Stop Wasting Time at Work: 7 Productivity Tips to Help You Get It Done
Nearly 90% of people waste time at work. Here’s how to stop.
You’re probably wasting way more time at work than you think. A 2015 Forbes article by Cheryl Snapp Conner highlights the epidemic of time-wasting at work, citing a Salary.com survey where 89% of respondents said they waste time every single day. That’s a 20% increase from the previous year’s survey.
According to the survey, 31% of employees waste 30 minutes daily, and another 31% percent waste a whole hour. The other 38% spend even more staggering amounts of time off-task: between two and five or more hours a day! Using cell phones, conversations with coworkers, browsing the internet, and snack breaks are among the top time-sucking culprits.
Not to mention the constant interruptions of email. Atlassian’s roundup of work productivity statistics reports that it takes about 16 minutes to refocus after pausing your work to check email—and the average employee checks their email 36 times an hour. That’s a lot of wasted time.
Now, you’re probably thinking about whether you waste time (maybe you’re even reading this at work right now). Chances are, you do. Those little breaks and interruptions add up. If you’re ready to stop dawdling and get more done in less time, check out our top 7 productivity tips below:
1. Practice deep work
Cal Newport is an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport’s influential book, published in 2016, has inspired workers all over the world to adopt the concept of “deep work.”
The general idea behind deep work is this: our hyper-connected world, chock full of smartphones and social media, doesn’t let us concentrate. You sit down to work on a project, but two minutes in, you have to attend to an email or a text or a co-worker tapping you on the shoulder. With so many distractions, your productivity tanks. To combat this, Newport recommends blocking off long periods of distraction-free time to dive into your work and really let your brain focus.
2. Design your time
Don’t just manage your time, design your time. Google for Work director Thomas Davies is a big advocate for gaining a big-picture perspective of your work. In an article for Fast Company, Davies talks about how easy it is to get caught up in the small things — emails, meetings, and more. According to him, this is a recipe for burnout.
To get a better hold on his time, Davies organizes his tasks into four main quadrants: people development, business operations, transactional tasks, and representative tasks. Of course, quadrants will look different for each person depending on their work duties and priorities.
To figure his out, Davies sat down and made a list of his typical tasks and responsibilities. What are the common themes? How could they be grouped together? Identifying the areas where you most frequently spend your time helps you balance your day and make sure you’re tackling not only the most important tasks, but also the ones that you enjoy the most—doing work you love helps keep you energized.
While Davies’ strategy helps you organize your time on a big-picture level, Newport’s ideas in Deep Work can help you design your time on a day-to-day (or even hour-by-hour) level. Newport says most people can’t work on something for even five minutes without glancing at their phone. (Maybe you can relate!)
He knows that letting your brain attack one task at a time produces the best results. Your first step in working deeply is to block out time to work on one task or project for no less than 90 minutes. Newport says that you should treat this time the same way you would treat a meeting — that is to say, you wouldn’t stop in the middle of a meeting to talk to someone else or answer emails, so don’t do those things during your deep work time either. Truly uninterrupted work time requires a zero-tolerance distraction policy.
3. Do the most important things first
Dealing with the most important or most urgent projects first ensures you get to the work that really matters. Starting with easier, smaller projects and busywork can feel productive, but distracts you from your larger goals and might leave you with too little time to devote to your priorities.
Of course, in order to work on the most important projects, you also have to identify what those projects are. Here is where you ask yourself, What would be the consequences of not completing these tasks?
In an article for inc. magazine, Founder and CEO of Perks Consulting Lauren Perkins says that certain tasks offer more benefit than others, so those are the ones that she prioritizes above the rest. She also emphasizes the importance of being honest with yourself. How much focus can you really devote to a task? Will you get burned out early? Ensure that you are realistic in your goals, then get to work.
4. Aggregate distractions
Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group who has been dubbed “one of America’s most productive CEOs,” receives an email from his assistant every day after work. In addition to his schedule for the next day, the email includes a list of questions collected throughout the day for Meyer to address. He doesn’t let himself get distracted by questions and asides during the day so that he can be productive at work and then give those questions his full attention at the end of the day.
Take a leaf out of Meyer’s book and think about grouping your distractions into blocks. That may look like choosing a couple of specific times a day to check and answer emails instead of constantly monitoring your inbox. Or turning off social media alerts while you’re working, but setting aside a midday break to catch up with your friends and followers.
Moving distractions to the end of the day — or any designated time you choose — can help you better organize your day and let yourself enter deep work mode, as discussed in our first productivity tip.
5. Organize your thoughts
We’ve talked about organizing your week and organizing your day, but what about organizing your thoughts? Well, here at Crossover we use WorkFlowy. WorkFlowy lets you create detailed bulleted lists — start with a big picture list, then zoom into different bullet points to see smaller and more detailed steps.
Bulleted lists are great ways to organize your mental clutter, freeing up the mental space you would set aside trying to remember your to-do lists. Just about every article you’ll read about mental organization and productivity will tell you to write things down. However, it’s not quite that easy. Whether you use WorkFlowy, Evernote, or a plain old pad and pencil, it’s crucial to have a system in place that will arrange and clarify your information.
6. Learn the power of “no”
At work, we’re pulled in many different directions. There is no shortage of commitments. But we can’t agree to everything — the more things we agree to do, the less time we get to spend working on what matters. So, not only is it important to say no, but it’s also important how you say no.
Figuring out how to turn someone down can be tough. That’s why you can come up with a strategy for how to say no — an email template saying how busy you are, a few sentences you can recite in person, et cetera. Of course, tact here is key.
Ron Friedman, in his Harvard Business Review article “9 Productivity Tips from People Who Write About Productivity” recommends that, rather than giving a flat-out no, it can sometimes be more appropriate to explain what you’re working on and what your priorities are in order to demonstrate how you’re busy and why you can’t take anything else on.
7. Create your best workspace
John Vogel, an adjunct professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, explores the question “Is the Corner Office Worth It?” in his article for U.S. News & World Report. Turns out, the answer is yes.
Vogel cites a study performed by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister for their book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, in which a group of 600 software engineers across more than 90 different companies completed programming tests while working in varying workplace environments.
To their surprise, little correlation between salary and performance existed — nor did they find significant correlation between experience and performance. Yet, programmers from the same organizations tended to perform at very similar levels.
Looking further into this, DeMarco and Lister discovered that where there was a correlation was between work environment and performance—and the best programmers outperformed the worst by a ratio of 10 to 1.
As part of the study, participants were asked to subjectively rate their satisfaction with their workspaces. This correlation revealed that “participants who performed in the top quartile had much more positive things to say about their workspace than those who performed in the bottom quartile.”
The takeaway? Whatever type of workspace that’s the best fit for your needs and working style—noisy vs. quiet, organized vs. cluttered, etc.—is what’s going to help boost your productivity. While changing or optimizing workspaces may not always be a top priority for you or your managers, it’s important to make yourself as comfortable as possible so you can do your best work.