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How to avoid a habit work trap


Work is often where we have our most ingrained routines. Our morning starts with coffee, and ends in one last email check. In-between, we complete reports every Monday, file paperwork every second Tuesday, and show up for our Wednesday meetings without any calendar reminders. These habits and routines actually allow us to spend more time paying attention to our actual work.

But they can also turn into a trap of our own making. Too much repetition and a once-off occurrence can turn into a habit, which in turn becomes a hard wired response to a situation. This is especially true when those habits happen in response to our interactions with colleagues. We all generally have a “default personality” mode that we fall into depending on who we are around. When these become negative we need to be able to change those habits before they impact our job performance.

The “isolation” trap

When it is your first day on the job it can be incredibly difficult to get to know your coworkers. Everyone seems to know what they are doing and seem very comfortable with each other. It can further add to that duck-out-of-water feeling you already have. Your first instant may be to sit back and wait to be included in coffee breaks or invited to lunch.

But every day you put off fully engaging with your coworkers only makes your isolation worse. It also starts making you seem unapproachable. Most positions also require a certain amount of people skills to advance. Without showing management that you can interact with your coworkers it can be very hard for them to see how you could one day oversee a team. A solid friendly relationship with your coworkers can make all the difference.

How to avoid this work trap: Take a big breath and involve yourself. Make that first move. Next time you grab a coffee, start a conversation while the next pot brews instead of going back to your desk to wait. If your cubicle mates make lunch plans, politely ask if you can join them. If your company has seats available for employees at a sports event, grab one for yourself and attend. Your coworkers will notice the conscious effort you are making, and will respond in kind.

The “complacency” trap

The first people to notice complacency in a leader are those who work below them. As soon as employees notice their manager become complacent it is a signal that they are able to become complacent themselves. Leaders often forget how their team looks up to them and follows what they do. When a leaders focus and determination start to wane, it creates a domino effect all the way down. Worse is that these same leaders often don’t notice the change in their team until it is too late. If top-performers have this complacency affect their roles, they are bound to look for a new position.

How to avoid this work trap: As a leader you are responsible for setting the tone for your team and department. Maintaining expectations and keeping competition alive is a must. Don’t allow your team to weaken due to your complacent attitude. Try asking one of your leadership peers to keep you on track. What happens in your department will soon affect theirs and that can be motivation enough for leaders to help each other.

The “group think” trap

It can be very tempting to fall into the work trap of group think when you find yourself in a team where people think along the same lines or work the same way. It can make your work day much easier to go along with the group, especially if you don’t have strong feelings about a decision being made. The trouble starts when you start going along with all of the group’s agreements and disagreements. All of a sudden proposing an original idea, or change, becomes a thousand times more difficult. To suddenly change gears can be very jarring for the group and so exhausting for you that you stop trying all together.

How to avoid this work trap: Start engaging in different ways of thinking – small things first. Ask the rest of your group to do the same. Look at a variety of possibilities rather than all agreeing on the first one. That first one may end up being the best, but it is the process of working through all the options that makes the difference. It will create a culture of creativity and resourcefulness that the group hasn’t experienced before. Instead of 2 ideas, “either this or that” type of thinking, push yourselves to think of 5 or more. Be curious and push yourselves. You will be surprised at the results you yield.


When habits are positive, we have nothing to worry about. When they are negative, and cast us in a less than favourable light they need to be changed. Turning interactions with colleagues from negative to positive is a must, especially if you are looking to hold a leadership role in the future.

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