Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

More by this author

Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

30 Low Stress Jobs to Live a Peaceful Life The Best Refreshing Morning Routine: Have a Vegan Breakfast Truth or Myth: Is Yawning Really Contagious And Why? 10 Best TED Talks To Help You Make Hard Decisions Clever Tricks To Have A Conversation That Never Ends

Trending in Productivity

1 How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated 2 How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life 3 How to Develop Mental Toughness to Help You Stay Strong 4 How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious 5 How to Reinvent Yourself And Redefine Your Future

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

Advertising

In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

Advertising

2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

Advertising

When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

Advertising

One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

Read Next