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How to Break Bad Work Habits

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Most people will develop a slew of bad habits throughout their lives.

You may find yourself staying up late to watch a favorite TV show every night, even though you have to get up early. Or you might opt for fast food several nights a week instead of taking the time to prepare a healthy and balanced meal at home. You may smoke, drink, and carouse. But for the most part, you're only hurting yourself by adopting these bad habits in your personal life. When your bad habits move into the working world, however, you stand to do a lot more harm, not only to your livelihood, but also to the company that has offered you employment in the hopes that you will positively impact their business. So if you find yourself falling into bad habits, here are just a few ways to rectify the situation.

You might be wondering what exactly qualifies as a bad habit in the workplace. Suppose you show up late, leave early, and frequently take sick days (even when you're not really sick). Or perhaps you sleep at your desk or play FarmVille and post tweets when you should be attending to your work-related tasks. Maybe you use petty cash to buy yourself lunch, go over the accepted limit on your corporate card when you travel, or abuse the privilege of having a work phone by constantly using it for personal calls and data downloads (these are all forms of theft or fraud, by the way). You might have friends at competing companies that you regularly give sensitive information to even though you signed a non-disclosure agreement (they won't tell - they're your friends!). The point is, pretty much anything you do that is illegal, unethical, or against the interests of the company could be considered a "bad habit", especially if you do it regularly.

So how do you catch yourself making these missteps in order to reverse them?

1) The first part centers on awareness. You know the difference between right and wrong, but you may find yourself justifying your bad habits. For example, you might say it's okay to use petty cash for food when the company makes you work late, but unless a supervisor has given approval, this is not okay. Or you might think that working late one night makes it perfectly acceptable to come in late the next day or take longer-than-average breaks. And if you're taking clients out for lunch, you shouldn't have to watch what you spend on the corporate card, right? Wrong. You need to stop and think about what you're doing when you do it if you want to break your bad habits and start doing things right.

2) If you're having trouble enacting change on your own, get some help. Join a carpool so that you arrive on time and eliminate the possibility of leaving early. If your problems are financial, ask the company for a credit card application that comes with a lower limit so if you overspend you'll have to pay the excess with your own funds (that should slow you down). And give up your key to the petty cash drawer. Ask the IT department to block certain sites that you will be tempted to view throughout the day.

3) If you know that you have a weakness, find ways to stop yourself from engaging in bad habits, even if that means taking control out of your own hands. Ideally, you should be able to practice some self-control, but if you just can't seem to break your bad habits, you may even want to seek professional help from a behavioral therapist as a last resort.