Whether it’s how often you check your email or your wind down routine in the evening, one thing is clear.
Habits shape your life.
Habits are the day-to-day actions you take with little or no conscious thought, and they make up an astounding 45% of your behaviors, according to researchers at Duke University.
This is a good thing.
Good work habits boost productivity by helping you be more efficient and motivated, while simultaneously reducing stress, exhaustion, and overwhelm.
Because when you do things habitually, you don’t waste as much time on trivial choices, which means you’re free to focus more attention on the tasks that bring real returns. Decision fatigue is a real and constant threat to productivity, and the more habits you can put on autopilot, the more energy you have for the things that matter most.
It’s natural to want to establish good habits at work.
But thinking about good habits isn’t the same as making them happen. Behavior change can be extremely challenging, (as evidenced by the meager 9% of New Year’s Resolutions that actually succeed beyond February.)
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help you succeed.
The first thing to do is identify which habits you want to establish or strengthen, and then you need an implementation plan to bolster your weaknesses and help you follow through.
What are good work habits?
“Good work habits” is a phrase used to describe the actions you take every day to support your performance at work, both in and outside of working hours. But many “work habits” aren’t actually habits at all, they’re routines.
This distinction may seem trivial, but it’s the key to success in establishing good work habits. Because while the word “habit” elicits images of effortlessness, in reality, behavior change often requires a great deal of effort.
The more prepared you are to face challenges, the more likely you are to succeed.
According to behavioral design expert Nir Eyal, habits are conditioned responses to our environment that happen on an unconscious level, with little or no decisive intention, (which is why they can be so tricky to break!) *Click* a cue propels you into action, *whirr* next thing you know, you’re going through an established routine.
Routines, on the other hand, are a series of behaviors that are intentionally repeated on a regular basis. Some routines are habitual, but many, —especially new ones, or those without a strong immediate reward,— are not.
But just because routines may take some effort doesn’t mean they don’t pay off.
For example, maybe you’re a night owl and it’s hard for you to go to bed early enough to get the sleep you need. But when you consciously establish a consistent routine to support you, going to bed on time becomes a lot easier.
Related: How to Optimize Sleep to Boost Productivity
So, to begin, we’re going to talk about 9 work habits (and routines) that can boost productivity, and then we’ll talk about the systems you can use to make follow-through easier.
Examples of work habits
Here are some of the habits and routines we’ve seen boost our members’ productivity at Prialto.
Establish consistent routines
Consistency is essential if you want to make a routine habitual. Every time you repeat a sequence of behaviors, you strengthen the connections in your neurology that make it easier to repeat that sequence of behaviors again in the future. Which means that even if a routine never becomes completely automatic, aspects of it can.
A morning routine can help you prioritize what’s most important. With a solid morning routine, you know that you’re meeting your goals, even if the rest of your day is filled with unexpected surprises.
Take breaks. Work takes a lot of energy, and breaks help you refuel your reserves so you can focus more energy on productive tasks.
The jury is out on how often to take a break. Some studies suggest that a 5 minute movement break every 30 minutes is key to keeping blood flowing and energy up, while other experts recommend taking a break every 90 minutes.
If you are someone who thrives on structure, you could try what many Prialto members do and have your virtual assistant put breaks right on your schedule.
Related: 5 Ways a Productivity Assistant Can Optimize Your Schedule
Exercise. A study conducted at the Leeds Metropolitan University found that on days when employees visited the gym, they managed their time more effectively, were productive, and had smoother interactions with their colleagues. Added bonus: They went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.
The most productive people in the world have systems in place that allow them to organize their time.
One of the most important steps you can take to avoid procrastination and work more efficiently is to break down big goals into small actionable steps.
Once you have a plan to achieve your goals, identify the most important and urgent tasks and do those first.
And always come to work prepared by conducting an end of day review and morning check in.
One of our members at Prialto is a high-level executive who splits his time between 3 separate businesses. He likes to focus on one company per day, but before hiring Prialto it was hard to keep track of all the moving pieces.
Now his team at Prialto follows his schedule and sends him daily updates about his tasks/to-do list for that day's company focus. And every morning at 8:30 a.m. he has a scheduled check-in with his virtual assistant which he claims has been “invaluable” in keeping him on task.
You can do this at the end of the day, too, to review how much you were able to get done, and what you need to prioritize for your next workday.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants
Be punctual & meet deadlines
Punctuality and reliability are qualities that are valued highly amongst today’s business leaders. Not only do these qualities show dedication, but they allow your coworkers to do better work, too. Still, even the most successful people sometimes find themselves battling against the clock.
