Time is our only truly finite resource. Experts would have us consider it a valuable commodity to be invested, not spent, with a view to bringing valuable returns.
Which is great if you’re immune to the uncanny magnetism exercised by cat videos on YouTube or the opportunity to binge-watch an entire series on Netflix. The reality for most of us is that time flies (you’re having fun, right?) and productivity slips away until we wake up with a stress headache and a vague sense that maybe sitting up to watch those last three episodes might have been too much.
In one way or another, we all need ways to increase our productivity – and reduce stress at the same time. Viral videos are addictive for those of us looking for a little light entertainment. Social media is catnip for extroverts. We check our phones so often that we are plagued by “phantom messages”, imagining the siren call of the phone’s vibration even when all is quiet. And with so many ways to occupy time without even needing to leave the house (or meet another human being face to face), is it any wonder when minutes or hours pass quietly by, leaving us wondering what happened to the day?
It’s often a culmination of tiny but insidious things that steal away our time and leave us unproductive. But the good news is that small changes can help take back some control and get back in charge of your life. Check out these common productivity killers, and if any sound familiar, it might be time to get thinking about how you invest what precious time you have.
You might think that multitasking is key to improving your productivity but, unfortunately, it’s not. In more ways than one, it kills your ability to deliver productively.
What we tend to think of as multitasking is actually rapidly switching between tasks. Our brains can only manage to genuinely multitask when we are completing the most regular and mundane of physical activities. Walking and talking is fine, but trying to work on two mentally demanding things at once is not – even watching TV while trying to read an email is futile.
Trying to multitask actually damages your overall productivity because, although each switch from one thought process to another only takes a fraction of a second, by repetition, this time cost builds up. The scary fact is that multitasking can damage your overall productivity by 40%, according to American Psychology Association.
If this is your productivity drain, try to increase your focus, and therefore efficiency, with the Pomodoro Technique. Simply choose a task you have to complete regularly, and work on this in isolation for 25 minutes at a time before giving yourself a five-minute break. You should see the sort of improvement you can get by applying some focus to your everyday tasks.
2. Failing to Get Your Priorities Right
Realizing that you can only truly work on one thing at a time is a good reminder of the need to prioritize. How often do you look at your to-do list for the day and see there’s something you could ditch or delegate? We often get caught up in the rhythm of everyday activities that we forget to prioritize our actions based on both importance and urgency. In an ideal world, you will be able to spend most of your time on the important tasks before they become more urgent.
If you fail to do this, you can be sure you’re killing your own productivity by operating for too much of the time in “emergency” mode, trying to catch up with tight deadlines and overdue tasks.
We are far more susceptible to distractions when we do not really want to get on and do the task that is in front of us. If we are not so keen on the activities that are sitting on our to-do list, then procrastination is a common productivity killer. In the long run, you need to evaluate what is causing the urge to procrastinate. It is one thing if you have a few dull repetitive tasks that drain your mental reserves but another entirely if every moment you spend in your office causes you to figure out innovative ways to avoid the day job.
If a slight touch of procrastination is your problem, then try to improve your focus and remove the familiar things which cause your mind to wander, and you’re on track for superhuman productivity. If you find that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get energized about the work you have to do over an extended period, then it’s time to kick-start your job search and get out of there.
Which distractions are the biggest issues for you? For example, research has found that 70% of office emails are viewed within six seconds, suggesting they’re a massive distraction for many of us.
If you work in an open plan office, then the conversations around you can be difficult to tune out of when you want to focus on your own work. Or maybe you have a succession of colleagues coming and asking for “a quick word”?
Individually, none of these things are a big deal but, when they happen day in and day out, they can be a huge drain that you need to address. Learn to say “no” to that colleague who always needs something, and put your headphones on to drown out the chat. If email is pulling you away from your study or work, then impose some structure, checking your mail at specified points in the day only.
5. Lack of Structure
Sometimes, a daily or weekly structure is imposed, for better or worse. But with more and more people working in a freelance capacity, teams working with fewer supervisors, and remote working becoming the new normal, structure is an alien idea to many of us.
And that might work just great. Perhaps you’re the type of person who can pick up a task at any time of the day or night, and just set about it. Maybe pulling an all-nighter to hit a tight deadline gives you energy. Maybe you don’t have much of a social life to cram in there, anyhow.
If that doesn’t sound like much fun, then setting up a daily structure could be the prop you need to get your productivity back on track. Figure out what time of day is your best thinking time, and tackle the more demanding tasks then. Cut yourself some slack at other periods, and you will still get the work done but without the roller coaster of adrenaline.
At one time or another, we are all guilty of killing our own productivity.
There are a million ways to allow time to slip away from ourselves, to follow little distractions, or put off the mundane and boring tasks that dominate work sometimes.
But, unless you’re a millionaire, chances are you will have to figure out ways around these productivity drains to make sure you can get your day job done productively. If only so we can get back to the real work of watching back-to-back episodes on Netflix.
What kills your productivity in the workplace, and what do you do to manage? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments section below!