In a perfect world, our jobs would be so challenging and engaging that we’d show up, hunker down, get creative, and clock out without losing focus for even a minute.
Unfortunately, we live in the real world, so distractions from a myriad of sources are simply part of the daily routine. Time management isn’t a skill that’s often taught in the classroom, and every workplace environment has a different definition for what’s considered “wasting time.” For the most part, workers are left to their own devices (no pun intended) to balance productivity and daily breaks.
From the technology in our pockets to the teammate sitting right next to us, we’re constantly enticed to spend our time not doing work, at work. Here are five all-too-common time black holes that pull us away from being as productive as we could be, and how to get stuff done in spite of them.
1. Transition Rituals
We build too much decompression time into our days in the form of transitional bumpers that ease us in and out of work-related tasks. Does this sound familiar: I have a meeting in 10 minutes. Why get engrossed in another project only to be interrupted? Might as well seek out a funny tweet with that time. And once the meeting is over, you can’t just sit right back down and start working again, so why not give yourself 15 minutes of Facebook cool-down time?
Transitions are killing your productivity.
Yes, social media and the internet are general time-sucks by their very nature. But it’s more how we use them while at the office that pulls our focus. By actually scheduling short (again, short) bursts of mind turn-off during the day, with a firm start and end point, you can still catch up on your celebrity news and fantasy picks in one chunk without it bleeding into every other important thing you have to do.
2. Your Overloaded Daily Calendar
Productivity might actually be killing your productivity. Doing more and multitasking with work projects can lead to burnout quickly, and having too many tasks to juggle simultaneously can also seriously hamper your ability to do any one of them well. Additionally, research has also shown that it can actually be harmful to our brains and cost companies billions of dollars.
For some people, quantity of efficiency is not fulfilling, even if they’re checking multiple items off a to-do list daily. What they really seek is quality of creativity, which can only be achieved with a clear focus and an intention to get into the “flow” zone.
If you find that your job just can’t provide you the inspiration you need to balance productivity with creativity, then you might be in the wrong position for your skillset or your temperament. That’s okay too—take inventory of your situation and decide if you might not be more effective doing something else.
3. Meetings on Meetings on Meetings
No one likes meetings. When they’re scheduled, they may seem like a good idea to get everyone’s brains in the same room. But by the time they roll around, they end up pulling those brains away from whatever they were ruminating on. Whenever an activity becomes a trope and the butt-end of it’s-funny-because-it’s-true jokes, it’s probably more harm than it’s worth. What’s accomplished in a status meeting can probably be done in a Slack channel, or via an honest-to-goodness drop-in by a manager to an employee’s desk to catch him or her up in five minutes or fewer.
If meetings are a must, try scheduling them to end about 10 minutes before the hour. Not only will it help you stay on track, it can help to avoid the domino effect if one runs behind, putting you more behind, and so on.
4. The Magnetic Pull of Your Smartphone
Devices have blurred the line between work and distraction, since we can find ourselves engrossed in plenty of both, on multiple screens. Nothing takes our eyes off our laptop quite like a ding from the phone on our desk. Pretty soon a harmless text from a significant other leads to a 10 minute Instagram wormhole, and we forget where we are. Even when no one is buzzing us, we still feel the buzz.
Simply quieting your notifications or storing your device somewhere outside of an arm’s reach can quell the temptation to check it as often. This one’s all about willpower.
5. Chatty Co-workers
Technology has made it easier to connect with our co-workers. Some of the biggest tech innovations in recent years have centered around making office communication simpler, which means we’re spending more time than ever finding the perfect Giphy to summarize our feelings on the recent client proposal deck.
A little bit of office camaraderie is great for company culture, but when you’re locked in trying to get an assignment done in the late afternoon so you can leave on time, nothing zaps momentum like a visit from your neighbor, coffee in hand. In a study of workplace distractions, gossip with co-workers ranked just below cell phones as the second most disruptive happening.
Noisy peers also ranked highly, as did the aforementioned drop-in. Chances are your cohorts mean well, but it wouldn’t hurt to establish a clear signal that you’re not in a chit-chatty mood. Headphones are a good start, even if they’re not plugged in.