Being at work and actually working are very different animals. Here are the big five known barriers to getting stuff done, and the easiest ways to work around them.
1. You’ve got mail
Sure, email is a necessity and social media keeps you informed, but in the workplace both can tank your productivity. According to Adobe’s 2019 Email Usage Study, people spend around five hours a day checking email — a figure unlikely to have reduced since the widely adopted move to hybrid work.
The cure is a self-imposed schedule in which you only allow yourself to check and respond to email at certain times of the day — say, early morning, lunchtime and late afternoon. If you know nothing urgent is likely to land in your inbox, turn off email and social notifications on your desktop computer and on your phone.
Unsubscribe from email lists that don’t serve you or have these auto-filtered to a folder you can delve into at your leisure during down-time. And put that neighborhood WhatsApp group on mute.
If you really struggle with the cold turkey approach to social media usage, a distraction blocker tool such as Freedom can help, while for Mac users who are hardcore about focus, the SelfControl distraction blocker is impossible to undo once its timer is set.
2. Task juggling
On the face of it, multitasking seems like the ultimate productivity hack. As you dive into several tasks all at once, you feel like the very model of efficiency: you’ve nailed this.
Unfortunately, spreading your focus across several tasks can lure you into one of the deepest time sinks — self-distraction. As your cognitive bandwidth runs out, you lose your grasp on that flow state you need for maximum productivity.
Instead of juggling items on your to-do list, it’s time to switch to mono-tasking. Smaller items can be tackled first using the Two-Minute Rule, which involves completing tasks that are two minutes or less, as well as taking two minutes to get started on small tasks that you may have been putting off, leaving uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in focused work for the most important tasks.
Your working day can be transformed with the help of the Pomodoro technique, a time-management hack in which you set a timer for a task, take a break, and then repeat, followed by a longer break after four sessions.
3. “Have you got a second?”
Phone calls and colleagues “stopping by” your desk will slow down your pace and drain your productivity. Try allotting small windows of your day to return phone calls, while colleagues can gently be alerted that you are too busy to chat if you use headphones and set your online status to “busy” or “do not disturb”.
4. Meeting fatigue
Too-regular meetings have long been a productivity blocker, pot-holing the workday and limiting opportunities to get back “in the zone” before the next one is scheduled.
As a rule of thumb, in-house meetings should be a last resort when other methods of communication aren’t measuring up. The daily team stand-up could become a weekly or every other day catch-up, for example.
Meeting invitations should follow the “prepare and share” principle: include a clear agenda, specify talking points and offer a definitive goal outcome. This should prevent aimless discussion or worse still, the need for yet another meeting.
5. Job apathy
If you find your usual self-motivation is waning, you may have outgrown your role. Human beings often feel at their happiest when challenged and even the most consistent performers will eventually discover they’ve been doing the same job too well for too long.
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