In a Salary.com survey, nearly 90% of employees admitted they regularly waste time at work. If you can relate and if wasting time is affecting your productivity, learn 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, time management and productivity expert Julie Morgenstern recommends against checking email first thing in the morning. Instead, she recommends using the first two hours of your day for what’s most important that day—for strategy, client follow-up, projects with deadlines, etc.
This is great advice but if your job centers around email and checking it first thing IS important, you can tweak that advice. You can design some other email strategy that will work for you. You could, for example, create a system where you check email once an hour or at specific times during the day. Here’s a list of email management tips you can pull from to begin formulating your personal email strategy. The bottom line is: you need an email strategy if you don’t want to spend the whole day in your Inbox.
- 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 the second for working.
- Get in the habit of reading and acting on messages at the same time.
Keep working on your strategy until it flows and you feel in control of your Inbox.
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 happy side-effects (It was for me, anyway.). It could end your 3 pm slumps and 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 internet tabs open at 4:30, a panic that you didn’t get much accomplished today starts to set in. With a “one-hour” notice, you can start scurrying sooner to get JUST ONE THING, not everything, done.
4. Cut distractions by scheduling them
Scheduling your distractions is a great productivity habit. 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 distracting TikTok videos. If you’re not aware that this is how your brain works, you could beat yourself up wondering why you can’t “focus.”
Take breaks! They’re important. But don’t just lean on social media for social connection and a dopamine fix. Connect with someone in real life. Enjoy your TikToks but switch things up and have a coffee break with a co-worker you’re close to, Facetime with far-away friends and relatives, or go on LinkedIn and make some career connections.
5. Get organized
Being organized sets you up to be productive. Here are some ways you can do that:
- For tasks that you do repeatedly do and emails you routinely write, create templates.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Office and other programs you use regularly.
- Set up email folders and learn Rules and other features that help you organize your inbox and tasks.
- Try apps like ToDoist and Asana that help you stay productive and focused.
- Have binders, organizers, and other accessories on hand that will help you put things away when you’re done.
- Keep a clean desk; it’s prettier and 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 pays to be single-focused. Believe it or not, the more you have to do, the more it helps to be single-focused.
Sure, there are many instances when multitasking is necessary and even helpful. If you’re on hold with a call, on a boring Zoom meeting, etc., multitasking can be helpful. Try experimenting to find out which tasks you finish sooner and do a better job when you work one way over the other. The bottom is multitasking can be helpful, but we have taken it too far, which creates
With your goal of saving time, working smarter, and minimizing distractions, you can learn new ways of working smarter… and get out of the office sooner. Wasting time at work doesn’t just cost your employer, it costs you extra hours, creates stress for you, and takes time away from your hobbies and friends.
With these and other productivity tips you formulate, take your time back!
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.