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Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

Picture this: you’re sitting at your desk, hunched over your computer, then suddenly you catch a glimpse of you clock—it’s 12:25pm. You swear it was only 8:30am when you put down your coffee mug and opened Gmail. But you don’t recall the slightest what you have been doing in the morning, and there’re still 53 tasks to on your to-do list, unchecked.

This is when you realize there’s something really wrong with your productivity, and you’ve got to find out why this is happening…

Let’s go through the following things together and see if you’ve actually been doing any of these:

Many people make checking emails the first thing they do at work only because of the illusion of having completed more.

But you should know that emails most likely are not the most important piece of work, and such false sense of accomplishment can be dangerous. You may end up spending more time on your inbox than you can imagine, making the rest of the day a rush.

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The problem is that you have no control over the order of emails in your inbox,[1] you only respond to them passively. This forces you to put what’s truly important or urgent on hold while drowning in emails.

And very likely, checking emails is just a way to escape from real work (remember those 53 other things on your to-do list?).

If you don’t set a goal and expected time to complete a task, you’ll likely spend much more time and energy than you need.

Goal setting allows you to better manage your time, and is crucial to maximizing your productivity. A goal tells you which direction to go, and where to go eventually.[2] It helps you focus on your way forward. If you don’t have a clear goal, you may find yourself wandering around and not making progress.

Also, committing yourself to a time limit gives you motivation to keep pushing. Do not allow yourself to go slow or switch tasks until the one at hand is finished. That way, you’ll be able to take control of your time and get to the end of that to-do list fast.

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When it’s difficult to visualize the possible outcome of work, we’re likely to waste time on things that have little impact on productivity.

If we don’t have a clear expectation on how we want the completed works to be like, it’s easy for us to want to make it even more ‘perfect’ when we’re so into the work. And it’s easier that we may make unnecessary changes when the work is in progress, which may cost extra time and effort.

And very often, we’re unconsciously being distracted by the minor things such as phone messages or the Facebook news feed.

It’s the curse of living in the modern world. We just can’t live without our phone, and this means we’re constantly having to react to whatever notifications it sends us. But they are the sneaky productivity thieves you should get rid of.

You may think taking 8 seconds to reply to a DM on Twitter doesn’t hurt but it actually takes 15 minutes to gain back the momentum because of the interruption.[3]

All the small bad things we do can add up to a lot of wasted time every day.

What have been mentioned above may seem too small to cause serious damage to your productivity. But if you really want to maximize your productivity and get the most done every day, you should cut out the bad habits.

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Small things do add up — as little as 5 minutes lost per day can become hours by the end of the day. Try to work that out in terms of the number of DMs you can reply to!

Here are some helpful tips for you to get started:

State a clear purpose of each task, make it actionable and estimate the time you need to complete it.

Suppose you have a proposal to write, a bunch of spreadsheets to fill out, etc.

Write down (or type) each item and estimate the amount of time you will need. You may even want to break down a larger task to smaller sub-tasks, and assign a time limit to each of them. Then, arrange them according to the order of importance, and start working. Keep track of how much time you’re using as you go.

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Stop checking emails every morning. Do something creative (first) instead.

What you should do instead is to prioritize your creative tasks over others because morning is the best time for thinking.[4]. You want to focus your energy on tasks that require more thinking, such as drafting the proposal for a meeting this afternoon, or comparing price offerings from potential suppliers, etc. over the reactive tasks like checking emails.

Consider logging out of your work email at the end of each day, so you’re not tempted to access it as soon as you switch on your computer. You’ll be able to take your mind off of your inbox and work on the bigger things first.

Silent the notifications of anything that’s not related to work.

Just like removing emails from your collection of distractions, remove whatever notifications that will distract you. And silent mode isn’t enough—vibrations are distractions as well. You will need to put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode if you can’t resist checking your phone when it vibrates.

Even when you allow yourself a short Instagram break, set a time limit for that too. Having a reminder helps you to get back to work and focus again.

These are some of the things you want to pay attention to if you feel you suffer productivity issues. Get started on the tips and get through your work day with ease!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

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Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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