Take a glance at your to-do list for the day — how are you doing? Oh, wait you didn’t make one. Okay, find your scribbles from yesterday’s client check-in — what action-items do you need to check off? Wow, you didn’t take notes?! Though we are all guilty of hitting the mark sometimes, if you constantly feel distracted and unable to remain on task, it’s time to take a look at your work routine. Productivity is one of those qualities that’s never listed on a job description but is one of the most valuable and important skills to have, no matter your industry or position on the ladder. To remain focused and wow your manager, you want to avoid these destructive habits that take your attention away from the office.
You check your email all the time
Since much of the professional landscape has become overly digitized, it’s no wonder your email is such a major part of your workflow. Though it’s a vital means of communication, it doesn’t need your attention 24/7. Career expert for TopResume, Amanda Augustine says when you’re constantly refreshing your inbox and replying to everything right away — you’re not actually doing any other work. To cure yourself of this habit, it’ll take practice. To get started though, Augustine recommends setting some ground rules, starting with what time of day you log-in to your email, with the morning being the worst time.
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“Many experts warn that this is the absolute worst time to check your email. Instead, allow yourself only five minutes to quickly skim your inbox for urgent or time-sensitive items. Then, come back to your inbox later in the morning, once you’ve crossed an important item off the to-do list,” she explains.
Just like you set up meetings on your calendar, do the same thing with email by reserving your time and focus. “Create a daily, recurring event on your work calendar that’s dedicated to email. Try to hold yourself accountable to those blocks of time to keep your email from wrecking your productivity,” she adds.
You multitask … unsuccessfully
Though in theory, listening to a podcast while checking your email and Slack gossiping with your co-worker could make you feel like you’re killin’ it, what are you really accomplishing? Career expert Joy Altimare says most people get a surge of confidence from multi-tasking, but the reality is very few actually complete tasks when they are focusing on too many at the same time. In many ways, juggling this-and-that fosters and encourages mindless distractions.
“They find themselves distracted during a meeting, in conversation — either on the phone or computer — and cannot digest nor participate in the dialogue,” she explains.
The solution is simple: Cut it out. Much like you would give your undivided attention to a client at dinner (or to a promising first date), at work, you should well, be at work! Get off your phone and step away from your computer in meetings — or don’t bring either. When you have emails to send, put on your headphone and turn up your focus playlist on Spotify and get through them. Have a presentation to write? Then you shouldn’t’ be checking Facebook. The point is to practice mindful productivity — and be respectful to your employer who wants you to get the job done, ASAP.
You don’t have meeting agendas
While scheduling meetings and attending them can make you feel like you’re making progress, more often than not pointless or poorly-run sessions are the opposite. In fact, plenty of professionals often feel like endless back-to-back ‘check in’s’ and ‘brainstorms’ waste their time, instead of capitalizing on it. If you feel as you are suffering from meeting fatigue, Augustine recommends reevaluating your calendar.
“Take a closer look at your schedule and determine if there are certain meetings you could eliminate entirely or delegate to another member of your team to attend,” she continues. “For those meetings, you intend to keep, give your attendees proper context. Include a short blurb in your invitation that explains the purpose of the meeting, what will be discussed, and what people should do to prepare for the discussion so everyone is on the same page.”
And don’t forget: Starting and ending your meeting on time will do wonders for everyone’s productivity.
You don’t take notes
In your college classes (remember those, from eons ago?) — you would never arrive without a pen and paper. While the kids these days use laptops or tablets now, it doesn’t matter what you use to take notes. Rather, Altimare says it just matters that you do. Too often employees will arrive at meetings — whether with the larger staff or their one-on-one with a manager — empty-handed. Not only does this give the impression that you’re ill-prepared but it will leave you scrambling, scratching your brain when it comes time to deliver.
“Not taking notes is the number-one productivity killer — and it also demonstrates a level of hubris that can lead to underperformance and lack of productivity for the organization,” Altimare addresses.
When in doubt, always, always bring a vessel for notes. Even a napkin will cut it if you’re in a bind. What you don’t want to do is leave yourself relying on memory to meet a deadline, impress your boss or deliver on a promise from a client.
Your workspace is a hot mess
As Augustine puts it: mess breeds stress. And when you feel anxious, you’re far less likely to want to sit at your desk, much less power through your day. Here’s when your inner Marie Kondo should kick in and inspire you to get through the muck, ASAP.
“File the papers, tame your to-do list, and wipe down your desk so everything is tidy and clean,” she encourages. “Add a plant to your area, too. Incorporating a little greenery into your work environment has been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase positive feelings — all of which will keep you more focused and productive while on the job.”
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