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ATD Blog

8 Good Work Habits That Really Matter

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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My karate teacher Frank Gorman likes to say, “We are all products of our habits. Good habits? Bad habits? That is your choice.”

What are you really prepared to require? What strong preferences are you prepared to impose? If they really matter, they are worth teaching. This is the message I recommend managers deliver when they are trying to convince their young employees to care about developing good work habits…

Here’s why you should care about learning best practices and building better work habits: These basic work habits might seem like matters of personal style or preference, but there are strong business reasons for these requirements. How you present yourself and conduct yourself at work has a big impact on your performance and on all of those with whom you interact. Perhaps more to the point, it has a huge impact on your reputation at work.

Not following good work habits with consistency makes you seem younger and less mature. It gives some managers second thoughts about trusting you with important work. If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace, your best bet is to learn best practices and develop good work habits. People will perceive you as being more professional. That will be very much to your benefit, both here and anywhere else you work.

Here is the big challenge: Habits are habits for a reason. Habits feel good. Habits feel right. Even if you can see the logic for a different set of behaviors that will have better results, it is very hard to break one habit and create a new one. Research shows that it takes several weeks of consistent practice of a new set of behaviors to form a new habit. It takes even longer for a new healthy habit to become entrenched. But remember, human beings are not just creatures of habit. We are products of our habits. Will you be the product of good habits or bad habits? That is your choice.

So what exactly are important or good work habits? Who’s to say something is good but something else is bad? Here are eight good work habits I recommend focusing on:


1. Wellness: Maintaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit/mood.

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2. Self-presentation: Controlling one’s grooming, attire, and manners—given the social and cultural situation at hand—so as to make a positive impression on others.

3. Timeliness: Arriving early, staying late, and taking short breaks. Meeting or beating schedules and deadlines.

4. Productivity: Working at a fast pace without significant interruptions.

5. Organization: Using proven systems for documentation and tracking—note taking, project plans, checklists, and filing.

6. Attention to detail: Following instructions, standard operating procedures, specifications, and staying focused and mindful in performing tasks and responsibilities.

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7. Follow-through and consistency: Fulfilling your commitments and finishing what you start.

8. Initiative: Being a self-starter. Taking productive action without explicit direction. Going above and beyond; the extra mile.

When you take the time to help any employee build themselves up with old-fashioned good work habits, they get better and better. Just think of the impact you could have on employees by helping them get better when it comes to any of these habits: wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, organization, productivity, quality, follow-through, consistency, and initiative.

Bottom line: Make them aware. Make them care. They’ll perform, increase their job satisfaction, and you’ll be glad.

Find more great career advice on the My Career topic page.
Check out similar articles: Four Simple Habits of Top Performers

This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated with recent research and resources.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is a bestselling author and the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, a management research and training firm. He is the author of numerous books, including It’s Okay to Be the Boss; Not Everyone Gets a Trophy; and The 27 Challenges Managers Face. His newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is due for release in the summer of 2020 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

3 Comments
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Good advice but I don't agree with the idea of staying late as a work habit to develop is concerning and outdated. Timeliness is of the utmost importance. Working consistently and productively throughout the day will ensure that you will have the time needed to align both your professional and private lives to your values and desires. And why does one have to work fast to be productive? Working at the pace necessary to accomplish the task correctly and efficiently makes better sense to me.
Great points!
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All good habits to develop and practice Bruce, but they don’t always come naturally. Even after 30 years I still have to consciously focus on a couple of those areas!
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