What’s your biggest productivity buster at work? Maybe it’s going online to check something work-related and falling down a rabbit hole of clicks, links, and status updates. Or, perhaps it’s a quick trip to refill your coffee cup that results in a 20-minute conversation with a colleague about a personal issue. Distractions abound in the office, and they can wreak havoc on productivity. If you regularly find it difficult to get tasks checked off your to do list, follow these tips to avoid time wasters and make the most of your workday.
Reduce interruptions. Identify your most productive hours of the day and do whatever you can to protect them, whether it’s shutting your door or simply blocking the time out on your schedule. Position your desk so you won’t be tempted to gaze up whenever someone strolls down the hall. It may not be great Feng Shui, but it could be good for your concentration.
Manage your messages. Unless your job is to answer the phone each time it rings, you probably have some leeway in deciding whether to take a call or let it go to voice mail. When you are trying to focus, let the caller leave a message. Set aside a time to return phone calls periodically throughout the day. Follow this formula with emails as well. Whenever possible, close your inbox so you are not getting pop-up notifications every time an email arrives. Take 10 minutes at the end of each hour to check and respond to emails.
Organize your stuff. One study found that 66 percent of office workers typically spend up to 30 minutes of time each week, or nearly 76 hours each year, looking for misplaced items, everything from file folders to flash drives. Maintain an organized office, designating space for active projects and files to be archived. Keep the things you need most often within easy reach. Tidy up your desk at the end of the day so you arrive to a fresh work-space each morning. Purge files once a week as projects are completed. Consider hiring a professional organizer to create an easy-to-follow system built around your specific needs and work habits.
Proactively plan lunch. One of the most frustrating daily time wasters is standing in line waiting for your turn to order a sandwich. Bring your lunch to work and find a quiet place to enjoy it. This allows you to control what you eat by packing the foods that make you feel most energetic in the afternoon. You will also be able to spend your lunch break relaxing instead of fighting crowds and rushing to get back to work on time.
Break the cycle of endless meetings.
If your goal can be accomplished with a group email or a quick face-to-face in a colleague’s office, don’t hesitate to do so. If a meeting is truly called for, prepare and distribute an agenda in advance so everyone knows why they’re there and what the purpose is. When people veer off track, guide them back to the agenda: “That’s an interesting thought for discussion later, but right now we’re just going to focus what’s noted on the agenda.” Schedule meetings with a built-in ending time, such as right before lunch. Everyone will be motivated to keep their comments brief and concise.
Be realistic. While there is no way to completely eliminate daily distractions, a little advance planning is the best defense when it comes to protecting your time and productivity at work.
For more of my etiquette tips check out my article, Business Etiquette: Handling Office Distractions on The Huffington Post.