7 Productivity Drains to Eliminate from Your Work Day
You probably had a goal for the day — something important you wanted to get done. Yet, here you are at the end of the day, wondering where all the time went. It’s not that you didn’t do anything today. But you still have this nagging sense that you didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile.
What likely happened is that you got busy being reactive, instead of proactive. We’ve all been there, but does it have to be like this every day?
Thankfully, no. There’s a better way to get through the day and make the impact you want to see. It all comes down to setting boundaries, putting systems in place, and understanding who and what is draining your productivity.
1. Switching Tasks Too Often
Generally speaking, the number one productivity stealer is multitasking. You think you’re being productive because you’re always on the move hopping from email, to chat, over to the slides you’re preparing, and back again. But in reality, you’re barely moving the needle on anything. You’re just busy.
Best-selling author and productivity guru, Tim Ferriss, says, “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” It’s a guise for avoiding those few critically important actions.
Our brains aren’t designed for switching tasks rapidly. According to Earl Miller, a neuroscience professor at MIT, “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. For the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.”
The solution, of course, is to focus on one task at a time, and to aim to accomplish no more than 2-3 important tasks a day. Even just one task is okay. Block off time to work on your most important tasks and keep a notebook nearby that you can jot ideas into when you feel the need to switch tasks. That way, essential tasks like sending invoices or non-essential items like checking Instagram won’t occupy valuable real estate in your mind.
2. Too Much Socializing
The second main offender draining your productivity is other people. It’s unlikely that you’ll eliminate all social interaction or even want to (coronavirus social distancing notwithstanding), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t monitor how much time you’re spending socializing.
American entrepreneur and best-selling author, Gary Kellar, advocates building a productivity bunker: a location that’s primed for success and void of distractions. The ideal bunker is only used for productive work and is filled with supplies like snacks, drinks, and anything else you may be tempted to leave your bunker to find. Most importantly, it has some deterring quality that dissuades people from interrupting you when you’re in a state of flow.
For some, it’s as simple as closing the office door and hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign. For others, it’s hiding away in a conference room to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office. If that’s not an option try putting in headphones so people are less likely to interrupt you.
A bonus tip: implement a project management software with built-in messaging capabilities so that your team can communicate with one another more easily. This will cut down on the back-and-forth of email and desk visits, which will give your team more opportunities for focused work.
3. Saying Yes To Too Many Meetings
Most peoples’ minds jump to scheduled meetings in conference rooms, but you can be over-scheduled with other events and activities as well (or simply by saying yes to too many projects).
The quickest way to raise your level of performance is to cut your commitments in half. Author of the best-seller, Atomic Habits, James Clear, says, “Needless commitments are more wasteful than needless possessions. Possessions can be ignored, but commitments are a recurring debt that must be paid for with your time and attention.”
Learn to say no by default. Don’t worry about letting people down or feeling uncomfortable. Just tell people you have too much on your plate right now, and you can’t go to that meeting or lend a hand with that project.
4. Distracted By an Endless Barrage of Notifications
According to research performed by RescueTime, people spend, on average, 3 hours and 15 minutes a day on their phones. That can’t be good for productivity.
We all know we need to put down our phone to be more productive, but it’s easier said than done. That said, you can make your phone and other digital devices less tempting. A quick win is to switch off all unnecessary notifications. Do you really need to be notified about every news story? Or each coupon that hits your email inbox?
Every time your phone, Apple Watch, or Chrome notifications go off, you’re derailed momentarily. Any focus or momentum you had is shattered – and often for no good reason.
Go into the settings of your phone, your computer, or your browser and switch off as many notifications as possible. Make no exceptions unless you’re literally responsible for somebody else’s life. Ditch the red circles (badges) as well. Do the same on your computer and hide your taskbar so you don’t see any red dots that could pull your attention away.
Once you’ve declared yourself uninterrupted and non-notifiable, you’ll win back all those unaccounted lost hours of the day and find yourself twice as productive.
5. Mindless Browsing
We’re all “plugged in” and connected all the time. In a bad way. You can blame it on FOMO (fear of missing out) or plain old boredom, but the little screen in our pocket constantly entrances us.
It could be ESPN, political news, gossip magazines, social media, or texting friends – you name it. We’re all guilty. The notifications draw us in far too often, but we also lose a lot of time proactively “checking in” with the outside world.
We escape partly out of habit, and partly because the work we’re doing is less interesting. Think you’re not addicted to something on your phone? Try deleting or just burying your most used apps in a folder someplace that’s harder to find. You’ll notice right away just how many times a day you go looking for those specific apps.
So how do you beat proactive procrastination?
Set limits upon yourself. Apple and Android devices but have a variation of “screen time” where you can set limits on how long you can use certain apps. Applications like RescueTime help you track your time and block distractions while you’re working. Chrome extensions like News Feed Eradicator can eliminate your Facebook feed so you can’t mindlessly scroll at work. Distraction Free for YouTube does a similar job by removing the distracting elements of YouTube like the sidebar suggested videos and autoplay.
6. Not Taking Breaks
Many of the ideas shared here are about pushing the outside world away so that you can focus on the more critical tasks at hand. However, you can’t go robotic and eliminate everything in life that’s tempting. You need to carve out time to rejuvenate and relax your mind.
The key here is to find the right work-life balance, since burn out leads to lower productivity in general. Limit overtime, find time for pleasurable interruptions, and make time to stretch and get some sun.
Take a look at your schedule and find pockets of time you can reward yourself with a little walk outside. Pencil in some snack times or time to chat with a colleague while you’re at it. When you do this proactively, you’ll find yourself less tempted to walk away from the important tasks you need to accomplish since you know you have a scheduled break coming up.
7. Battling With Your Emotions
Too often, the reason you’re not productive is that you’re battling some inner force – some feeling or emotion that is pulling the strings and preventing you from doing the meaningful stuff.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, says, “You don’t procrastinate to avoid work. You do it to avoid negative emotions. The task you’re avoiding isn’t always the one you hate. Sometimes it’s the one you fear. The one that’s most worth pursuing.”
It could be that the project you’re working on isn’t engaging enough. It’s repetitive, tedious, or downright boring. You may not be able to fully eliminate the tedious administrative tasks of your role, but carving out time to work on more interesting projects can add excitement to your day and help you build up positive momentum.
What You Can Do Now
You won’t become a productivity rockstar overnight, but there are a few things you can do right away to start seeing results:
- Build a productivity bunker – Create a place where you can work uninterrupted for hours at a time; one that has all the supplies you’ll need, like water, snacks, and essential work items. While you’re in there, put your phone on airplane mode to avoid notifications.
- Start saying no – Act like a two-year-old and start saying no to everything. You’re in total control of your life; to prove it, start saying no as much as possible. You’ll find you’re able to get more done and people will respect your time more.
- Implement a hack day – Set aside time each week or each month to work on personal projects that improve the company or your workflow (with your boss’s permission, of course). Make it feel meaningful and defend that time at all costs – bonus points for finding time away from the office to break up the monotony.