How to Develop a Good Work Ethic

Three Parts:Focusing on Your WorkManaging Your TimeResisting Procrastination

Whether you are working at a job or studying at school, developing a good work ethic can be critical to success. Different fields prioritize different characteristics and qualities, but any good work ethic involves good time management, focus, and dedication. If you are looking to develop or improve your work ethic, you can make progress by concentrating on these areas.

Part 1
Focusing on Your Work

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    Make work a priority. To develop a good work ethic, you will have to take work seriously, and aim to do it well. This doesn’t mean that many important aspects of your life that are not related to work, nor does it mean that you have to work all the time. During work time, work-related tasks should be your primary concern, and make sure you balance your work life and non-work life so that you have enough time and energy to do your work well.
    • If you are partially or completely in charge of setting your own work time, you will have to be sure to minimize distractions when working, and to work a reasonable amount of time (not too much and not too little).[1] Diligently maintaining a log of the hours you work will help you to do this.
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    Be professional. Being respectful of others, showing consistency and reliability, being honest, and other values are part of developing a good work ethic.[2][3][4] Many of these values have to do with how you treat others; a work ethic doesn’t just mean working hard, but also working well with others.
    • When you make a mistake or don’t complete your work, don’t make excuses. Owning your mistakes or shortcomings and promising to improve in the future shows maturity and a willingness to work well with others.
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    Maintain a good reputation at work. Aside from working doing your tasks well, you can cultivate a good reputation at work by being honest, following workplace rules (concerning punctuality, breaks, time off, etc.), and being fair to others.[5]
    • Avoid gossiping at work. This will show that you are focused on your job, treat others fairly, and are a good team player.
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    Practice self-discipline. Staying focused, and making choices that will benefit you in the long run are also part of developing a good work ethic.[6] This means being able to tell yourself, and others, when work needs to come first. Values like dedication, ambition, and persistence are valued by employers, and can lead to success in school and work.[7]
    • Remember that if you tell yourself you need to put something on hold in order to take care of work first, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never get around to it. Reward yourself by relaxing or having fun after you’ve finished your work.
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    Set aside time specifically for work. When possible, try to work around “focus times.” Give yourself a set period of time (such as an hour or an hour and a half) in which you will work deliberately and without distractions.[8]
    • If you are in school or self-employed, then your hours might be flexible, and you will have to be diligent about making time specifically to do work. Even if an employer sets your work hours for you, however, you can benefit from declaring “focus time” if possible—ask others not to disturb you, turn off all electronic distractions, etc.
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    Know your distractions, and minimize them when working. Everyone has certain things that can distract them from work: social media, chatting or texting friends, playing games, watching television, etc. When you are working, make sure to minimize potential distractions, and especially those that you know you are especially drawn to.[9]
    • Be persistent if people try to pull you away from your work. For instance, if people distract you by chatting, tell them you have work that you’ve got to finish, but you’d love to catch up with them later.
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    Understand how your work speed may vary. Often, you won’t reach your full productivity, work speed, or creativity immediately after you start working. Instead, you might need a certain amount of time (10-30 minutes, for example) in order to reach this level.[10] Factor this into the time you set aside for work, especially if you are working on a deadline.

Part 2
Managing Your Time

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    Build up to longer periods of work. Keep track of how long you can ordinarily work before getting tired. Once you have this benchmark, try working more than this on one day, followed by a day in which your work load is lighter. Periodically pushing yourself like this can help your build up to being able to work effectively for longer periods.[11]
    • Another technique to building up to longer periods of work is to push yourself a little further at times. When you feel like you don’t want to work any longer, or are looking for ways to procrastinate, don’t stop immediately. Instead, commit to working a little longer (20 minutes, for example), and then stopping.
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    Give yourself time to rest. Getting enough rest is important to maintaining a good work ethic. If you are truly tired (and not looking to procrastinate), it is a sign that you should take a break. Whatever your work schedule is like, make sure you factor in enough time for sleep and relaxation into your day. [12]
    • There is some variation from person to person, but generally adults need 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day.[13]
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    Maintain a good work-life balance. Work can be very important, but it is also important not to neglect other parts of your life. Everyone needs mental breaks, to have time to do things they enjoy, and to take care of non-work priorities.[14][15] Maintaining a life beyond work is actually part of developing a good work ethic, so make sure you allow yourself this.

