Have you ever walked out of the office wondering exactly what you accomplished that day? You’re not alone. It’s easy to waste hours and even whole days staring idly at the computer screen.
Even in offices where Facebook and other social media is banned, the Internet offers plenty of other distractions, not to mention talkative coworkers, extended coffee breaks, and the food coma you earned with lunch at your favorite burrito joint.
Beyond non-work diversions, even the daily task of slogging through email can leave us busy for eight hours without ever actually finishing our tasks for the day.
If any of these bad business habits sound familiar, read on:
What’s your morning routine? For years, I’d show up at work, chat with a few coworkers, fix a pot of coffee, and then sit down at my desk. Comfortably settled, I’d browse the day’s news on a handful of sites, before opening up my email program and spending the next hour or so responding to messages. Oftentimes, I’d head to lunch before beginning any of the day’s real tasks.
Falling behind on project deadlines isn’t fun, so I finally realized I had to make a change. Before leaving work in the afternoon, I now create a task list for the next day, in order of priority. If the first couple of tasks don’t require further emails, all the better. Now, I arrive at work, knock out the first items on my to-do list, and only then do I open my emails and start responding. By the time I’m caught up in the new messages and time-sucking requests of that day, I’ve at least gotten the ball rolling on the day’s first tasks.
I still make the coffee first, but that’s a habit I’m not sure I’ll ever break.
Fast Response Email Mode
I use Apple’s Mail program, which alerts users to new messages with a small red circle on the application’s icon. That red circle is like a beacon. No matter what I’m in the middle of, I habitually open up the email window and read the new message, usually responding immediately.
This is highly detrimental to productivity. About a year ago, I finally decided to check email at intervals throughout the day. Now, I leave the program closed, opening it whenever I complete a task to catch up on any messages from coworkers and clients that have arrived in the last hour or so since I last checked. I no longer leave my email program open all day long, constantly tempting me to lose focus.
Snoring on the Job
Even after we’ve clocked out, our decisions in the rest of our lives still affect our work environment. If you’re a night owl, staying up until 3 am on a regular basis, you’re simply not going to be as productive at 8 am as your coworker that went to bed at 10 pm. Like it or not, you need to adapt your sleep schedule to your job.
Employers are more flexible than ever about understanding their employees’ personal lives. If you happen to work best after midnight, see if you can negotiate a late start to your work day with your boss. Perhaps they’ll be okay with you coming in at 10 am and leaving at 6 pm, with the understanding that you’re putting in an hour or so at home. It never hurts to ask. And if the schedule simply isn’t flexible, then get to bed. And being hungover is never an acceptable excuse, unless it’s the morning after the office holiday party.
The Messy Desk
Some people are able to be productive amidst chaos. Unfortunately, most of us are not. Start your day with a clean slate. Are there piles of old papers and reports on your desk? Honestly, you’re probably not going to revisit the project today that’s been sitting there for a year. Even if you plan to get to something later, if there’s not a set date for it, clear it off and file it.
The same principle applies to your computer desktop. Create folders to minimize your icons, prioritizing ‘working files’ that you’re actively using. By creating a streamlined, clean workspace, we’re better able to focus on the task at hand.
In a world where we literally take pills to help focus our cluttered minds, sometimes the most effective solutions are the most simple. Distractions at work are natural, but breaking the habits that slow our productivity is crucial to business success.
Think about what it is that slows you down, pinpoint the problem, and determine a solution. Then take action and break the habit!