Eliminating Your Top 5 Time-Sucks

I’m always looking for new ways to increase my productivity and work smarter, not harder. Over the years, I’ve test-driven multiple systems, planners, team members, and other resources to increase both the quantity and quality of my work.

We’ve addressed things to implement, but what about the things to cut out? In my experience, there are five primary time-wasters that  impair your productivity:

Notifications. Bing-bongs on your phone, dings on your desktop, and pop ups on your browser are all designed to disrupt. Whatever you’re doing is immediately put on hold to tend to the alert, and that often leads to further time wasters. Even if you don’t check the email or Facebook notification, the aural alert in itself is a disruption. It triggers your brain and says, “There’s something else you should be paying attention to!” which leads to context switching (toggling between multiple projects) which results in a dramatic decrease in productivity. To stay focused and avoid context switching, I recommend disabling all notifications and pop ups. This goes beyond silencing them; even a simple icon and text appearing on your home-screen can be enough to unravel your flow. If you want to see what’s going on in your inbox or on Facebook, then open the app when you’re ready. Don’t let your phone dictate what you do.

Thinking. Okay, obviously you need to think to do your job, but you know what you shouldn’t be thinking about throughout your day? What to work on next . Most people will finish a task or project, then spend 5 minutes thinking about what they should do next. Let’s say you work on 4 projects a day; that’s 20 minutes a day and 100 minutes each week that you could be spending doing something else. In fact, 100 minutes could be enough to complete a whole extra project each week! By eliminating the guesswork, you can move seamlessly from project to project without wasting any time.

So how do you do it? I recommend test-driving a few techniques to see what works best for you, but for me personally, I use a combination of time-blocking (scheduling projects and activities in your calendar ahead of time) and Asana task management. This helps me move through my day on auto-pilot and ensures I’m able to complete everything on my list. Sure, there is the occasional phone call or fire drill that puts me behind, but having an organized calendar and task management system will reduce the amount of time you spend getting back on track.

Second-Guessing. I spend a lot of time each year, quarter, month, week, and day outlining my plans, major projects, and to-do list. The best way to ensure I stay on track and accomplish all of my goals is to stick to and trust in the plan. But often, I see people revising their to-do lists mid-day or questioning their ability to execute their plans.  While strategic pivots and changes make sense, these should be done during times of high-level review, not when you’re in the weeds. If I have the inkling to record a podcast, but that’s not on my priority list at the moment, I’ll jot down some notes and ideas, and save them for when it’s time to record. If I’m getting cold feet about launching a new product that week, chances are, that feeling is coming from a place of fear or resistance and I shouldn’t let it dictate my actions. I created the plans for a reason; the day of execution is not the time to be rethinking those plans.

Others’ Expectations. Your primary goals and projects should center on your priorities, not the priorities of others. I addressed this in a previous blog post, but it bears repeating. If you succumb to the whims of others, you’ll never accomplish anything for yourself. Requests for meetings and deliverables should be addressed on your schedule. It’s crucial to move through your day on your terms; you shouldn’t feel like your day is being dictated by clients, employers, and co-workers. So, instead of jumping on every request as soon as it’s made, set the expectation for when it will be completed.  Boss needs a slide deck from you? Say sure, you’ll have it by the end of the day (after you’ve finished up your projects!) Client asking for a quick phone call, but your schedule is fully booked? Say you’d love to chat with them, and respond with what works best for you.

Irrelevant Activities. Did you think I’d go through a whole post about time sucks and not mention social media, Netflix, and click-baity articles? Activities that do not help you achieve your long term goals, or ones that distract you from executing projects that do, are time sucks. Sure, social media is relevant to my long-term success, but aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter isn’t. TV and movies are great for relaxing and unwinding, but these should only be done once you’ve accomplished everything for the day; they shouldn’t take the place of activities that will help fulfill your objectives. And how much time to we spend clicking on random articles on the Internet? What if we spent that time reading articles that were actually relevant to our goals?

There are a few apps and tools that allow you to block time-wasting sites, but because social media is such a part of my career, I’ve never implemented them. Instead, I make a conscious effort to leave my phone in my pocket when I’m waiting in line, brushing my teeth, or any other situations where I have time to kill. Instead, I always bring a book, magazine, or newspaper to fill the void. I schedule a small amount of time each day to tend to my professional social media platforms and learn about industry-relevant conversations and innovations.  And if I do pick up my phone in my off hours, I make an effort to be more mindful in my efforts (reading articles I had bookmarked, reading newsletters, etc.). Rather than consuming “empty calorie content,” I recommend focusing on content that’s more meaningful.

Have a time-suck that you’d like to share? Have a method that works for getting rid of one? Feel free to do so in the comments!

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