Three New Habits for Successful Professionals

January 18, 2017


Big data coming out of the University of Scranton indicates that less than ten percent of us achieve our New Year's resolutions. Why? Because changing behavior is hard ... REALLY hard. When pressure mounts, time grows short, or an emotional upset develops, eight of ten times we fall back upon our old habits rather than stick with some new behavior that we'd like to develop.

If you wish to become a more successful professional, aim to develop some new, easy-to-accomplish habits, including three that I've listed below:

1. Set aside periods of time to monotask

Everything about the workplace—a never-ending avalanche of emails, cascades of phone calls, demanding internal and external clients, all of whom want answers yesterday—encourages extreme multitasking. Studies coming out of the University of California-Irvine indicate that today’s worker is interrupted or self-interrupts every three minutes of the day. No wonder most professionals feel drained and depleted by the time we head home.

While many maintain that they are incapable of placing any one demand on hold, it’s more likely that they’ve become addicted to nonstop stimulation. It turns out that jumping between tasks activates the reward mechanisms within our brains. This stimulates the release of dopamine, also known as the “happy” hormone. A quick spurt of dopamine boosts our mood, something that multitaskers immediately translate into a positive belief that they are super effective. It’s Psych 101—take a stimulus, couple it with a positive response, and the odds are good that we’ll repeat the behavior. Yes, we’re hooked on multitasking.

Instead of going cold turkey, work to periodically switch from multitasking to monotasking. Set aside periods of time when you focus deeply on one topic without distraction. Start with a 15-minute interval and work your way up to more extended periods of time. If setting aside an extended block of time seems too difficult, commit to reading—not scanning—one complete article, document, or assignment from start to finish at least one time per day.

Expect to discover some easily discernible benefits from monotasking, including a significant improvement in accuracy. A 2014 study found that even extremely brief interruptions of two or three seconds were enough to double the number of errors participants made on a given task. Other studies have found that monotasking can help increase brain blood flow and improve communication between regions of the brain.

2. Take a hike … or at least lots of five-minute walks

By now, surely you’ve heard that “sitting is the new cancer,” a mantra frequently attributed to Dr. James Levine, director for the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk. Levine asserts that sitting is “more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.”

Fortunately, you don’t need to chain yourself to a treadmill or a Stairmaster to register some health benefits. The New York Times recently reported on a study published in the November 2016 issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Researchers had tested several methods of increasing movement among office workers. Virtually all participants reported that they felt better when they were not required to stay at their desk for six uninterrupted hours. They also indicated that they felt more energetic throughout the day when they moved about, and this was the case whether movement occurred in periodic bursts throughout the day or in a concentrated 30-minute block of time.

Here’s the really important finding: "When the workers rose most often, they reported greater happiness, less fatigue and considerably less craving for food .... Their feelings of vigor also tended to increase throughout the day, while they often had plateaued by early afternoon after walking only once in the morning."

Aim to move around for at least five minutes during every hour of your workday. Walking up and down the stairs and pacing in the hallway counts. Just move!

3. Schedule your vacation

Did you use your allotted vacation in 2016? Most Americans did not. No matter what generation they belong to, American workers failed to take between one and two weeks of the vacation time that they had earned.

Lots of data indicates that there are good reasons for you to schedule a break in 2017, including:

Employees who take 10 or more vacation days were 65.3 percent more likley to receive a raise or bonus during a period of three years.

Men who took frequent annual vacations were 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Similarly, the Framingham Heart Sudy found a negative effect on the heart when women do not take vacations.

Vacations are good for relationships. A five-year study of women in rural rural Wisconsin published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal showed that women who take vacations at least twice per year are “less likely to become tense, depressed, or tired, and are more sati fied with their marriages,” and that the “odds of marital satisfaction decreased as the frequency of vacations decreased.”

Start planning a 2017 get-away today, knowing that some research indicates you may gain as much pleasure from planning your vacation as you do in taking it.

Thing You Need to Know:

Three new habits--monotasking, taking regular breaks, and scheduling your vacation--can help enhance your professionalism.



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