For example, a Prialto member who we’ll call P.P. was struggling with responding to his emails.
Originally, his VA was helping him by sorting through his inbox, picking out the important emails and putting them in a folder, but P.P. still didn’t have enough time to send replies. His team at Prialto saw this issue and found a solution.
Now P.P.’s virtual assistant makes 30-minute blocks on his calendar every day so he can stay on top of his inbox every day, without interruption.
Related: Email Task Management Tips
Do you struggle with time management?
Then you may also want to get in the habit of setting time buffers for yourself.
Because the biggest reason anyone is ever late with anything is because they underestimated the amount of time needed to prepare.
Time buffers help you avoid this by building extra time into your calendar, making it more likely that you’ll meet expectations.
And this is another thing you can have your virtual assistant do for you.
Have your virtual assistant add 15-minute buffers before and after meetings to give you time to accommodate unexpected circumstances. You can also have your virtual assistant help you establish deadlines a few days before a project is due, so you still have time to make changes without feeling rushed.
Related: 13 Ways to Master Your Executive Calendar Management
Focus is essential for productivity, and one of the best things you can do to improve focus is to get in the habit of eliminating distractions.
Do your fingers twitch every time you see your phone? Then turn alerts off and place it out of sight when you want to work.
Do you feel the need to check your email every 5 minutes? Put your VA in charge of it so you know you’ll be informed if anything urgent comes up.
Do coworker conversations distract you? Put on noise-cancelling headphones (or close a door, if you have one) when you’re working on a project.
The more you eliminate distraction, the better you’ll be able to focus, and the more productive you will be as a result.
Related: 4 Science-Backed Steps to Supercharge Your Ability to Focus at Work
How to establish and stick to new work habits
Change is hard. Here are the systems that will ensure your success.
The WOOP Method is a science-based mental strategy that people can use to find and fulfill their wishes, set preferences, and change their habits.
Developed by German psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.
It starts by writing down your wish. Then you write down the ideal outcome if your wish were to come true. Then you identify the internal obstacles and excuses that may come up, blocking you from fulfilling your wish. And finally, you make a plan for when you slip up, (or are about to.)
Do the same thing every day
Habits are all about repetition. The more you repeat a specific behavior, the more that pattern gets engrained in your neurology and the more likely it will turn into a habit.
But even more important than being flawlessly consistent is coming back after you falter. This is where a WOOP can be so helpful. If you notice a new obstacle arise that you didn’t plan for, (and you almost always will,) make a plan so it doesn’t stand in your way next time.
Take small steps
A lot of the time we set ourselves up for failure by reaching for goals that are too big. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad with big goals, it’s just that they can be overwhelming, making it more likely that you’ll give up.
When it comes to behavior change, you want to make it as easy as possible.
Again, consistency is key. So, instead of trying to make a drastic change right away, break your goal down to steps that are so small, it would be ridiculous not to follow through. Once you show up for the first small step consistently, it’s much easier to take a bigger step down the line.
Related: 3 Principles for Using Mini Habits to Combat Procrastination
Use positive reinforcement
Another way to motivate yourself is by using a reward system. The dopamine hit that you get when you check a task of a to-do list can be great, but what about giving yourself a bigger reward to look forward to once you’ve checked off 5 tasks?
Rewards can help to positively reinforce your desired habits and keep you moving in the direction you want to go.
A lot of habit development comes down to removing friction (or obstacles, as they say in the WOOP method).
For example, if you want more time for deep work but have trouble prioritizing your schedule, ask your VA to block off one or two “no-meeting days” in your schedule so you can focus.
Or maybe you want to start working out regularly, your VA can help you with that, too. A stockbroker who works with Prialto travels every couple of weeks, and he has his VA find gym classes near his hotel so he doesn’t have any excuses not to work out, even when he’s in a new location.
Use your VA as an accountability partner
Your VA can act as an accountability partner, making habit formation significantly easier by helping you set clear goals and track progress, in work or even your personal life. Prialto members use their VAs this way all the time.
One member was having trouble in her relationship and used her VA as an accountability partner for her marriage counseling sessions. He asked her daily if she had been practicing the recommendations that her marriage counselor had given her, and she was much more consistent as a result.
Related: 5 Bad Habits that Ruin Your Productivity
Hire a Virtual Assistant to help you establish better work habits
Good work habits are essential for success, but you’re much more likely to reach your goals if you have support.
Set up a discovery call today to find out how a Prialto virtual assistant can help you be more productive.