Some days it’s hard to tear yourself away from work. You end up coming home in a rush and cranky, or coming home late or just chucking it and crashing on the couch in the lobby. This makes your home life suffer, hurts your health and generally robs you of the reasons you’re working so hard in the first place.
You only get 24 hours in each day. You should sleep for at least seven of those, and exercise and meditate for at least one more, but you’d be surprised how much of the remaining 16 hours people just let slide by without getting anything out of them.
We talked to our experts – both the people doing things exactly right and the folks who suffer every day – to identify ten work and play habits that are crushing your productivity. If you could change just two of them, how much extra time would you have for your health, hobbies, family and friends?
Three things the 90s taught us: the internet economy will never falter, grunge is an enjoyable form of music and multitasking is how to succeed.
All three of those lessons turned out to be false. Multitasking interrupts flow and gives the illusion of progress when all you’re really doing is moving a lot. The research proves that – barring a specific mental diagnosis that prevents prolonged concentration – spending three solid hours each on three projects will get more done than spending those same three hours rotating between them.
If you’re a multitasking addict, try the Pomodoro Technique as a way to train your brain into focusing for longer periods. If not, spend two days next week multitasking and two days focusing on tasks serially. Track your results and see for yourself.
- Working the Grind
Unless you’re in a schedule-specific service or manufacturing business, there’s no reason for you to work a 9-to-5 schedule and deal with traffic. That’s lost time you can get back just by timing your workday to skip the morning and evening commute rushes. This item may be the simplest change with the largest immediate payoff.
Can’t change your schedule? Change your commute. An hour each way on public transportation can be time for you to relax with a book or even meditate. Biking gets your exercise for the day. If you’re stuck in the car, load your phone with a collection of podcasts and audiobooks to make the most of that time.
- Decentralizing Information
How much time each day do you spend just looking for information and notes you know you have “around here somewhere”? Even when you know where they are, how much time do you spend opening a new file to access info for an email, or walking over to your bookshelf for data to put in a report?
Schedule one or two workdays this month to get all of your information centralized. David Allen’s Getting Things Done has excellent suggestions about how to organize your files and references. Extra credit for also taking five minutes at the beginning of each task to make sure you have everything open and ready on hand.
- Handling Small Things Later
This is a tale as old as business.
- Step 1: Become aware of a small, non-urgent task
- Step 2: Set it aside “for later”
- Step 3: Never get around to it
- Step 4: Disrupt your schedule later when the small, non-urgent task blows up because you didn’t handle it
We put aside the small things because they’re distracting and seem less important than the big tasks looming on our plate for the day, but they’re like changing your oil and checking the engine on your car. Miss the maintenance, and your repair bill will skyrocket.
Spend one month seeing immediately to every task that comes to you and takes less than two minutes to solve. Delegating is okay here. Since most of these items arrive by way of email, phone call or knock on the door, eliminating your next item will help with this.
- Having an Open Communication Schedule
Tim Ferriss, the guy behind The Four Hour Work Week, is passionate about this. Your most productive time slips away because you keep getting emails, phone calls, social media pings and team members poking their heads into your office. Ferriss recommends cutting that off at the knees by scheduling two daily “communication blocks,” which are the only times you’ll read email, open social media, unlock your office door or even answer the phone. This lets you focus during work blocks, and give communication the full attention it deserves rather than being curt and distracted because you’re in the middle of something else.
If you’re not ready to adopt Ferriss’ restrictive schedule, try the opposite approach that yields the same result. Starting next week, designate a two-to-three hour block each day during which you don’t answer phones, knocks on the door or the internet. Use that time to focus on your highest priorities for the day.
- Not Setting Deadlines
You know that thing about how a goal without a deadline isn’t a goal – it’s a wish? We all apply this concept to major projects, otherwise major projects wouldn’t get done, but it’s equally valuable for small things like phone calls and typing out a report.
For the next week, set a reasonable time limit to all of your activities. If you’re like most, you will focus better and finish faster than you thought you could. Bonus points for gamifying it and trying to beat your previous record without harming quality.
If there’s an overall theme for this list, it’s letting time dictate your actions instead of planning your actions so they dictate your time. Owning a small business has a lot of drawbacks, stressors and simple pains in the rear, but at the end of the day you get to set your schedule according to what works best for your time and your business.
Do you have a favorite/most hated time sink in your day? How do you handle it? Tell the Kabbage community in the comments below. While you’re at it, give your best advice to your colleagues if you see a challenge you’ve successfully overcome.