Tiny Habits That Can Make or Break Your Career

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No one wants to give a poor performance at work. Even if you absolutely hate your job, you still want to put in a good showing if only because you really do not want your manager handing you a pink slip and telling you to clean out your desk. All the wanting in the world, however, will not make you a better employee. If you want to keep your job, you need to earn your spot in the company. To do that, you need to make sure that you put your best foot forward every day, rather than shooting yourself in the foot with bad habits. 

When most people think of bad habits that can damage your career, they tend to think of the big ones. They think of malicious acts such as lying or stealing. They also might think of more obvious problems such as constant tardiness, procrastinating that negatively impacts your coworkers or gossiping. They likely do not think of the little habits that can nonetheless make or break your career.

Personal Phone Use

With the rise of the modern cellphone, everyone had a phone with them at all times, but until the smartphone took the tech world by storm, people largely kept their phones in their pockets, coats or purses. Now, the first thing anyone does when they sit down is put their smartphone on the table next to them with the screen up. If you are at a restaurant, the phone sits next to your wine glass. If you are at home, it sits beside your elbow. If you are at work, the smartphone sits next to your computer on your desk. 

Having your phone beside you and on at all times makes it difficult to ignore the litany of notifications that undoubtedly cross your screen every day. Text messages, personal emails, phone calls, social media messages and reminders to pick up milk on the way home flash onto your screen. Every time you pause to check those messages, you are being interrupted. This does nothing pleasant for your productivity, but it can also cause you to send the wrong signals to your manager and coworkers. When you stop to answer personal emails or make personal calls at work, you are potentially telling your coworkers that you do not find your work important. That does not mean that you cannot take a personal call once in a blue moon, but for the most part, your phone should remain silent and out of sight at work.

Email Responsiveness

Emails are a tricky thing to deal with in the workplace today. Many companies communicate largely by email, so you need to make sure you are quick to read and respond to important questions from your manager or clients. That said, you also likely get dozens if not hundreds of emails each day. If you stopped to answer every one of those immediately, you would never be able to work without stopping for more than five minutes at a time. 

How quickly you respond to emails is something of a grey area when it comes to work etiquette and productivity. Obviously, the person sending the email would like you to respond instantly. That said, constantly starting and stopping your work to answer emails will destroy your productivity. This is why some of the most common advice for improving productivity and creativity is to check your email less often. So, you will have to do a careful balancing act with your emails. You will need to not only respond quickly enough to ensure you are not holding up a coworker who really needs an answer to a question but also leave your inbox alone long enough for you to get your own work done. What will work best for you will depend on your situation, but be sure to come up with some sort of system rather than either ignoring all your emails or losing the entire day answering them.

Talk the Talk

How you speak at work is almost as important as how you act. When you arrive at work, make sure to say hello to your coworkers. Before you leave, say goodbye. This little bit of friendliness reflects well on you and makes you appear both more personal and more professional. Taking a few minutes at lunch to chat with any other coworkers taking a break is a good idea as well. That said, you need to maintain a careful balance of being open and friendly with your coworkers and boss without oversharing. This can be tricky especially if you are friends with your coworkers or boss. A general rule of thumb, however, is that if it is not something you would be comfortable telling a stranger, it probably does not belong in the workplace.

The words you use at work matter as much as the topics you choose to discuss. Cursing, obviously, is not a good idea at work. You need to be careful about the slang you use as well. Overusing slang and filler words such as “like,” “um” and “you know” can cause your boss and coworkers to view you as less intelligent. It is perfectly possible to be a rocket scientist and still use copious amounts of slang, but perception matters when it comes to getting a promotion almost as much as actual skill.

Doing your job is not enough to make you a good employee. You need to have the right attitude, motivation and habits as well. It can be tricky, however, to cultivate the right habits especially if you do not normally pay attention to the habits you have already formed. If you want to improve your standing in your employer’s eyes and become a better employee, it is the little habits that you need to focus on the most. They are the ones that will make or break your career. It turns out it really is the little things that matter.