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Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work
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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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