Stop Wasting Time: How to Be More Productive at Work

April 6, 2015

You sit at your desk for somewhere around eight hours each day—but how much work are you actually getting done? A quick Google search for articles on time management suggests that productivity is a major concern across the board; people are concerned that they’re not accomplishing as much as they should be, but they don’t necessarily know how to fix the problem. It’s not necessarily an easy problem to fix. It really boils down to daily habits—breaking bad ones, forming better ones. Some of these habits may be fairly major. Some may be minor, yet even seemingly trivial habits can be difficult to reshape. Nevertheless, getting more done at work is certainly possible. Consider some of these tips as you think about which habits to break and which to form.

The Little Things

Productivity boils down, in large part, to your perspective. Many employees think that multitasking makes them more productive—that by doing many things at once, they can ultimately accomplish more. This is not true, and in fact productivity studies have roundly debunked it. Multitasking typically means that you do your work with less focus and less aplomb; you get less work complete, and what you do complete can be suboptimal. So how can you change? It starts with a paradigm shift. Recognize that you’re going to have a more productive day if, for instance, you only check e-mail once or twice instead of checking it constantly. This paradigm shift may carry over into the way you plan your day. You may be unused to scheduling e-mail time, or scheduling social media time, because those are things you just do throughout the day. Being really productive may require you to allot 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day for these things—and abstaining from them in between.

Hatching a Plan

In fact, scheduling and planning are both hallmarks of truly productive people. Taking 10 or 20 minutes each morning to map out your day may sound like a waste of time, but it actually ensures that you make more thoughtful and elaborate use of your day. Take time in the morning to make a list of goals and priorities—things you need to do today prioritized over things that could be pushed to tomorrow—and then segment your time accordingly. Try segmenting like things together. For instance, schedule a two-hour block for phone calls rather than scheduling them intermittently throughout the day. This keeps your mind focused and removes abrupt transitions. Also spend some time each morning, and perhaps after each lunch break or major task, simply sitting and regaining your calm. Breathe, regain focus, go over your goals once more, and prepare yourself for the next bout of sustained productivity.

Protecting Your Time

A big part of productivity is being protective of your time—and hedging yourself off from things that are not truly necessary. Meetings are often a big culprit. There is much to be said for face to face communication, but many companies and executives go overboard. Is it truly necessary to meet and spend an hour talking with someone? Could it be done more effectively over Skype or the phone? Is it something that really could be handled in an e-mail? Be relentless about turning down meetings that you see as gratuitous. Learning to say no is a big deal for being productive—tough, but essential for keeping your time as truly yours.

Get to Know Yourself

If you really want to be radical about all this, consider this: Get a notebook, carry it around for a week or so, and make notes about where each minute of your time is spent. Then review the results—but be prepared for a surprise. You may find that you’re wasting way more time than you ever thought on, say, social media. And this, of course, will only point you toward some more bad habits to break in your quest for productivity.

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