According to Salary.com, nearly 90% of those who took their survey last year admitted to regularly wasting time at work. From talking on cell phones to gossiping, using social media and browsing the internet, there is a long list of ways to be distracted at work. These distractions can lead to missed deadlines, longer hours trying to catch up, and can even affect your sleep.
If you have a life (and especially if you don’t), you may be interested in working smarter to get out of the office sooner. You can definitely do that. Here’s how:
1. Spend the first 2 hours of the day on your 1 – 2 most important tasks
In her New York Times bestseller, Never Check Email in the Morning, organization expert Julie Morgenstern recommend against checking email first thing in the morning. Instead, use the first two hours for what’s most important to you that day — strategy, client follow-up, projects with deadlines, etc. If you use your first couple of hours working in a focused manner without the distraction of email, you’ll feel accomplished even if you never do anything else for the rest of the day.
2. Exercise before noon
Productivity experts recommend that we exercise before we start our day but if you’re not a morning person, you can do the next best thing and work out just before lunch. This simple hack had a happy side-effect for me–it ended my 3 p.m. slumps. Suddenly, I had more energy in the afternoons and enough to keep me productive until at least 5:30 p.m. Btw, working out on your lunch break is the only sensible excuse to regularly eating at your desk.
This hack may even help you to eat healthier at lunchtime since one healthy behavior influences another.
3. Set an alarm for an hour before you want to leave the office
If you’re like most people, the end of the day usually sneaks up on you. With emails still to get to and about a dozen tabs open, last minute is not when you want to start scurrying to get something accomplished. With a “one-hour” warning, you can start scurrying sooner. I use this window to complete JUST ONE THING, not everything. If I get through that one thing and still have time, I’ll start something else.
4. Cut distractions by scheduling them
A healthy amount of distraction isn’t a bad thing, and can even be productive if you schedule them. Take two to three scheduled breaks plus your 30-45 minute lunch break. When you don’t take lunch and practice other productive habits, you get mentally tired. To compensate, your brain tries to disengage with distractions (mine is YouTube for sure). Try to spend at least one of your breaks with a favorite co-worker, which will give your dopamine fix so you don’t need to get it on Facebook. A scheduled day might look like this:
Sample work schedule
8:30 – 11:15 Most important task(s)
11:15 – 11:30 Break with a friend (or hit the gym at earlier lunch break)
11:30 – 12:30 Work
12:30 – 1:15 Break for lunch
1:20 – 3:00 Work
3:00 – 3:10 Break for distractions
3:10 – 4:00 Work
4:00 – 4:10 Break at your desk (assess your day, have a snack)
4:10 – 5:10 One last thing(s)
5:10 – 5:15 Write tomorrow’s to do list.
5:15 Leave (the office behind)
5. Reduce multitasking
We’re so used to doing it that we don’t realize that in most cases, especially at work, multitasking is counter-productive. When doing complicated or unfamiliar tasks, it pays to be single focused. But, rather than trusting me, time management experts and the data from countless studies, I encourage you to do your own experiment: Try doing the same work tasks your way for a whole week and the following week, try it my way:
- Do one thing for 28 minutes.
- Take a 2-minute break.
- Once a day or once a week, think about the value of what you do.
How do your customers or clients benefits? Who benefits from your paycheck (your siblings, kids, your travel fund, your lifestyle)? Does what you do have any value beyond a pay-check? It usually does and thinking in this way elevates your work.
- Continue your task for another 28+2 minutes or until completion.
- If you’re not done in two hours, get up and take a walk (outdoors if you can).
- If you’re stuck on a task, ask a co-worker for help or leave it for another day when you have fresh eyes.
Some jobs require longer hours, but all benefit for good personal habits. You’re more productive and you feel better about your work and role. Smart people learn to use their time wisely and know that having a life, can make them an even more valuable employee.