We always hear about the healthy and productive habits that characterize highly effective people, from proactive behavior to collaborating well in teams and beyond. But on the other side of the coin are those highly ineffective professionals that we all strive to differentiate ourselves from. They can be the ones you look at every day with a judging eye, wondering how they get away with some of the bad habits that harm their work and productivity. Or they can be people crippled by indecision and over-analyzing, resulting in slow and mediocre results.

Recognize and avoid these habits of highly ineffective professionals, and figure out if you’ve fallen into any of them yourself.

1. They self-doubt

Highly ineffective professionals are often so bogged down by doubt in their own work that they get stuck in inescapable ruts. Whether that self-doubt is of the “I’m not good at this!” or the “I want this to be perfect!” variety doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this behavior results in slow output, little risk-taking, and overall inefficiency on the job. It results in missed deadlines and mediocre work across the board.

Perfection is not something you should realistically strive for on the job. It’s nice when you reach something resembling perfection in a project, but your focus should be on completing every task to specification first before adding finishing touches and extra bells and whistles. A project has so many tasks associated that it’s impossible to focus on perfection in one area without sacrificing quality elsewhere. Focus on a balanced end product rather than on perfect individual pieces.

2. They multitask

If you’ve ever had a teammate who swears by multitasking, understand that they’re completely wrong about the science behind doing many things at once. Many scientific research studies have disproved the myth that multitasking is effective and productive. Instead, it actually harms the quality of that person’s work and results in tons of mistakes. And even worse, it can result in long-term cognitive impairment.

So don’t turn on a sports channel on the side while you’re working. Avoid swapping between three different major tasks every 30 seconds. Don’t answer every single email you get instantly. Focus on what’s in front of you and prioritize the rest of your work around how long it takes you to finish a task. The results of what you’re doing right now will benefit for it, and you’ll have plenty of leftover time and effort to do all the other things you needed to do.

ineffective professionals

3. They’re inflexible

Some highly ineffective professionals are extremely rigid and set in their ways. They’ve done things a certain way for years and they don’t want to hear about any better ways they could be working. Typically, this results in overly slow, methodical, and outdated forms of work that could easily be updated to reflect the way tech and new productivity theories have changed the working world.

Instead of rigidity, focus on being flexible with your work habits. If you find or are told of better ways to accomplish a task, adapt these tools and tactics into your work arsenal. Your current concept of how work should get done doesn’t have to be set in stone. For example, if you find that your current way of staying productive with pen and paper can easily be upgraded with online tools like a to-do list app, integrate it into your workflow. Make these changes for the sake of your productivity today, and recognize that this attitude will be invaluable in your career down the line.

4. They’re overly fluid

On the other end of the spectrum are highly ineffective professionals who constantly change how they work and what they use to stay productive. Whether they can’t stick to a single task setting app, or they constantly switch the order in which they tackle important tasks, the time they spend resetting their work tools and methods results in lost productivity and inefficiency.

Once you find something that works for you, stick with it, at least until you find something that’s an order of magnitude better. For example, if you’ve set up and used Trello as your project management tool, don’t suddenly switch to Asana just because you like one feature better. Change your work methods when the change is significantly impactful to your productivity. Otherwise, the time it takes to adapt to a new way of doing things becomes wasteful.

5. They’re Debbie Downers

You’ve likely met a Debbie Downer at some point in your career. They’re that one person in the office that complains about everything, from the way a project is going to the people they’re working with and more. The attitude of a Debbie Downer is to see the faults in everything around them and make it vocally known that those faults exist. Rather than produce the best results with the resources they’re given, they instead spend precious time complaining.

Avoid being the Debbie Downer of your team. It’s a frustrating attitude that can only get you in hot water with your manager. Even worse, however, is that it doesn’t just prevent you from performing at your peak, but drags your colleagues down with you. Instead, adapt to the circumstances of your work situation, as bad as you may find them, and be proactive about fixing problems yourself rather than complaining about them.


