In a Salary.com survey, nearly 90% of employees admitted they regularly waste time at work. If you can relate and you end up having to make up the time you waste, you may be interested in learning how to manage your distractions. By scheduling your distractions, for example, you can develop productive habits to help you work (and play) smarter on the job.
Let’s dive right in and look at some productive habits to get you out of the office sooner.
1. Have an email strategy
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, she recommends we use the first two hours for what’s most important that day—strategy, client follow-up, projects with deadlines, etc. This is great advice but it may not work for you, especially if your job centers around email and checking it first thing IS important. In that case, you want to design other email strategies. You could set times to check mail (once every 30 minutes, hour, or every two hours) and you will want to limit how long you spend in your inbox each time.
Learn other email management strategies and develop ones unique to your office and work style. Here are a few examples:
- Have a Read now/Read later system.
- Set follow-up reminders for emails you will handle later.
- Unsubscribe from lists whose content you don’t read.
- Ask owners to take you off non-essential groups that copy you on emails out of courtesy.
- Use two monitors one for email and another for working.
- Get in the habit of reading and acting on messages at the same time. Your actions might be a) Respond, b) Take action, and c) File, but your goal is to clear out your inbox.
Formulate email strategies and keep working them because without some type of strategy in place, you could find yourself stuck in email all day long.
2. Exercise before noon
Productivity experts recommend that we exercise at the beginning of the day. But what if you’re not a morning person or you have to be out the door so early that you can’t fit it in first thing? Well, you can do the next best thing and work out just before lunch. This is one of those productive habits with a happy side-effect; it usually end those 3 p.m. slumps. And because one healthy behavior influences another, exercising before lunch may help you to eat healthier at lunchtime and snack healthier at 3 p.m.
3. Set an alarm for an hour before you want to leave work
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 on your laptop, 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. As productive habits go, this one may seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t. When you don’t take breaks and sit at your desk all day (including for lunch), you get mentally tired. To compensate, your brain tries to disengage with distractions. Social media gives us a dopamine fix and can manipulate your time if you’re not aware what’s happening. Don’t just lean on social media for your social connection. Connect with someone in real life. Have lunch or a coffee break with a co-worker you’re close to, Facetime with far-away friends and relatives, go over to LinkedIn and make some career connections.
5. Get organized
Being organized is one of the most helpful things you can do to set yourself up to be productive. Here are some ways you can do that:
- For tasks that you do repeatedly and letters you write often, create templates to reuse.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Office and other programs you use regularly.
- Set up folders for your email inbox and to learn Rules and other features to help you organize your inbox and tasks.
- Try apps like ToDoist and Asana that help us stay productive and focused.
- Have on hand folders, binders, organizers and other accessories that help you put things away when you’re done.
- Keep a clean desk because it’s prettier as well as minimizes distractions.
6. 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 not only pays to be single-focused. And when doing many of the things you do at work, being single-focused end up saving you time. Not sure what you can/should multitask and what isn’t worth it? Start paying attention to what’s working for you and you’ll notice what isn’t working. Try experimenting to find out which tasks you finish sooner and do a better job when you work one way or the other. Experiment by switching what time of day you do certain tasks.
With your goal of saving time, working smarter and minimizing distractions, can’t argue with
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. Using systems, routines, and some psychological trickery, she can help almost anyone hack their mind and life for greater productivity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if she's available for one-on-one work.