7 Work Habits That Can Mess With Your Productivity, & 7 Simple Fixes That Can Help

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In the age of hustle culture, productivity is key. Whether you’re completing a fun side project in your off-hours, or have a full work day ahead of you, optimizing your time can make a noticeable impact on the quality of your efforts. Just like anything else in life, your habits can make a substantial difference on how you end up using your time. While habits can't be good or bad of themselves, you might not realize that certain work habits might be messing with your productivity.

It's easy to get into certain patterns of how you spend your day. You might not notice how keeping social media open keeps you from submitting your expense report, or how meal prepping your lunch means you often eat at your desk without breaking. And while productivity isn't everything — quality not quantity, right? — it can be helpful to approach your nine-to-five more mindfully.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American clocks in 8.6 hours a day at work. Yet some studies suggest that as little as three hours in the work day are actually used productively. Taking breaks is, of course, important, but if you're actually struggling with getting through tasks, some of your regular routines may unwittingly be making the process more difficult. Here are seven habits that may be affecting your productivity, and easy ways to turn them around.

1. Not Getting Enough Sleep

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We've all been there: it's that time where you know you should probably go to sleep, but you're really tempted to watch that last episode of your favorite show (or read the next chapter of your book, or scroll through Twitter for just five more minutes, etc.). Here's what you should be doing: getting some shut-eye. Unsurprisingly, messing with your sleep routine during the work week can interfere with your ability to perform overall.

A recent study found that losing at little as 16 minutes of sleep could make the difference between a clear-headed day at the office versus a day cluttered with distractions. In the study, individuals who reported sleeping even 16 minutes less than usual were more likely to have bad judgement, higher stress levels, and be easily distracted the following day.

"Good sleepers may be better performers at work due to greater ability to stay focused and on-task with fewer errors and interpersonal conflicts," said lead study author Dr. Soomi Lee in a statement.

2. Having a Million Tabs Open

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Multi-tasking is one of those things people convince themselves they're great at. Unfortunately, most research suggests you're probably better off closing your 6,000 tabs and focusing on a single task you're trying to accomplish. As The Muse notes, "Tabs really feed our propensity to multitask—and drain our ability to focus on our work."

In other words, they're very distracting. Going minimalist with your tabs is a super-easy way to decrease the amount of distractions at your fingertips.

3. Not Snacking Enough

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As Harvard Business Review reports, a rollercoaster of spikes and drops in your blood sugar can negatively affect your productivity and brain power. Rather than going long periods without eating, set reminders for yourself to take a walk to grab a snack, or grab some fuel throughout the day to help you stay focused.

4. Keeping Your Smartphone Nearby

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Smartphones are great because they keep you constantly connected to the rest of the world. On the other hand, you're also constantly connected to the rest of the world — and that can understandably be a bit distracting.

As Psychology Today explains, smartphones can prevent people from achieving "flow," which is “a state in which we are fully absorbed by an activity, forgetting about space and time, whilst being very productive.” Research suggests that interruptions as short as 2.8 seconds — about the time it takes to read a push notification — could disrupt that flow of concentration, so try tucking your phone somewhere out of sight if you really want to focus.

5. Not Taking Breaks

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If you think you're doing yourself a favor by staying glued to your desk all day and not taking a break, think again. Taking regular breaks throughout the day can actually help improve your concentration and engagement. According to Forbes, "without taking adequate breaks from work, employee productivity, mental well-being and overall work performance begin to suffer."

6. Checking Emails

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This one's a no-brainer. Checking your email or social media can feel like a mindless act, but those seconds can have a larger impact on your overall focus. Some studies even suggest that checking your email less frequently can reduce stress. One trick? Set aside chunks of your day to address emails, and focus on other (more important) tasks the rest of the day. (Whoever is emailing you can wait an hour.)

7. Not Using Lists

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If you struggle with procrastination, making a daily list of goals may help. To-do lists can help keep you accountable because they provide a manageable path to getting things finished, so try writing a list of goals and tasks you'd like to accomplish each day. As The New York Times explains, "Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day of work, and resist the urge to make a to-do list for the whole week, which can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed."

The most important part is to make sure the list is specific and realistic to help keep you on track.

While everyone has different methods and routines that work for them, these seven habits are a great place to start when reflecting on what you can do to improve your overall productivity. Productivity isn't everything, but it can feel good to be more in charge of how you spend your day — and that starts with looking at these habits.