In my last blog How to maintain focus I wrote about how to maintain your focus for the best productivity possible, another way you can improve your productivity is by removing things that can be blocking our productivity. In this article we’ll talk about “time drains” – things that eat away at your time and keep you from getting things done.
Keep in mind that time drains aren’t necessarily time wasters. But they’re things you need to control and keep in check. They won’t harm your productivity if you can effectively manage them.
We mentioned turning off notifications when we discussed focus, but for many of us that’s not enough. You may also be a compulsive email checker, quickly checking your inbox throughout the day. Email is important and you need to know if someone is trying to get in touch with you, but it can also be a time drain.
There are several ways you can better manage your email and reduce the time you spend on it. One is to establish a time during the day for handling emails. Some emails only need a quick reply from you, but others are more involved. Create a scheduled time for reading and responding to these important emails.
For emails that may get long and involved, send the person a quick message telling them that you’ve received the message and you’ll send a detailed reply later. If there’s a particularly urgent email, add responding to it to your to-do list. Decide on its priority level and add it to your things to do.
Another method for controlling email time and improve your productivity is to set a time limit, similar to what you did with the kitchen timer. Check your email for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the afternoon. When looking at your inbox, quickly choose the message that’s most urgent or important. You only have twenty minutes, so you need to prioritize and make decisions quickly.
You can also save time by better organizing your email inbox. Create a folder labeled “important” for high priority items, and check this folder first each time. Separate your work and personal email accounts so that personal emails don’t distract you. Create an ‘away’ message telling the sender that you’ll get back to them as soon as possible. You can also create email templates and ‘canned responses’ for similar emails or email responses you commonly send.
It often happens that you get online for a specific piece of information and before you know it you’re looking at funny cat memes. The Internet offers a wealth of distractions to keep you from getting things done. When you get on the Internet improve your productivity, by keeping one goal in mind (that specific bit of information or the one task you need to accomplish). Avoid looking at sidebars and close the browser after finding the information or completing the task. If there’s something else you want to see, bookmark it and go back to it later.
Social media is a particularly dangerous time drain. Try logging out of your social media accounts and only log in when you’re ready to focus on it for a specific length of time. Turn off notifications from social media apps on your phone, and use any downtime, such as waiting in line at a store, to respond to messages via your mobile device. If social media is part of what you need to do each day, add social media time to your daily schedule and stay on task when using it.
Phone calls are often important. You may have no choice but to answer the phone. However, you can minimize the negative effects and improve your productivity by keeping your calls focused on important business. If it’s not urgent, schedule a time to call the person back later in the day when you have more time, or let it go to a voice mail message that tells people when they can expect a reply. You can also mitigate phone calls by delegating the phones to someone else in your organization or to an outsourced answering service and letting them know when it is okay to interrupt you.
Meetings also might be unavoidable. However, you can keep meetings to a minimum. Only discuss issues that can’t be easily discussed over email. Organize meetings so that they are as short as possible and have a clear starting and ending time. Create a detailed agenda and timing for the meetings so that they stay focused on important business. And make sure people know what they need to do before attending the meeting.
If meetings are usually held in person, see if you can use Google Hangouts or Skype instead so that everyone doesn’t have to be physically present. This can also help with scheduling, as your participants may have more free time as long as they don’t need to travel.
One way to make meetings more productive is to agree on a regular meeting time each week or month. This cuts down on the time needed for scheduling. You can also save the time emailing back and forth. When there is something you need to discuss, you can save it for the regular meeting time, but only have the meeting if there is a need for it, you don’t have to have the meeting just because it’s in the diary.
There are several ways to handle coworkers and improve your productivity, if they present a distraction. One is to create a work environment where you’re as physically isolated as possible. This limits contact to only the times when you seek each other out.
Don’t be afraid to say no to requests or to tell people that you’re busy. Either offer your coworker a time when you could handle the situation, or refer them to someone else who might be available. You don’t want to seem like you’re shutting them out. Offer whatever help you can to get their problem solved.
You may want to schedule times to chat, socialize and blow off steam with your coworkers. This could be a nice break to help you keep your focus during working time.
Many tasks are a time drain, even though they need to be done. These are tasks that are routine and mundane, and that anyone can do. Although essential, these tasks take away from more important tasks such as problem solving, creative work or critical thinking. They may take away from tasks that require your special skills; in other words, tasks only you can do.
There are four ways to get rid of these mundane tasks and improve your productivity:
- Eliminate: Ask yourself whether the task really needs to be done. Does it actually deliver any tangible result or is it just something you do out of habit? If it’s the latter, cross it off your to-do list permanently.
- Delegate: Find someone else in your organization who can do the work for you. Find someone who is less busy or who has fewer specialized tasks and reassign the work to them.
- Outsource: Find help outside of your organization for routine tasks. You can outsource many types of online tasks to a virtual assistant.
- Automate: Look for online tools, software programs and organizational tools that can help you handle repetitive work.
A great number of our time drains are simply mindless entertainment. Especially if you’re working at home, you may find video games, TV, music, social media, YouTube videos, kids, online solitaire and virtually anything else fun and entertaining eating away at your time.
We need these distractions. They give us pleasure and take our minds off of the work we have to do. It’s okay to spend some of your time indulging in these leisure activities, but you just need to be in control of it.
One idea is to indulge in your favorite fun activities during your breaks. When you’re losing focus or coming to the end of a set working time, dive into some mindless entertainment to give yourself a break. Just make sure that you can easily pull yourself away from it and get back to work. You may want to set a timer for the end of your breaks as well as the beginning.
Another idea is to set aside a certain time of day to indulge to your heart’s content. Naturally, the end of the day is perfect for this. After lunch is another good time to take an extended fun break.
As we have already mentioned time drains aren’t necessarily time wasters. But they’re things you need to control and keep in check if you’re serious about wanting to improve your productivity.
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Till Next Time
Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor