Habit Swap: Put These 7 Bad Digital Habits into Rehab in 2016

Business.com / Work Life / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Bad digital-age habits can hold you back. Get ahead in the New Year by kicking bad habits with good ones.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” –– Aristotle

As much as technology and the Internet have benefited us, they’ve also created some bad habits that could hold us back. 

According to a poll by the modern etiquette guide Debrett’s, three in four people think phones, laptops, and social media have made us ruder. Some 77 percent think social skills are worse than 20 years ago, while 72 percent think mobiles have encouraged rudeness. 

The study further reveals that technology-based missteps can set us back professionally. Company executives are now watching to see if employees are becoming textaholics or frittering away time on social media. Some are "so over-reliant on computers and spellchecks that they don’t even know how to write a letter anymore," one told Debrett’s.

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

The start of a New Year is the perfect time for taking inventory of any bad digital-age habits you may have picked up. It’s also prime time for picking up a few habits that are almost downright nostalgic. Here's your lucky seven:

1. Stop Hiding Behind Technology and Wield a Pen

“In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives.” –– Anatole Broyard

If you’ve fallen into the trap of communicating with people primarily through digital means, rise to the occasion and try a hand-written note instead. The novelty alone will make a greater impact.

  1. Instead of sending a thank you email to someone who really helped you out of a challenging work situation, put your gratitude in a nice card and secretly place it on the nice person's desk. Believe me, they will love it. They will appreciate the fact that you put in more effort than hitting a send button.
  2. Follow-up to job interviews or business pitches with a letter. Cover your bases and send an email too, but go the extra mile by investing in a postage stamp. It could very well seal the deal.
  3. Penning your message on ripped out notebook pages and post-it notes doesn't count. Consider getting personalized notecards and deliver your message in style.

2. Stop Being Tied to Virtual Reality & Declare Your Digital Independence

“Short as life is, we make it still shorter by careless waste of time.” –– Victor Hugo

According to StudyWeb.com, 121 billion minutes were used up on social media sites by Americans in 2012. It’s too easy to get sucked into an online world of status updates, memes, list posts, and videos. Before you know it, over half your day is gone and you have nothing to show for it. This is especially difficult for those who work on the Internet.

  1. Create a specific window of time for browsing the web. And, limit that window to 30 minutes. One of the best daily habits to establish is not checking social media accounts first thing in the morning. It’s too tempting to go back and check something that grabbed your attention later on in the day.
  2. Download StayFocusd–– a Chrome app that cuts off access to time-wasting websites.
  3. Delete or deactivate accounts–– or just let them fade off to black by posting less often.

3. Stop Being an Open Book & Keep a Journal

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; what happens on Twitter stays on Google forever.” –– Jure Klepic

According to Huffington Post, 60 percent of adults and teenagers in eight countries said too much is being divulged online, including inappropriate photos, unsolicited opinions, profanity and mind-numbing details of daily life.

Technology connects us and gives us an outlet for expression, but then at the same time, it also opens the door to simply sharing too much. Not only is the time you spend “sharing” online taking you away from more important things, you may be painting a picture of yourself you don’t necessarily want. If you’re telling people you’re swamped at work and then 5 minutes later you post a pic of your latest batch of oreo cheescake cupcakes or a funny cat video, then you’ve hurt your own credibility.

Trade all that public display for the privacy and intimacy of journal keeping. You’ll still be getting your thoughts, feelings and opinions out, but with zero risk of negative repercussions. A journal provides a historical record you can always look back on and see how you have analyzed a situation or problem in the past and if you can improve on it. 

Some of the greatest minds and leaders is history were habitual journal keepers. John Adams, Harry Truman, Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie, Leonardo DaVinci, the list is long. Far more than just an expressive outlet, these journals were used to create, plan, and in some cases change history.

  1. When the oversharing urge hits, step away from your digital device and put your thoughts safely in the protection of your journal. If it’s not handy, open up a word doc and fire away.
  2. Set aside a specific time to make an entry. Let your thoughts flow freely and try not to be too concerned with grammatical errors.
  3. If the thought of carrying around a physical journal doesn’t appeal to you, check out Inbox Journal–– an easy and secure way to keep a journal online.

Related Article: Are These Bad Habits Preventing Your Career Success?

