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6 Common Work Habits that Sabotage Your Productivity

6 Common Work Habits that Sabotage Your Productivity

    We all have our weekday morning routines. You roll into the office a little before 9 am (or a little after, if traffic was really bad), settle in at your desk, maybe grab a cup of coffee around 9:30 or 10, check Twitter and Facebook, and then dive in to your inbox.

    And while it’s obvious that your time playing Farmville or reading Kanye’s latest tweet is going to hamper your productivity, you might be surprised to learn what other common work habits can sabotage your productivity.

    1. Checking Your Email Constantly

    If you’re like most people, you check your email frequently. Like, 5 times an hour frequently…or “every time my phone dings” frequently. Maybe a better word than “frequently” would be “obsessively.”

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    But despite the urgings of your boss to “stay on top of everything”, it turns out that checking your email too frequently actually reduces your productivity.

    Now, of course the experts can’t seem to agree on when you should check your email. There are a few people who say that checking your email as soon as you get into the office is a no-no, among them Sid Savara and Oprah’s pal Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check Email in the Morning.”

    Savara argues that checking your email first thing when you sit down to work ruins whatever game plan you came into the day with. Instead, he advises, “Work on something important for 30-45 minutes, and only then check it. If you can stand it, wait even longer.  Some days I don’t check email at all until after lunch… As long as you’re ignorant of everything else that’s going on outside, you can concentrate on what you want to work on. You don’t know what fires need to be put out, you don’t know about that special sale that’s going on today and you don’t know about that funny video your buddy sent you.”

    Elizabeth Grace Saunders takes a slightly more moderate approach, telling her clients that all her emails will be answered within 24 hours so they don’t get on her back. She generally clears out her inbox during the first 1-2 hours of her day, and formulates her game plan for the rest of the day after that. After that, she doesn’t generally look at her email again for the rest of the day, allowing her to focus completely on business development and client projects.

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    2. Scheduling Weekly/Project Status Meetings

    Meetings are a time suck, but some would argue that they are a necessary evil. Still, losing hours every week to conversations that could just as easily have been handled over IM or email can be really frustrating.

    Instead, use a shared project management system with a progress bar or timeline or calendar. You might like Central Desktop, Basecamp, or a system you’ve cobbled together using Google Docs. With a detailed list of project milestones and deadlines mapped out in a shared workspace, any team member at any time can log in and get the status of a project, without having to ask you for it. And you get those hours previously lost to weekly status meetings back!

    3. Working Late

    Let me ask you something. How productive are you after 5 pm, really? Chances are that even when you do work late, you spend a good chunk of that time reading blog posts and figuring out what restaurant you want to order delivery from.

    And even if you do work your butt off after hours, you’re just going to get burned out, making you more likely to get sick and lose even more productive hours. Staying late is okay when it is really needed, but if you do it habitually in hopes of getting ahead, you’re likely doing yourself (and your company) a disservice.

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    4. Mismanaging Your To-Do List

    This is my own personal failing. I am a compulsive “to-do” list writer, and while I always have an easy time prioritizing my list, I don’t always tackle things in the right order.

    Say I have a list of 5 action items, all of which need to get done today. They are all the same priority, but they vary in terms of how much time it will take to complete them.

    So I might tackle the “easiest” things first, the two or three tasks I know will take just 5-10 minutes to do. And then I’ll be able to move on to “the big project”, and I’ll have already made a dent in my to-do list.

    Trouble is, by the time I’ve done everything on my list except the one big task I’ve been putting off, I’m tired and cranky and low on energy. In other words, I’m not even close to the right frame of mind for addressing the hardest part of my list.

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    The solution? Just bite the bullet, and do the big task on your to-do list first, no matter how tempting it is to scratch off the smaller tasks on your list first.

    5. Drinking Too Much Coffee

    Caffeine does not give you lasting energy; caffeine that’s loaded with sugar even less so. Especially if you live the desk jockey lifestyle, that sugar in your coffee is likely to make you hyper, spike your insulin levels, crash, and then get stored as fat. In other words, it’s not really the best thing for boosting productivity. Skip the morning Joe (and the mid-morning Joe, and the afternoon Joe) and eat a balanced breakfast instead to keep your energy up.

    6. Eating Lunch at Your Desk

    You might be perceived as more productive by your boss when you don’t take a full lunch break, but will you actually be more productive?

    Well, probably not. For one thing, what if you spill your soup on an important report, or your keyboard? If you are clumsy, eating near important work documents is a sure fire way to have your productivity plummet. And unless you have a spare shirt in your car, you might have to go to an important meeting with beef stew down your front.

    Plus, eating at your desk increases your odds of overeating, since you aren’t eating mindfully. You get chubbier, your heart gets weaker, and then your productivity really takes a nosedive.

    Do you sabotage your own productivity? Tell us in the comments below!

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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