My worst work habit -- and maybe yours too

always on photo courtesy flickr user crimsong19

(MoneyWatch) Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time studying how I spend my time. I keep track of it, then analyze the logs. Over time, I start to see patterns. I figure out tweaks. For instance, I've learned to write early in the day -- when I'm focused -- and schedule meetings and interviews later, when my attention starts to wane.

But here's a habit I'm having a hard time breaking. Every time I step away from my desk -- and I mean literally every time -- when I sit back down, I check email. Get up to grab some water? Check email. Go to the bathroom? Email.

But while it might make sense to check email after a long absence, there's really no reason to check it again after the 60 seconds it took me to heat up my coffee in the microwave. It's just a ritual of easing back into work, and it's pointless. And sometimes it's worse than pointless, because dealing with my inbox is then a cue to cycle through my favorite websites. Are there new headlines somewhere? Are there new comments on the blogs I read? Why am I behind on this project again?

I've been pondering what might make a better back-in-the-zone ritual. I could glance at my list of weekly priorities, or the day's to-do list. I could have a thought-of-the-day on a post-it note, and read that (ideally, a quote on focus and priorities). If I can't tear myself away from my inbox, maybe I can be more pro-active about it and ease back into work by writing an email to someone -- to say hello, to congratulate someone, to introduce people. I could flip through my idea pile. I could write down something that was going right. I could head straight to my blog to respond to comments, rather than flitting around to other places first.

Do you check email every time you sit down at your desk? What else might you do instead?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user crimsong19

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