We all have bad work habits, and whilst some may have little real impact on our careers, there are some that we really do need to overcome if we want to be more successful, whether as an individual contributor or a corporate ladder climber.

Here are 10 habits that I feel are important to break:

1. Letting the day get out of control

If you don’t manage and control your day yourself, your day will be controlled by all those around you.
Just handling the continuous flood of emails can eat up the entire day (see “Fifth Secret of Time Management” posted November 11, 2010), and many people go home at the end of a workday having spent the entire time focussed on tasks others have generated for them.
It is critical that you plan slots of time needed to accomplish those tasks that will define your success and your contribution to the whole.

2. Not planning out large or long term projects

Many people set aside large projects because when viewed as a whole they seem too hard to handle, particularly when one is already facing a large workload. Breaking larger projects into individual elements enables them to be addressed one bite at a time, making each task more easily slotted into a normal work schedule. It is critical that long term projects are broken down and scheduled in the same way otherwise one can procrastinate until reaching a point when the available time left is not enough to do justice to the project.

3. Putting off the hard stuff

The harder the action is to do, the harder it will get as time passes. For example, the sooner that one can own up to an error, a lack of knowledge or a lack of understanding, the sooner it can be addressed and corrected. In the same way, addressing unacceptable behaviour or attitude from a colleague immediately, does not allow it to become a habit or seem to be acceptable through disregard. Addressing the hard stuff immediately means that you can address the issue when it is fresh and hasn’t yet gotten out of hand.

4. Not volunteering

If we are to keep learning, it is critical that we take the opportunity to try new challenges, and that means that there are times when we have to be prepared to step forward when a volunteer is needed for a special task. Stepping out of our comfort zones is not only a learning experience but is also fun and satisfying.

5. Not standing up to the herd

It is ok for sardines to always try and swim unthinkingly with the school, but in a work environment it is important to remember the story of “The Emperor’s new clothes”. There are times when if you believe in something really strongly, no matter how frightening it can be, it is important to express your opinion even if totally divergent from that of the herd.

Emperor's New Clothes; via Wikimedia Commons

6. Not sharing information

Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is Power” but only weak people hold back from sharing knowledge with colleagues in an attempt to be more valuable than them. Those who share their knowledge and contribute to everyone’s awareness are significantly more valuable than those that hoard information.

Author: Carelesshx (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

7. Complaining about your workload

If you are truly overloaded you should talk to your boss about reallocating some of the tasks to someone else, but just whingeing to those around you about how hard you work just establishes you as a complainer rather than making them believe that you are a hard worker.

8. Not treating those below with respect

“Be nice to those on the way up as you may need them on the way down” may be an attempt at humour but is actually close to reality.
It is important to treat everyone with respect no matter what position they hold in the company. A professional is a professional whether they are a surgeon or a cleaner. Whether you will need them in your decline or not, people who do a great job in helping you in your role deserve your courtesy and recognition at all times.

9. Engaging in gossip

Successful people do not listen to gossip about others nor indulge in spreading gossip about others. Nor do they join group sessions spent speculating about what is happening in the company. There are enough true sources of real information in a company without having to believe what one hears from those who love to spread potentially bad news. These are the same people who always knew of the secret question on the exam paper that you were about to sit, and about which you knew absolutely nothing.

10. Clock watching

If a task has to be completed, then hands on a clock cannot be allowed to be the key factor that determines when it pauses. There will be times when one has to work long beyond normal work hours to meet some critical deadline, and it’s better to get used to it early. The satisfaction of achieving the successful completion of a critical task is significantly more satisfying than making sure that you take your lunch break from 1-2 or rush out the door at 5.00 pm.

Author: Jorge Barrios (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Frank A. Clark (1911-1991) American author and cartoonist summed it up when he said “A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them.”



  1. Sam Bodeen says:

    How true, there are two statments about clock watching:
    “Oh, it is only …….” and “Damn, it is already …….”
    My days are full of “already’ and not ‘only’, I am not usre of it is becuase I cram so much into a day or if my planning skills need rethinking, I think it is probably both.
    Great article

  2. leshayman says:

    Hi Sandy,
    I think it is definitely because your days tend to be at about twice the speed of mere mortals.

  3. Olga says:

    Hi Les,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. In my opinion the worst work habit is NOT to share information and only think of ones own benefit.
    How would you approach a colleague who is keeping critical information for himself or tries to play the information at the right time to make you look like a fool?
    I would love to hear your thoughts and advice.


    • leshayman says:

      Hi Olga,
      I would try to find other reliable sources of information to tap into so as to not have to rely on this person alone, as I am sure that he is getting his information from others as well. I believe that it is critical to always have more than one source anyway, but it is important that you find “information” rather than “gossip” sources.

  4. AJ says:

    Hi Les,

    I agree with all the points that you have listed out. I shall keep referrring to this post as my talisman to keep these bad habits at bay. I also share the concern posted by Olga. How does one tackle this problem especially if the reporting manager is least interested in helping you out.


    • leshayman says:

      Hi AJ,
      As I replied to Olga, I think that it is important to have more than just one reliable source of information (not gossip). Most people are happy to share information so you should find some that do so willingly, rather than rely on someone who is not interested in doing so.

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