10 Work Habits of Unsuccessful People—And How to Correct Them

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Having a good job performance means getting ahead, and having a mediocre performance or attitude can stop your career in its tracks.

A full-time employee spends at least 40 hours a week at work, often more. Doing a good job means getting ahead, and having a mediocre performance or attitude can stop your career in its tracks.

It’s not that successful people are born lucky; it’s that they know how to navigate the workplace in ways that make people want to work with them, opening themselves up to opportunity.

If you ever look at your incredible successful colleague and wonder what they’re doing right, odds are they aren’t succumbing to one of these 10 bad work habits.

Related Article: The 7 Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Companies

Poor Time Management

Poor time management is a sneaky one. It can mean you spend too much time not on task, but it can also mean that you spend too much time on any one task. Either way, not having a good handle on your workweek means you won’t get as much done as you can (or as your successful co-workers are).

If you find you have trouble with time management, try setting smaller project goals and deadlines for yourself—such dedicating two hours (and only two hours) to research a day, or completing an outline for your report before lunch.

Not Prioritizing

Last minute projects and daily interruptions are a natural part of any job. The key is to understand what the most urgent, important and impactful tasks are and focus on those—even if other projects need to be pushed back.

Successful people aren’t afraid to ask about priority level when they’re handed a new task or invited to another meeting. Letting your coworkers, or even your managers, know what is currently on your plate will help them judge where their new request should fit in and set realistic deadline expectations.

You Don’t Take Constructive Criticism Well

No one is perfect and that’s ok. It’s how you react to criticism in a professional setting that makes the difference. Highly successful people welcome feedback and discussion because they know it will ultimately make their work better.

Remember that when someone doesn’t like your proposal or agree with your idea, they are not attacking you personally. If you’re the type of person who has knee-jerk reactions, start practicing the count to five rule.

Whenever someone disagrees with you or criticizes your work, count to five in your head and really think about how you want to respond before opening your mouth. As you’re doing this make sure you have a thinking look on your face, not an angry one.

Related Article: Help Me Help You: How to Best Deliver Constructive Criticism

Not Taking Advice

Even in fairly new fields there are pioneers. Not all advice will be right, but never taking advice means you’re missing opportunities and repeating a lot of hard work and mistakes. Being independent and hardworking isn’t a bad thing, but unsuccessful people ignore input from others to their own detriment.

Your co-workers, managers, consultants and clients have “been there, done that,” so be open to learning from their mistakes, experiences and insight. Analyze what they have to say and how it fits into the situation you’re facing before deciding how to proceed.

Making Excuses

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, mistakes are made. Unsuccessful people make excuses and point fingers, shifting blame anywhere but themselves. This makes you look unprofessional and unaccountable. While your boss or a client might be mad, the best course of action is to not downplay the issue.

Instead of making an excuse, acknowledge that something went wrong and form an action plan to keep top of mind for next time. Handling the situation in a calm and timely manner often corrects the issue at hand and reassures everyone that you are still the right person for the job.

Being Negative

A recent study found that people who believe they are lucky tend to have better luck. If you’re negative about your company or job performance, that negativity can easily affect your actual quality of work. Giving into negative emotions likely means you won’t give a task your full effort, already setting you up to be less successful.

Your mood also affects your co-workers. If you’re always doom and gloom they won’t want to work with you, cutting off your access to vital resources, help and team successes. When things are going wrong, try to stay positive and do the best work you can—even if it means starting over.

Not Being a Team Player

Not being a team player manifests in several ways, including not asking for help, not recognizing your own weaknesses and trying to do everything yourself. You’re not a one-person company so don’t act like it.

Recognize that every member of your team has his or her own areas of expertise and personal strengths. If grammar isn’t your strong suit, have a co-worker proofread your report before sending it to a client. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s working together as a team to create support the end goal.

Not Trusting Your Team

This takes not being a team player to a whole new level. Not only do you reject their help, but you also second-guess everything they do. This leads to massive inefficiency—a major hindrance of success. If you’re redoing others’ work, then you can’t focus as much time and energy on your own work.

Trust the system. It’s not your job to manage your co-workers or monitor their work. Focus on your own tasks and trust that management notices any issues. If you feel that a co-worker’s performance is negatively affecting yours, quietly mention it to a manager in a non-accusatory way.

Being Stuck in Your Ways

One of the most destructive lines in business today is “we’ve always done it that way.” Any business still relying exclusively on a Rolodex and fax machine is falling far behind, if they’re even still open. Times change and new best practices emerge. If you’re not prepared to keep up and try new things, your work will quickly be eclipsed by others.

Spend some time each week reading about the latest innovations, trends and study findings in your industry. Listen to the ideas of people outside your department or under you. Just like with advice, not every idea will work or be worth pursuing, but listening to outside opinions is a great way to start brainstorming.

When you encounter new ideas or recommendations, test the ones you think will be most successful. You never know if something will work until you try. Not every risk is a success, but risk takers are generally the most successful business people.

You Don’t Communicate Well

As technology has advanced, people’s general communication skills have suffered. The most successful business people recognize that a range of communication skills are still vital to business. Waiting for emails is a waste of time and doesn’t allow for immediate clarification or explanation.

What’s worse is not communicating at all. Not updating team members, bosses or clients on project statuses and not communicating when you’re waiting on something creates a black hole ripe for missed connections and overblown expectations. Make sending project status updates a regular task on your daily to-do list—and don’t let it slip.

Also, make keeping up with emails a habit. Instead of texting, pick up the phone when something would be better discussed “in-person.” Personal communication can be awkward, but if you want to succeed professionally you need to become comfortable and confident about communicating.

Keep at It

Habits are hard to break, especially when breaking that habit pushes us outside of our comfort zone. But success is about facing adversity. Overcoming these 10 common workplace bad habits will ultimately make you a more successful professional.

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