For the better part of seven years I worked from home, and in that time I discovered just about every possible way to waste time instead of working. Video games, baseball on TV, friends swinging by after work, cleaning the kitchen (yes, I would clean to avoid work). If it wasn’t on my laptop, it helped me avoid working.
Even today, working in an office 9-5, I come across the same productivity killers that once threatened to derail my business. Here are 8 of those time-sinks and how I overcome them to get more done on a daily basis.
My email inbox
Email is the single biggest time sucker in business. It’s addictive and never ending, and worse than all that, it doesn’t actually help you get anything done.
When emailing a colleague or client, you’re talking about work, rather than actually doing it. In doing so, you’re addressing other people’s problems rather than your own.
To keep myself away from spending too much time on email, I’ve instituted three simple changes.
1. I only check email three times a day – once an hour after I get to work, once after eating lunch, and once right before I leave for the day to ensure I didn’t miss anything.
2. I use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule replies and remind myself to follow up on emails I’ve sent. This allows me to send all of my replies at once so people can’t reply instantly.
3. If a response requires more than a paragraph, I’ll make a really quick call and then write a shorter email to form the requisite paper trail.
The result of all this? I’ve shortened email time from two hours a day to just under one hour. I know this because I have RescueTime installed tracking how much time I spend on email each day – something I highly recommend you do as well.
Are you fan of Gmail, you’ll enjoy this as well.
Staying up late and sleeping less is one of the biggest productivity killers out there. The less you sleep, the tougher it is to get moving, the slower you’ll actually get things done, and the harder you will crash in the afternoon.
It also forces you to become dependent on caffeine to get moving, a chemical notorious for the ups and downs it causes in your productivity. Not everyone needs a full eight hours of sleep to be at their best, but make sure you’re getting as much as you need and not relying on chemicals to make up the difference.
I like to get things done. But I also like to get them done well. So at times, I’d get stuck in a sort of limbo in which I could theoretically be done with a task, but am not ready to sign off on its quality.
True perfectionism matters and can help you get the most out of your work, but avoid spending an extra 80% of your time on a project for a mere 20% additional results. At the same time, be aware of the trap most people fall into in which they confuse perfectionism with procrastination.
When I worked at home, the kitchen was one of the worst places for me to go to. I would spend hours there making elaborate lunches, hunting in the fridge for no good reason, looking longingly at the beer I knew I shouldn’t drink yet, and even doing the dishes.
Set “off limits” locations in your home and office during work hours to ensure you don’t get distracted from what you should be doing. I’ve set aside three twenty minute chunks throughout the day for these distractions and get all the fridge-hunting I need done in those times.
Planning…and more planning
Planning is important. It allows you to focus on your goals and task lists, organize your next actions, and ensure you’re not missing anything important.
But much like email, it’s easy to start spending more time updating and organizing your calendar than actually doing the work described in it. To combat this, I set aside one day every three weeks to review my current tasks getting left behind.
An unfortunate side effect of “productivity” is that many people keep themselves busy for the sake of being busy. Cleaning the desk, organizing email, making unnecessary phone calls, calling unnecessary meetings, and otherwise indulging in excess busywork can kill your attempts at getting anything substantial done.
To overcome this, I set aside one hour a day during which I delegate all small and “busyish” tasks to be completed in a single surge. I focus on my biggest and most important tasks first thing in the morning (marked as such in my to do list) and save the rest for later. If anything falls off, it’s the small stuff.
The simplest productivity system is to clear away the clutter in your life and just get things done. But that’s not necessarily the easiest. We all want hacks and shortcuts to get more done with the time we have, and when those tips give us tough advice, we tend to ignore them. For years, my to do list was a poorly managed Word Document because I didn’t want to make the tough choices needed to have a true GTD to do list.
Time spent hunting for productivity hacks, trying out yet another to do list app, or reorganizing your email filters for the third time in a month is time wasted – time that could have been spent actually doing things.
Good productivity hacks enhance the system you already have. If you are not yet productive and don’t have a trustworthy to do list, then it is time to create a system that works for you. When that’s done, you can move to the next step of streamlining and enhancing your system.
Staying on target throughout the day
The average day is an obstacle course of productivity killing distractions – emails, calendar updates, meetings, cluttered desks, and fridges full of goodies that beckon you to ignore your most pressing tasks.
With a few simple tweaks and mindfulness of the potency of these productivity killers, you can stay on target, get more done and build a system that works for you.
About the author: Anthony Chatfield is the Director of Strategy for an NYC inbound marketing agency and a three time entrepreneur, having worked with business owners and startups in more than 20 countries executing content strategy. He co-produces a podcast about board games, writes short eBooks on productivity tips, and publishes new content weekly on productivity and inbound marketing on his blog, AnthonyChatfield.com.
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