6. They take teams for granted

Highly ineffective professionals are poor team players. They can either be the type that dismiss the value of teamwork and instead prefer to work alone, or they can be overconfident in their own work. On the one hand, independent work can result in poor output, as it doesn’t allow in fresh ideas and perspectives. On the other hand, being overconfident results in ignoring the work of and value that teammates bring to a project.

So instead, understand the benefit of working with a team for multidimensional problem-solving, do your part and contribute your best efforts, and share in a project’s mutual success where each individual result produced by each individual colleague forms a cohesive, effective finished product. Recognize the value of a collaborative effort and understand that you’re an important piece of a larger machine, but not necessarily the only one producing anything of value. Share in the team’s great work rather than assuming you’re the only one who contributed.

7. They play office politician

When you look at a colleague who’s an active office politician, chances are you’re also looking at a colleague who is an ineffective professional. They spend their time engulfed in office dramas, fights, rumors, and maneuvers that distract from their work. They’d prefer to get ahead by treating their colleagues as opponents to outwit than by actually producing top-quality work for their employer.

That’s not to say office politics is something to avoid at all costs. Especially if it’s common in your workplace, playing the office politics game can help you stay aware of your own stock in the company, position yourself for a promotion, and avoid nasty rumors and misconceptions that can hurt your career. Navigate office politics effectively and efficiently so that you can focus your main effort on your daily tasks.

8. They stagnate

Highly ineffective professionals tend to do their jobs without caring for what they’re doing. They don’t learn from the things they are tasked with, nor do they adapt to the new information that they learn along the way. They’ll focus more on getting the job done the same way every single time and less on adjusting their behaviors based on what works well and what isn’t working at all for them.

Avoid this habit by taking each task you do as a learning opportunity. Throughout a project, you’ll be put in a position to step outside your comfort zone and learn something new. These opportunities are the stuff of career advancement. What you get out of a project is equally as important to your career as the results you produce. So take these opportunities to care about how and why certain tasks are done a specific way, care about the intricacies of what you are doing, and make work about self-improvement rather than simply getting the job done.


9. They have fleeting relationships

Work relationships are a difficulty for ineffective professionals, and it’s usually due to their own lack of effort in following up professionally and keeping in touch personally. They tend to see their interactions with colleagues, clients, and other professionals as one-off occasions rather than as network-building opportunities. Furthermore, they tend to lose out on valuable conversations by letting the ball drop and failing to follow up.

Instead, make a habit of always following up on conversations, whether it’s to ping someone who has fallen off the map, or to thank someone who has helped you out. Nurture the relationships you build with your fellow professionals by occasionally sending them an interesting article that’s relevant to their interests, or even grabbing a cup of coffee with them. These relationships will help you score clients, job referrals, recommendations, and people to vouch for your qualities. You’ll also be able to learn from them and expand your own skillset.

10. They aren’t self-motivated

Highly ineffective people fail to motivate themselves. Instead, they rely on others around them to motivate them, essentially not doing anything until someone tells them to. They don’t take initiative and they avoid risks, and as a result need to be pushed to do their work. Further, they rely on praise from others for self-satisfaction rather than succeeding for their own edification.

If this sounds familiar to you, it’s important that you start looking for ways to find your own sources of motivation. Instead of taking projects at face value, begin thinking about ways you can go beyond what the spec sheet asks of you. If you’re frustrated by red tape on the job, don’t sit around and wait for someone to tell you to do something about it - devise a plan and bring it to your boss. Do these things for your own professional advancement first, and for your team second.

Being an effective professional means not falling into the traps and habits of ineffective professionals. Chances are you’ve seen all of these behaviors in your career before and should be able to recognize them in others. Recognizing them in yourself is a bit more difficult, but critical if you want to advance in your career. Take heed of the pitfalls of ineffective behaviors and adjust your own work style if you fall into any of them.

Image courtesy of K2 Space.

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