4. Stop Being a Phoney & Textremist. Give People Your Full Attention.

“I think the one lesson I’ve learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” –– Diane Sawyer

Pestering blinking lights on mobile phones seduce even the most strong-willed professional. Our days are littered with endless distractions – cute pet pictures, a WhatsApp message and an onslaught of email notifications. Phones and all their apps were designed to help make you more efficient not attention deficient.

  1. If you’re going to have an important discussion with someone, leave your phone safely somewhere else. That way you won’t be tempted to glance at it when it summons you with its enticing beeps and purrs.
  2. If you just can’t bear to be without your phone, at least turn off the sound, and refrain from looking at it when you notice it vibrate. Unless you’re waiting to hear back from Steven Spielberg about your screenplay or have a personal emergency going on, attending to your phone can wait until you’ve attended to the carbon-based life form(s) in front of you.
  3. Set up custom alert profiles to vet notifications to avoid needless distraction. Do you really need to glance at your phone to read another Facebook notification?

5. Trade Email Clumsiness for Email Poise

“For email, the old postcard rule applies. Nobody else is supposed to read your postcards, but you'd be a fool if you wrote anything private on one.”  –– Miss Manners

Bad email etiquette such as requesting read receipts, emailing out of hours, or ignoring emails completely can peg you as professionally rough around the edges. Polish up your email habits and put your best professional foot forward.

  1. Stop “ping-ponging”—or replying rapidly. Replying immediately after an email hits your inbox tells the sender you merely gave it a cursory glance. And, in your haste your reply may contain all sorts of errors. Think of it as interrupting someone when they’re talking. Take the time to really read each email, give it a little time to sink in, then craft a thoughtful reply.
  2. Keep your contacts current, so you won't waste time digging through old messages to find someone. You can also organize your contacts into bulk e-mail groups, so that your messages can go to preset lists. This saves the time of entering individual recipients into your mail.
  3. Resist the urge to take short cuts by forgoing a salutation or abbreviating words or using “text” jargon.  Also, don’t send that message without proofreading it and double-checking the recipients. Take it easy on the emoticons too—they can be distracting and misinterpreted.

6. Dump All Those Miniseries & Read More. Seriously!

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” –– Confucius
Yes, "Game of Thrones," "House of Cards," (and please bring back "Breaking Bad") are entertaining…but try to limit yourself to one of these guilty pleasures a season. Pick up a book instead.

Someone once asked Warren Buffett the key to success. He pointed to a stack of books and explained: Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

Most of us would like to consider ourselves to be intelligent, and we "know" that reading is good for our brains…so why do some of us find it so hard to read consistently? First things first, the hype behind reading is true: not only have studies (like this one from Stanford) after study (and this one in HuffPo) shown that reading gives a noticeable to creativity & decision making, but research also points to reading as being a fantastic way to improve your memory.

  1. Pick books around topics you enjoy. If you hate fiction, grab a history or philosophy book such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
  2. Start off small. Sitting down and thinking, "Oh boy, I have to read for an hour…" is a direct road to failure. Instead, try reading for 15-minutes a day.
  3. Kick the “no time” excuse to the curb. Give your ears a break on your morning run and swap your playlist for audio books. If you’re a commuter, you can burn through audio books in no time and find your drive less stressful.

7. Ditch Digital Hoarding for Minimalist Efficiency

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” –– Benjamin Franklin

A cluttered desk is a sign of a disorganized mind. Nothing says, "I'm messy" more than piles of paper and empty paper cups. A cluttered computer is no different. Renegade folders, duplicate and misnamed files and a desktop that looks like an icon convention can wreck havoc on your ability to do your best.

  1. Take a look at your computer desktop. What does yours say about your organizational style? Shabby chic? College Dorm perhaps? If your computer’s desktop looks like it needs file and folder crowd control then it's time to streamline it. Not only will access what you need faster, you’ll actually be able to enjoy your cool wallpaper.
  2. Keep shortcuts to the programs you frequently access. Use file folders and directories to store important files and adopt a "no orphans" policy, so that no project files linger on your desktop.
  3. Establish a weekly trash day–– a day designated for clearing unecessary files and clearing off your desktop.'

Related Article: Fast Fixes for the Bad Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity

Check out these 25 tips for digital decluttering. Small changes can have a big impact. Trading bad technology-induced habits for more productive habits will not only help you professionally, it will give your personal life a boost as well. Make this your year to say "out with the new and in with the old."  

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