In a Salary.com survey, nearly 90% of employees admitted to regularly wasting time at work. And let’s face it, much of the distractions are manageable if you want and need to.
If you have a life (and especially if you don’t), you may want to work smarter to get out of the office sooner. These productive habits are sure to help you:
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 if that doesn’t work for you, design some other email strategy. Without one in place, you could find yourself stuck in email all day long. Set times to check mail (once an hour or every two hours) and limit how long you spend in your inbox each time. Have a read now, read later system and set follow-up reminders for emails you will handle later. Unsubscribe from lists whose content you don’t read and ask owners to take you off non-essential groups that copy you on emails out of courtesy.
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? In that case, 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 one of the few good excuses for eating at your desk.
Because one healthy behavior influences another, exercising before lunch may help you to eat healthier at lunchtime.
3. Set an alarm for an hour before you want to leave
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 help you to be more productive… if you schedule them. Take your breaks. They’re important. 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), and for many people, it’s Facebook or Instagram but we waste a lot of time on social media. There’s a reason for that — it’s how you get your dopamine fix. You’re better off getting at least one of those fixes over lunch or a coffee break with a co-worker. Your scheduled day might look something 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)
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. Be organized and use shortcuts
For tasks that you do repeatedly, create templates and frameworks to help you reduce decision fatigue. Learn shortcuts for Microsoft Office and other programs you use regularly. Being organized is a big timesaver in every area of your life, and definitely at work. Take the time to set up folders in Outlook, and to learn rules and other features that keep you organized. Try apps like ToDoist. Style your workspace or office to look interesting and inspiring. Keep drawers organized to find and file items more quickly.
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 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.
- 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, ask a co-worker for help or leave it for another day when you have fresh eyes.
Once a day or once a week, I also recommend that you think about the value of what you do. How do your customers or clients benefit? Who benefits from your paycheck (your siblings, kids, your travel fund, your lifestyle)? Consider how what you do provide value beyond a pay-check. Being aware of the value of your work elevates it.
Some fields are notorious for long hours, but even in them, you will benefit from good work habits. By using your time wisely, you can get out of the office sooner. You’ll also feel better about your work and produce higher quality work.