Part 3
Resisting Procrastination

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    Commit to doing what needs to be done. If you know or decide that something needs to be done, don’t give up until it is. Rest and finding a work-life balance are always important, but so is taking care of the things you need to get done.[16][17]
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    Make a 30-day effort to resist procrastination. If you know you have a problem with procrastination, then make it a point to resist it for a month. [18] Doing so can give you a foundation for long-term success and a strong work ethic.
    • During this period, if you feel the urge to procrastinate, remind yourself “I need to get this done,” and make yourself do work instead of turning to distractions.
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    Focus on doing your work well. No one is perfect, so we all make mistakes in our work from time to time. However, if you make it your goal to do your work well (no matter what it is), it will increase your motivation to succeed, and to fight procrastination.[19][20][21][22]
    • If you feel yourself getting tired or worn out because of work, stop and rest. If you try to work when you are exhausted, you risk doing less than your best. Not only can this be discouraging, it can make more work for you to do later when you have to correct something or do it over again. Just make sure you aren’t procrastinating, and that you have a clear plan of when and how to pick up with your task after you rest.
    • If you work in or study a creative field, procrastination can be a way of dealing with pressures of criticism and/or creative block. If this is the case, resolve yourself to worry about perfecting a project later in the work process. That way, you can get started, make progress, be encouraged, and improve your work later.[23]
    • If you work in or study a creative field, you might also benefit from setting two deadlines—one to get a first “draft” of a project, and a second to revise and improve the project. It can also be beneficial to give yourself time between these two deadlines to take a break and refresh your perspective.[24]

Sources and Citations

  1. Piazza, C. (2008). Work ethic. In R. Kolb (Ed.), Encyclopedia of business ethics and society. (pp. 2254-2256). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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  1. 1
    Resolve yourself that work is exactly what the name implies. Although you may enjoy your work and even find it fun, it is still work and you need to approach it with a positive attitude and have outstanding ethics.
  2. 2
    To practice developing your own work ethic, explore distance-learning opportunities. Distance learning requires you to develop your own curriculum and be self-motivated which help you to learn great work habits you can take into the professional arena.
  3. 3
    Get a part-time job while you are attending distance learning courses. Juggling your education and a part-time job will prepare you for a busy work world that insists on multi-tasking.
  4. 4
    Having a part-time job and paying toward your distance-learning expenses also give you valuable experience with budgeting and handling money, which is essential in the working world.
  5. 5
    Write down your most successful approaches to distance learning school assignments and your job. By writing down little techniques that helped you juggle your academic life, you can refer to this journal when you are employed in your career of choice to see what worked for you during stressful times in the past.


  • Be honest with yourself. If you know there are certain times of the day you are less productive, schedule simpler tasks for that time. Using time wisely is the essence of a good work ethic.
  • If you become overwhelmed, learn how to let certain tasks go. For example, if your coursework is more than you can handle, take less classes the following semester. If your job is demanding more hours than you can give, discuss it with your boss. This is great practice for the real world because it is inevitable you will face these same challenges in your chosen career.
  • Strive to do your best in all circumstances. Whether cleaning tables or preparing a homework assignment, always do your very best. This attitude will follow you into your chosen career.
  • Distance learning is a dynamic situation that enables you to develop your own schedule. Keep track of the times of day you are most productive and take advantage of them. These are also likely to be the best times to handle major tasks when you enter your career of choice.
  • Discuss your work performance with your employer to gain greater insight about yourself as an employee.
  • Talk to your professors to get honest feedback about your work ethic and approach.


  • Working full-time and going to college full-time, even through distance learning, can be a huge challenge. If you become overwhelmed, you can take fewer classes to relieve yourself. It is impossible to do your best work when you are overburdened.
  • Be careful to avoid "degree mills" when you enroll in a distance learning opportunity - some schools issue degrees that are worth little more than the paper they are printed on.

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Categories: Job Strategies