Because time is your most valuable commodity, you must protect it at all costs. Unfortunately, you can’t hire a personal bodyguard to do this for you. Instead, you’re the only defense between you and time thieves. Here is how to arrest these twelve time and productivity thieves.
On the plus side, you can easily spot those bandits from miles away. TV, social media, and low-income tasks are some of the most common culprits. But, sometimes, these thieves can rob your time and productivity from right under your nose, such as the following 12 crooks.
1. Constant interruptions.
I highly doubt that we intend to let interruptions steal away our time and energy. After all, they just tend to pop-up since we’re so easily accessible. As a consequence, they are without question the leading time thief you have to thwart.
Why? Well, because they’re so frequent and detrimental. In fact, research has found that when you get distracted, it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 minutes to regain focus.
To put that another way, you take 30-seconds to see what message you just received. Harmless, right? Nope. That quick glance at your phone has derailed you for the next 25-minutes.
Even worse? If that happens throughout the day, then how can you possibly get anything done? I mean, just 2 interruptions and 2 recoveries will set you back over 2 hours.
What’s more, this can also influence your health and well-being.
“Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood, and lower productivity,” writes Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine, in The New York Times. Additionally, this builds-up attention residue. Eventually, this “adds to our cognitive load as we keep switching our focus of attention and trying to reorient to new topics,” explains Mark. “Once overloaded, we tend to do more lightweight activities.”
How can you stop interruptions in their tracks? The basics, like turning off notifications and working in isolation, are a start. I would also make the most out of your calendar. For example, sharing it with others so that they know your availability.
2. Inability to say “no.”
“As Gary Keller points out in The ONE Thing when you say yes to something you are inherently saying no to many other things,” explain The ONE Thing Team. “If you don’t, you end up getting pulled in so many directions it’s like you never said yes to your ONE Thing.”
The problem is that there is a negative association with the word “no.” But, that doesn’t always have to be the case. “It’s simply a matter of prioritizing what matters most. And when no is said in the right way, it can even be turned into a positive.”
To make this easier, first determine what you should decline. Usually, this would be anything that can be outsourced, are distracting, or unhealthy. Additionally, this could also include actions that don’t align with your vision or out of your control.
Next, practice the act of saying “no” by:
- Never feel guilty for saying “no.”
- Planning your “no’s” in advance. For example, if you always work on your priorities from 9 am to noon, you wouldn’t say “yes” to a phone during that block.
- Taking baby steps by declining low-risk situations.
- Consulting your calendar by committing.
- Being brief, polite, and firm.
- Offering alternatives. For example, suggesting a different time to meet or referring a colleague to help on a project.
3. Personal disorganization.
On the surface, you might assume that it is about keeping a neat and clean workspace. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. After all, clutter can be distracting, and you’ll protect your time by not looking for misplaced items.
However, I’m actually talking about getting organized so that you can optimize your time and preserve your energy. The reason is that when you’re not disorganized, you know exactly what to do and how to get it done.
If organization isn’t in your wheelhouse, Choncé Maddox has the following suggestions to correct that:
- Make a to-do-list of what you need to accomplish tomorrow.
- Write down your goals so that you have a sense of purpose.
- Pack a lunch to save money and reduce decisions.
- Do a brief cleanup like throwing trash away and putting things back where they belong.
- Make time to exercise to counter a sedentary lifestyle and enhance your energy.
- Layout your clothes so that this is one less decision you have to make.
- Turn your devices off when planning out out your day, week, or month.
4. Unclear goals.
I like to think of goals like GPS. They give you step-by-step instructions on how to get from one location to the next. Without it, you may end up making a wrong turn resulting in driving miles to nowhere.
Just like the directions you’re given, your goals should be clear and well defined. If you’re still lost, they should be based on what you want to achieve and how you’ll commit to it. In most cases, using something like the SMART Formula can help you get started and remain motivated.
