’re an extrovert like me, you may have a tendency to hog the conversation—and ignore cues that other people want to jump in or straight up leave. Cues like people looking at their phones instead of making eye contact, constantly interrupting you, or suddenly “having to move” to a different part of the office when you walk over and start sharing an idea.

This year, make an active effort to listen more than you speak. That means forcing yourself to take a beat before weighing in—and then, after that beat, making sure to end all your thoughts with, “What do you think about that?” or “Would love to hear your thoughts!” This forces you to listen to what others have to say.

3. Setting Up Meetings for No Reason

Here’s a a scary statistic for you: Executives spend, on average, four hours per week preparing just for status update meetings. You know what I mean—the meetings in which at least three people will say “Nothing much new from me this week. I’ll pass to Kevin.” That’s simply not an efficient use of anyone’s time.

So, this year, executive or not, make a promise to yourself that you won’t set up any meetings without asking yourself what the point is first. No, I’m not being obnoxious. Make sure every meeting you arrange has a clear purpose, as well as a good reason for why the information can’t simply be disseminated in an email.

And, when you have to plan one, you can ensure that it’ll be short, productive, and to the point by sending out an agenda in advance. Or even making it a stand-up meeting! You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much faster everything moves when people are on their feet.

4. Being a “Model of Efficiency”

You’re a really task-focused person and you love to come into the office early, tackle your inbox and be productive all day long. Lunch breaks? What are those? Small talk in the kitchen? Who has time to hear about a co-worker’s weekend?

But by channelling a robot at the office, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to get to know your colleagues. Which, the benefits of liking the people you work with aside, inevitably makes your job harder down the road. Who will Carol want to help more? John, who always grabs a coffee with her at 3 PM? Or you, the machine who sits in the same place all day and has never attempted to have a conversation?

Not to mention, behaving like this is setting you up for burnout. No one can work nonstop. Nope, not even you, the person who has to-do lists for her to-do lists. So, do yourself a favor, and take a breath every once in a while. Or better yet, a lunch break.

5. Venting Without Action

Admit it, you’ve indulged in some intense venting at some point—to your co-workers, to your friends, to your loved ones. When you’ve had a bad day, week, or year, it can take superhuman effort to respond with dignity and reasonableness at all times. So vent! Get it all off your chest over a glass of wine. But do so within reason. Otherwise it’s just whining—and that’s pointless and counterproductive.

This year, you need to set a limit for yourself. You can vent for one glass of wine, but over the next one you have to come up with a plan of action. Is your co-worker always giving you unconstructive criticism? Confront her (when you’re sober) and put an end to it. Does your boss keep changing the team’s goals without telling anyone? Email him or her and ask if you can find a time to go over your daily, monthly, and quarterly goals. Someone keep eating your lunch, despite the fact your name’s written all over it? Buy a lunchbox and keep it by your desk.

I promise that as good as venting feels, taking action and resolving the problem feels so much better!

So let’s look forward to 2016, the year in which you ditch all these unnecessary habits in order to let your best self shine through.

Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.