6 Fractious Workplace Habits to Ditch in 2017

Rather than creating New Year's resolutions, focus on New Year's renunciations.
6 Fractious Workplace Habits to Ditch in 2017
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It´s getting to that time when we begin to think about lists of things we should be doing in the New Year. As noted in the History website this tradition dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians where they made a New Year´s commitment to the gods to pay back their debts.

It seems some things haven´t changed. According to University of Scranton research, personal financing was the third most popular New Year´s resolution for Americans in 2015, preceded by “getting organized” and “losing weight”. The same research points to a discouraging statistic -- of the estimated 45 percent of Americans who make New Year´s resolutions, only 8 percent successfully carry them through.

In this beautiful citation, wrongly attributed to Buddha, it is said: “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” In the coming New Year, rather than adding to a bucket list, why not gracefully let go of things not meant for you and focus on eliminating pernicious habits.

New Year´s Renunciation List.

Here are a few ideas of fractious workplace habits to renounce in the New Year. 

1. Cult of hyperactivity.

I´m sure you have seen the spate of prescriptive articles listing things to do before sunrise.The Economist superbly lampooned this “cult of super-performance” which preaches we squeeze in such things as meditation, novel writing, journaling, reading, networking, exercising, juicing and spending quality time with the family, all before the start of the working day. Why drag yourself out of bed and routinize your morning to fit in with other people´s perspective on productivity and success? Bill George writes in "Finding Your True North," “Rather than letting the expectations of others guide you, you must be prepared to be your own person and go your own way.” This is the nub of authentic leadership.

2. Technology dependency.

This survey suggests 87 percent of adult Americans check their business emails outside of working hours. 93 percent of Americans look at their smartphone within three hours of waking according to a Deloitte report. With connectivity creep on the rise, maybe it is time to join the estimated 15 million UK digital detoxers who consciously switch off. We all need to tackle this unreasonable expectation that we are contactable 24/7. Constantly checking messages and surfing the internet can eat into the day.

Related: 6 Ways to Break a Tech Addiction.

3. Multitasking.

Once a mainstay of all respectable resumes, the ability to simultaneously manage multi streams of information has been discredited in recent times. University of California  research suggests that it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 secs for people to resume work once interrupted and that typically they will execute two intervening tasks before resuming the original activity. Studies by Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein report that productivity is reduced by 40 percent when we switch tasks and that the margin of error increases. Multitasking, it seems, is mentally draining, distracting and leads to increased errors and reduced productivity.

Related: The Truth About Multitasking: How Your Brain Processes Information.

4. Non-productive meetings.

TED speaker Jason Fried says, “meetings are places to go to talk about things you´re supposed to be doing later.” This is comically captured in the Dilbert cartoon in which the pointy-haired boss suggests a “preliminary premeeting meeting.” The average American spends 40 percent of their working hours in meetings, and poorly run meetings cost an estimated 37 billion dollars a year in the U.S. according to this impact assessment. Non-productive meetings interrupt the flow of the day and we should all challenge the temptation to call a meeting rather than get on with the job in hand.

Related: 5 Rules for Successful Meetings.

5. Excessive decision-making.

Barack Obama only wears blue or grey suits. He explains why in this Vanity Fair interview: “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make…You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Kathleen Vohs and her team conducted a series of experiments into this and concluded that too many everyday choices can lead to decision fatigue which consumes our capacity to make higher executive decisions and depletes initiative and self-control. Routinize your everyday choices and focus mental energy on the decisions that really count.

6. Negative experiences with coworkers.

We all know that working closely with others can bring immeasurable benefits in terms of diversity of ideas, shared resources and problem-solving. It can also bring time-consuming personality clashes, conflict and gossip. Research suggests people spend between 60 and 80 percent of their daily conversation gossiping. We even gossip in writing -- fifteen per cent of emails are gossip according to research by Georgia Tech.

Workplace conflict is also a major problem. This CPP commissioned study found that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours.

Negativity among coworkers is a workplace reality, but we can choose not to get sucked in by it. Avoiding workplace conflict and gossip will keep you focused on the job and build your reputation within the organization as a mature individual who has integrity.

Toward resolution.

Why did I choose these particular habits? Because they all disrupt the state of flow. Flow is a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience to mean complete absorption in a given task where concentration is “so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant.” Flow is an active, creative, motivating state of optimal being where the hours seem to fly, and these six fractious workplace habits can tear us away from achieving the flow of productive and meaningful work.

We need to let go of these hyperactivities, distractions and dependencies and resolve to be the best we can be.