5. Fractured focus.
“Fractured focus is the division of your attention across multiple tasks,” writes David Perez for Evernote. For example, you may be doing some research online only to fall into the Wiki rabbit role. Next thing you know, you’ve just lost an hour and a half.
Why does this happen? One reason is that you’ve depleted your attention and energy reserves. Because of this, you’re going to be more prone to distractions.
The good news? You can take your focus back. For starters, schedule your most cognitively challenging tasks when you’re most productive. Additionally, you want to remove temptations, like blocking distracting apps or websites when working.
Other recommendations would be to focus on one task at a time and letting your mind wander. And, don’t forget to schedule breaks so that you can restore your attention through meditation or going for a walk outside.
6. Fear of chaos.
Is there a more ominous word than chaos? Not if you pride yourself on being a productive planner. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plans.
While natural and inevitable, chaos can stop us dead in our tracks. Since we’re frozen in fear, we can’t progress on our priorities. And, we end up wasting valuable time panicking.
The ONE Thing Team suggests that you can handle this “by letting the smaller stuff slide and not fearing the chaos it creates.” I’d also add that you add time blocks in your calendar. It’s a simple way to protect your priorities while adding flexibility to deal with the chaos.
Conventional wisdom has often proclaimed that a person procrastinates because they’re lazy. Others believe that we put things off because we’re experiencing time management problems. In reality, we often drag our feet because we haven’t managed our emotions.
“We procrastinate when a task stirs up feelings like anxiety, confusion or boredom,” clarifies Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “And although it makes us feel better today, we end up feeling worse — and falling behind — tomorrow.”
The solution? Change “your habits around emotion management,” adds Grant. You can do this through self-compassion, reconsidering when you work on difficult tasks, and working with others.
If you’re still procrastinating, practice mindfulness and align your to-do-lists with your values. And, when all else fails, just get started. When you do, you’ll build up the momentum to keep going.
According to an article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, the average executive spends 23 hours in meetings each week. Considering that most of us work around 47 hours per week, that means we’re spending half of our time in meetings.
While some events are beneficial, the truth is that we waste a lot of time in unnecessary meetings. In fact, 71% of respondents in one said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
Before scheduling or accepting a meeting request, make sure that it’s 100% necessary. If not, consider alternatives like a short phone call. If it is, keep it short, stick to the agenda, and troubleshoot any problems in advance — like testing software before the start of the meeting.
9. Poor health habits.
You aren’t surprised by this, are you? Just think about how well you perform when you’re exhausted, feel like trash, or struggling mentally. You’re definitely not in peak condition.
As I’m sure you’ve heard ad nauseam, make your health and well-being a top priority. Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Engage in physical activity, avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms, and eat a nutritious diet. And, please do not hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
10. Bad communication and task distribution.
Whenever collaborating or delegating tasks, you can save everyone a lot of time, and ibuprofen is clearly stating guidelines and expectations. Moreover, you need to make sure that the right person is working on the right tasks. And, if there are any issues, make yourself available so that they can be addressed immediately.
11. States of emergency.
Emergenices, just like interruptions, will happen. However, you can avoid full-fledged disasters by preventing a crisis in the first place. You can accomplish this by identifying your priorities, defining objectives, and making better decisions.
You could also have continuous plans in place. For instance, if an employee gets sick, know who will step-in and sub for them. And, make sure to leave some white space in your calendar so that you can shuffle your schedule around if need be.
12. Unsupportive environment.
You may have never realized this, but your environment plays a huge role in your life. For instance, it’s been found that if a close friend gains weight, you have a 57% chance of becoming obese as well.
So, if you surround yourself with toxic individuals, then you are more likely to follow suit. Instead, spend more time with those who are supportive and goal-oriented. It probably would be an assist if you can hold each other accountable too.
John’s goal in life is to make people’s lives much more productive. Upping productivity allows us to spend more time doing the things we enjoy most. John was recently recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as being one of the top marketers in the World. John is co-founder and CEO of Calendar.