In a Salary.com survey, nearly 90% of employees admitted to regularly wasting time at work. If you care to and assuming you have/want a life, much of these distractions are manageable. So that’s what we’re going to dive into in this post where I’m sharing productive habits to get you out of the office sooner. One boss move you’ll make is to schedule your distractions.
Here’s the list:
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 that won’t work for everyone as your job may center around email and checking it first thing IS critical. If Morgenstern’s advice doesn’t work for you, design some other email strategy. 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.
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. 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. 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 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 though, 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 (as you do lunch)
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. My go-to distraction is YouTube. There are a couple of channels that I subscribe whose 10 to 15-minute videos are the perfect length for my scheduled breaks. I only check Facebook or Instagram on my lunch break. Social media gives us a dopamine fix but there are healthier more human ways to get that same fix — connect with someone in real life. Having lunch or a coffee break with a co-worker you’re close to, brings you closer.
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 for 45 minutes)
11:30 – 12:30 Work
12:30 – 1:15 Break for lunch
1:20 – 3:00 Work
3:00 – 3:15 Break for distractions
3:15 – 5:00 Work
5:00 – 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
Being organized is one of the best ways to be productive. 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. Take the time to set up folders in Outlook, and to learn Rules and other Outlook features that help you organize your inbox and tasks. Try apps like ToDoist and Asana. Tools like these create structures that naturally help us keep up and stay productive.
And style your workspace or office to look interesting and inspiring.
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. Try an experiment to see if you’re wasting time by multitasking or really get stuff done:
Try doing the same tasks your way for a whole week and the following week, use this method:
- 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.
Bonus tip: The value-added visualization
Once a day or once a week, think about the value of what you do. How do your customers or clients benefit? Who benefits from your paycheck (your siblings, your 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.
Btw, working out on your lunch break is one of the few good excuses for eating at your desk. By using your time wisely, you can get out of the office sooner. Regularly doing this exercise can help you feel better about your work. You’ll be more engaged and produce higher quality work.