Do you ever have those days when you feel as though you’ve been running at full pace but you didn’t actually get anywhere? It seems like you spend half the day putting out fires while the other half is spent crossing things off other people’s lists.

Time is a non-renewable resource. We can only trade off so much of it for progress for so long. In order to achieve more with less, we need to develop good work habits. Do this by setting boundaries around reactive work and blocking out time for proactive work.

For 70% of us, the most productive part of each day is from 7am to midday. This is the best time to focus on the major tasks and projects that will move you and your company forward.

It’s all about habit change.

The top 5 career-limiting work habits:

1. Prioritising reactive work

Too many executives treat email and phone calls like they are the most important tasks requiring their attention each day.

Stop reading your email first thing in the morning, don’t answer your phone every time it rings and turn off your email notifications.

Consider how long customer and other stakeholders can wait to hear from you. Usually a half day’s wait is acceptable. Put two 30-to-45 minute blocks in your diary twice a day to check your email. Reply only to what is necessary, delete and delegate the rest and then get on with more important work.

You’ll be more focussed and accurate when communicating as your focus will no longer divided, and you’ll be more dedicated to important work.

2. 24/7 open-door policy

Most leaders understand how important it is to have an open-door policy. Many believe this means you need to be available at any time of the day regardless of the importance of the work you’re completing as compared to the urgency of interruptions.

Most questions can wait until a mutually convenient time. It’s perfectly reasonable to close your door or ask not to be disturbed at least 1 to 2 hours per day. You’ll find that you’re more attentive during the time that is deliberately allocated to staff. 

3. Information hoarding

Everything you hoard becomes a distraction and impacts on your focus.

Research tells us that 85% of the things we keep are never used again. We can waste up to 2 hours per day looking for the 15% of things we need among the 85% of things we don’t.

Your new habit is to adopt a clean desk and a zero inbox policy. Clear out your clutter and adopt a simple filing system based on your priorities. Work on one task at a time and throw away or delete anything you don’t need. Be brutal. You’ll be saving yourself up to 6 weeks per year.

 4. Procrastination

Not all procrastination is bad. Some tasks and projects deserve more of our thinking time, thus taking them slowly to ensure flawless execution is appropriate. Other tasks should be actioned immediately using a ‘one touch-one decision’ approach.

Develop the habit of triaging work during your batching or task time. If a task can be done immediately and in 5 minutes, do it now.

If something requires more thinking and will take longer, familiarise yourself with the task requirements and then schedule it in to be completed during high-focus time. The allows for divergent thinking and greater creativity.

5. Trading off downtime

The most successful leaders and organisations are innovative. Your greatest insights come to you when you balance periods of high activity and productivity with meaningful downtime.

In the past we may have fallen into the bad habit of trading off sleep, exercise and healthy eating habits for long hours at the desk. Now we understand that sufficient downtime improves productivity. Prioritise accordingly.

Ask yourself: What’s the one career-limiting work habit that you can change today to improve your results?

Change one habit at a time and you’ll find your results improve exponentially.