You’ve probably heard your fair share of advice on what will make you most happy and productive at work. We’re here to add to that list. Adopting new habits is always a challenge, but these ones are worth it, we promise.
1. read something every day
Take some time each day to read an article or two online, or pick up a book, a magazine, or a comic book. It doesn’t really matter what your words of choice are. What you read isn’t so much the point as what you get out of it. Reading is a lifelong skill that many of us take for granted. It keeps your mind sharp. It allows you to access new information and viewpoints. This point could just as easily be ‘learn something new every day,’ because that’s what you’re doing when you read. If you want to take it a step further, make a point to read something new about your industry every day. That’ll help you stay one step ahead of trends and make you an indispensable subject matter expert.
2. ask more questions
There’s an impression that good employees should be independent and know how to do everything on their own. That’s just not realistic. We all have moments of insecurity where we’re not sure if we’re doing something the right way. Some work cultures treat asking questions like newbie behaviour; as if asking too many questions makes you unskilled, unknowledgeable, or otherwise unsuited for your job. It’s time to kick that kind of thinking to the curb. Asking questions is how you learn, grow and become better. No one should ever be ashamed to ask questions or treated as less than for doing so. So instead of forging ahead and trying to figure out something on your own when you’re unsure, reach out to an expert colleague and ask questions. Make it habit to ask questions and you’ll learn faster, probably pick up some tricks and advice, and strengthen your relationship with your coworker (most people like feeling like an expert who has knowledge to share).
3. take a lunch break
In the 1987 classic Wall Street, Gordon Gekko famously declares, “lunch is for wimps.” It’s a refrain that seems to have resonated with North American workers, if their habits are anything to go by. A whopping 39% of American workers admitted they eat lunch at their desk. Conversely, only 20% said they step out for lunch on a regular basis. That’s a stark contrast to European work styles where skipping lunch is almost unthinkable. Lunch is treated like an event, a once-daily tradition that’s meant to be savoured and enjoyed. In Italy, there’s a 2-hour window in the afternoon (usually between 1pm and 3pm, called pausa pranzo) where the entire country basically shuts down, just so everyone can have lunch. Now that’s impressive.
It’s understandable that someone may need to skip lunch here or there when something important comes up. But it shouldn’t be a normal day-to-day thing. Skipping lunch doesn’t make you a better employee, it just makes you hungry. It also deprives you of a midday energy boost that’s actually better for your productivity. At the very least get up from your desk, take a little stroll to the office kitchen and eat lunch there. But if you have any green spaces or outdoor eating spaces, it’s highly recommended you get outside for lunch and soak up a little vitamin D – just don’t forget your sunscreen or hat.
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4. create a daily to-do list
‘Daily’ is the key phrase here. Many people keep to-do lists longer than Santa’s naughty or nice list. The idea of checking off everything in a single day is laughable. Instead of (or at least in addition to) keeping a miles-long to-do list with a nebulous time frame attached, break off your top priorities and make a daily to-do each morning. The night before also works, if you’re the prepare-ahead type. Daily to-do lists are more productive because they force you to hone in on your priorities and what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. If you’re finding your daily to-do lists regularly have leftover unfinished items, you’re likely being a little too ambitious. Try adding estimated times to each task (always overestimate) to build a more realistic picture of what you can get done each day. Also admit it, the idea of checking off every item on your to-do list every day sounds really satisfying, doesn’t it?
5. take a walk
Contrary to the way that many North Americans work, we’re not actually handcuffed to our desks. It’s good for your health and body to get up a few times each day and stretch your legs and be active. Experts recommend an hourly break to stretch and move. If you’re the type to regularly skip lunch, this is even more important. But seriously, don’t skip lunch. If skipping a meal and staying chained to your desk is the only way to impress your boss, it’s time to rethink your work culture and how it’s impacting your health and work-life balance. Anyway, this isn’t another point about not missing lunch. This is a point about getting up and moving. How many times have you sent an email to someone who was just across the office? Unless you need absolutely need a paper trail or there are other people copied in the email, why not just get up and go talk to them in person? You’ll reap the benefits of human interaction and physical activity, so it’s a two for one deal.
6. do something kind
Everyone’s heard of the pay-it-forward movement. Think of this as the same thing but for your professional life. Make it a priority to do at least one nice thing for someone at work every day. Though let’s be honest, doing one nice thing is setting the bar pretty low. We should all strive to be nice, friendly and personable as much as possible. But that’s easier said than done when work is picking up and you have a laundry list of other highly important things that need to be done each day. No matter how busy you are, there’s never too little time to be nice. And, you never know, that professional goodwill you build up could just come in handy one day when you need a favour. But don’t do it for the favours. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.