How to be more productive during work hours

Sandra Busch

We’ll refrain from a lengthy introduction. This is, after all, about being efficient and productive throughout the workday. Below are listed five learned behaviors from people who are able to stretch time and eliminate unnecessary distractions.

They only check their emails a few times a day

There’s a ton of research about the time we spend dawdling in our inbox – the sheer amount is grotesque. One study revealed that it takes 64 seconds on average to get back to work after being interrupted by an email.

If you’re the type to check your email as soon as the notification appears, you’ll lose about a half an hour daily, assuming you just receive 20-30 emails each day. And a lot of us receive far more than that. On top of that, those 64 seconds is actually low-balling it quite a bit. Many studies show numbers much higher than that.

The solution is to decrease the times a day you check your email. And this really shouldn’t be that hard because that chance of you missing anything crucial are slim to none. The key is for you to control your work tools – not for the tools to control you.

If that isn’t motivating you enough, you might be interested to know that your IQ drops ten points when you let yourself be constantly distracted by incoming emails, messages, and calls at work. That’s a bigger reduction in IQ than if you’d been smoking pot heavily prior to age 18.

They focus on the most important first

It sounds so easy. But more often than not, we lose track of what’s important and get lost in the technicalities of our work tasks. It’s just too easy to focus on what’s urgent rather than the things that will actually generate value. We get things done – but often at the expense of getting the right things done.

We need to stop believing in the utopia of ‘done’. Even if we managed to tick off every single item on our to-do list, it’s not as if we’d be sitting at the office at 13.30 on Wednesday unable to track down yet another task that needs to be completed.

Therefore: Stop running around chasing a definitive ‘done’. It doesn’t exist. Instead, focus on prioritizing your tasks, starting with the ones that generate real value and sort out the rest.

They single-task, not multitask

Multitasking will never be an effective work method as long as your job requires deliberation and careful consideration – which it obviously does. Studies show that multitasking causes stress and prevents problems from being solved. Consider the fact that you lose time every time you change your focus.

The solution is obvious – and it’s the complete opposite of multitasking: Single-tasking. Single-tasking allows time for immersion and lets you complete your tasks more effectively.

Singletasking can be achieved with these three simple steps.

Step 1: Pick one task. Yes, just one.

Step 2: Eliminate any distractions. Shut off your email. Switch off your phone. Close the door (close it mentally, if you share an office).

Step 3: Use a timer and decide on a realistic time span to focus on the task at hand. Try something like 20 minutes.

They break big tasks into small tasks

There are incredible gains involved with breaking apart big tasks. When you do, you’ll;

  • procrastinate less because the task is more manageable
  • make fewer mistakes because you’ll be able to focus on constituent parts
  • be able to spare with colleagues because the task is now more workable
  • be better able to plan ahead because you’ll be able to see the bigger picture and not just plunge headlong into an immense beast of a task
  • share knowledge and optimize internal processes easier by breaking down tasks in a systematic way

These are only a few of the advantages involved with breaking big tasks into small ones. But it’s enough for now, seeing as how we also have jobs to get back to.

They surround themselves with peace and quiet

Finally, productive people take charge and create the conditions that enable them to complete their tasks.

Companies often lay down policies for when to call in sick, what clothes to wear and who gets a company phone. It is rare, however, that there are policies for minimizing interruptions regardless of the fact that there’s potential for better results and fewer sick days.

Conservative studies show that we’re interrupted 56 times a day on average. That’s 7 times an hour, of which 80% are considered trivial according to time management experts. Yet another study found that most people actually use 60% or less of available work time.

It’s not that we’re lazy, we just get interrupted by emails, phone calls, questions, private matters, noise, procrastination and our overall lack of discipline. These constant interruptions mean that we spend 11 minutes on average on a project before we get distracted. What’s worse is that it takes a full 25 minutes to return to the project, if we get back to it at all.

If you wish to reduce that absurd number, here are a few ideas:

Turn off your phone. Check your email just three times a day. Shut the door. Put on headphones. Ask your colleagues not to interrupt you. Move your stuff into an empty meeting room and give yourself time to concentrate. These a just a few ideas of how to reduce the unproductive shuttle between work tasks. However you decide to handle it, it is imperative that you do something because interruptions are known to gobble down up to 2 hours of our workday.



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