Even with the average Netflix user spending 600 hours annually watching video, most of us agree that there is never quite enough time to get the important stuff done. In an era when it’s possible to do more with less time—thanks to the rise of automation and high-speed connected gadgets—what’s exactly the problem? Here are the most grievous ways we are wasting time and quashing productivity–aside from the obvious habit of binging that popular streaming channel original.
1. Doing Stuff When You’re Tired
Many of us operate by a to-do list, even if that list is unreasonable or even impossible. What exactly drives us to keep chugging along with a set of tasks, even when we’re operating at peak inefficiency? It could be pride, since studies show that most managers don’t find the extra output noticeable. It’s foolish to keep slogging through work, with a need for rest, food, or relaxation. It’s best to take notice and put work aside; even a 15-minute break can get you back on track if closing out the day isn’t an option.
The Solution: Know when to say when. Set your iPhone “Bedtime” clock feature to remind you when it’s the end of your work day–and hold to it. Don’t try to answer one more email. Forget opening ten new tabs of research. Get away from your workstation as quickly as possible and come back to it tomorrow, when you’re fresh and have the mindset that comes with working at 90% efficiency or more.
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2. Surrounding Yourself with Dead Weight
It matters who you hang out with, and this is never truer than at work. Harvard Business Review confirmed the theory that you are only as good as the company you keep, especially when that company is killing it at work. Performance “spillover” (the phenomenon of efficiency and quality of work making an impact on the closest person in a cubicle) was documented in the study of over 2,000 workers. The closer you sit to a rock star, the more likely you are to be influenced by their successes.
The Solution: Identify those that are most likely to motivate and inspire, and choose to spend your most productive hours in their presence. Working from home? Join an online Mastermind group of business owners with similar goals in a complimentary niche. The accountability can create opportunities to learn from one another and can have a positive effect on your work.
3. Choosing Discomfort
External comfort factors can adversely affect your concentration levels and efficiency. That’s why office environment experts focus so much on the ergonomics and the aesthetics of the workplace. It’s not just because it’s good for you (which helps them keep employee health costs low), but it also keeps employees chugging along at a brisk pace. If your workstation is anything but cozy, you’ll want to tackle the job of making it a snug place to work.
The Solution: For road warriors and entrepreneurs who work from home, it’s not practical to demand comfort all the time. There are some things you can keep constant, however. Some of the gadgets available today, from the mouse designed to reduce carpal tunnel injuries to a lumbar pillow that helps you maintain posture, can all add to the experience of working wherever and whenever. Invest a small amount in upgrading your gear on a regular basis with relief in mind.
4. Ignoring Your Health
Health is one of those few life situations that almost never resolves on its own, and yet business owners are notorious for shooing it away in favor of working more. But a recent Population Health Management study put a dollar cost to productivity lost due to health, and the results cannot be ignored. In fact, employees with health conditions (including migraine, back pain, heart burn, cancer, and allergies) had productivity costs ranging from $15 – $1,601 more than a worker without these health issues. This included the costs associated with “presenteeism,” which is when a sick worker shows up to work and does their best while suffering from a health condition.
The Solution: Preventative health measures cannot be overstressed, especially in a time when health care costs are rising annually. Healthy workers get more done and with less disruption to both their work and home environments. Implementing a “health first” policy in the office, with incentives for healthy actions (such as immunizations, health education, and active lifestyle goals) can have an immediate effect on productivity.
5. Trying to be Too Productive
You may have friends who are in a constant state of trying to better themselves. This can be admirable; you can’t grow if you don’t learn. Consuming yourself with the hottest movement in productivity, however, is an exercise in being unproductive. Time spent reading a business guru’s book on getting it all done could be used to actually get stuff done. Read enough of these books, and you could have written your own book with that invested time.
The Solution: Pick one or two gurus that you respect, and sign up for their most digestible tips. Download a podcast to be enjoyed during a commute. Read the “abridged” version of the book or, better yet, give yourself some time to work out your own system before you abandon it for the hottest productivity trend. Most self-proclaimed experts are just normal people who shut out noise and focus on the essentials. Don’t give them magical attributes or too much of your time.
6. Multi-Tasking (Or Not)
We’ve heard the advice: multi-tasking can be bad for your brain. Worse yet, it can take you longer to do some jobs when you’re not solely focused on them. But this rule is not actually a rule, as it can be applied differently to different people–and jobs. Most people can handle eating a granola bar while walking while listening to a recorded budget meeting. Doing intricate mathematical calculations while handling a customer services call, however, is an altogether different situation.
The Solution: Make a list of the tasks you are doing whenever you find yourself grumbling “this is a colossal waste of time. What’s for lunch?” These are likely jobs your brain is not fully engaged in and could become candidates for multitasking. The next time you’re facing one, see if it can be bundled with just one other essential but not career-making task. Never do more than two, and don’t bundle any task that–if handled poorly–could cost you your job.
7. Not Tracking Time
Finally, it would be foolish to ignore those 600 hours the average Netflix user spends consuming media, but binge-watchers aren’t the only ones who have the potential to be more productive. Any hobby or passion has the potential to be a time trap, and many business owners find that the biggest time wasters are associated with work–not play. Only when tasks and time are tracked is it possible to get a handle on productivity.
The Solution: Even those who despise micro-managing can benefit from a simple time tracker. Most software and billing systems include some time tracking for client and customer work in their invoicing features, but savvy entrepreneurs of any type can add a handy app to their smart phones for accountability of every minute. Tools like Toggl show you every second spent on work. If something appears out of whack, you will have the documentation to take action.