I’m guilty. There are days when I walk out of the office wondering what I did all day long. If my boss stopped and asked me that question, I’d probably stutter and say, ‘Well, I answered some emails and looked at that project we were talking about.’
I wouldn’t be lying, but it still doesn’t mean I accomplished anything. Consider that the average corporate employee has 225 emails come across their desk in an average workday, and you start to understand the problem. Sit at your desk for eight hours (480 minutes), and that’s nearly half of your workday, assuming that an email takes an average of one minute to read and respond to. Even that is wishful thinking.
Overwhelmed by the feeling of constantly working but only slowly chipping away at my goals for the day or week, I paused to consider what I might be doing wrong. Even the hardest workers can fall victim to their own bad habits. Here are five that I recognized in myself and corrected.
- Clutter Kills– Whether you’re a multi-tasker or a highly focused worker bee, distractions slow you down. On many mornings, I’ve shown up at work flustered by the chaos of getting out the door and rush-hour traffic. I sit down at my desk to a pile of papers and reports that need eventual attention, some dating back to months ago. The desktop of my computer is so cluttered with overlapping icons that I can’t read the labels I’ve given folders.When you can’t find what you need or centralize your mind on one task, it’s incredibly difficult to make steady progress. This was my toughest challenge, but I’m currently on-top of my clutter.
- Take five in the morning — Whether you listen to classical music during your drive, practice yogic breathing, or simply close your eyes and clear your mind, do something to center yourself before opening the door and walking into the office. Leave your personal life at home (at least the part of it that’s hindering your productivity)
- Sort out your desk — Even if you’re so late on deadlines that you can’t imagine not jumping right into work, you’ll get more done with a clean workspace around you. You don’t have to get all Feng Shui to recognize that knowing where a report is when you need it will speed your work process.
- Clean up your computer — Your computer’s ‘desktop’ is just like your desk at work. If you can’t find a folder you need, it’s stealing time and attention away from the task at hand. Create a filing system that works for you and stick to it.
- Email Can Be an Organizational Death Trap – Does your inbox regularly top 1,000 emails? Are you laughing right now because yours actually has something close to 20,000? That’s a problem. Right now, create a folder called ‘Needs Attention Later’ or something along those lines. Drag everything in your inbox over to it. From now on, keep your inbox at zero emails by the end of the day. A prioritized system of folders can help you make sure nothing gets overlooked, even if it’s something that doesn’t require immediate attention when you first receive it.
- Wasted Mornings – Alright, if you’re paying attention, then you’ve already had a moment of Zen before entering the office. Why blow that focus on an hour of goofing off with coworkers in the break room? Get to work. If you’re productive right-off-the-bat, you can justify the breaks (and really relax) later on in the day.
- Wasted Afternoons – I love Mexican food. It’s a passion that peaked when a couple from Guadalajara opened an authentic place next door to my office. It wasn’t long before every newspaper in town was hailing them as a godsend. I agreed, except that my post-feast afternoons turned into more of a lazy siesta than a genuine workday.How you spend your lunch break affects the rest of your day. I realized that the food coma I was inflicting upon myself wasn’t helping me be productive. The solution? I bring a sandwich from home and eat if after a quick midday jog.My afternoons whiz by and I walk out the door feeling on top of my work for the week. Best of all, the chips and salsa seem to guiltlessly taste even better at happy hour.
- Multi-tasking Yourself to Death – In my position, I answer to several people, and others answer to me. The emails are constant, full of requests both important and trivial. Staying on top of those is an important part of my job, but it means that the equally important but less time-sensitive tasks can often fall far behind deadline.Before leaving work in the afternoon, I now decide what my top priority is for the following day. Immediately upon arriving the next morning, I sit down to that task. I don’t check email or chat with Joe in the next office until I’ve completed at least an hour of that project.
If you want to maximize your productivity, start your day by attacking a task and give yourself a clean, uncluttered workplace and state-of-mind.
Anita Brady is the President of 123Print.com, one of the foremost suppliers of customizable online business cards and other items for small businesses and individuals. She is an industry veteran who has managed strategic marketing and other efforts for companies small and large.