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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!