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Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

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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.

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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

More by this author

Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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