Personal Finance

How to beat productivity killers at work

Stacy Rapacon, special to
Thanasak Wanichpan | Getty Images

Distractions at work threaten your every deadline, and nobody is safe.

About 75 percent of employers say two or more hours of productivity are lost due to employees getting distracted, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey; 43 percent report that at least three hours a day are nonproductive.

What are the biggest productivity killers you need to watch out for? One is likely in the palm of your hand. More than half of employers blame people's mobile phones and texting for lowering their output. Other reported culprits — the internet, social media and email — might also be attributed to smartphone usage while on the clock.

Of course, you might argue that your phone and other potentially distracting technologies actually help improve your productivity and keep you connected to work around the clock.

"If you're appropriately focused and clear on your priorities, it's a great time to be alive," said David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity."

"The 24/7, global, transparent world of work can be highly productive and is tremendously helped by technologies," Allen said.

The key to harnessing that kind of productive power, though, is to know how and when to use what tools appropriately.

For example, "you can't deny that there are huge productivity gains from email," said Jocelyn Glei, author of "Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done."

"But you also can't deny that email is one of the most distracting tools that you use on a daily basis. Almost every technology is a double-edged sword," she said.

Indeed, even if you feel you're being useful with your phone, the tasks that you may be accomplishing — such as checking email or social media accounts — might not amount to actually meaningful work. While you might succeed at keeping your number of unread emails down to zero, clearing your inbox likely has taken time away from tackling bigger and more important projects.

"We like to check things off our to-do lists," Glei said. "That really skews us toward doing short-term, easier tasks that we can complete quickly as opposed to pulling up to our more creative, longer-term tasks that can be agonizing to complete sometimes."

In order to maximize the advantages you get from email and other technologies and minimize their potential for unwanted distraction, Glei recommends scheduling specific times to use them. For example, she suggests setting aside two or three 30- to 45-minutes blocks of time to process your email. And do not check it at any other time of the day.

"People are happier at the end of the day, less stressed and more productive, when they're doing that as opposed to regularly checking your email throughout the day whenever it occurs to you," Glei said.

Block time off for yourself to do some of the work that really is meaningful for you.
Jocelyn Glei

Applying this kind of proactive stance works to combat nontech distractions, as well. Your fellow employees, for example, can often derail your productivity. Employers say gossip, co-workers dropping by and noisy co-workers are among some of the biggest time killers, according to CareerBuilder.

The social interactions may be friendly and well-intended, but they are distracting all the same. Even quick chats can turn into big disruptions. Every time you get pulled away from work, it takes about 25 minutes, on average, to regain focus, according to Glei.

Skip the distractions by scheduling your me-time. "Block time off for yourself to do some of the work that really is meaningful for you, that is really going to move the needle for you in your career," Glei said. "And you have to honor that time like you would a meeting; it's just a meeting with yourself."

Most people tend to be highly productive first thing in the morning, so getting to the office early for on-the-job alone time might work well, Glei said.

This is an especially good idea if your workplace has an open floor plan, which can easily invite distractions when your colleagues start filling the cubes. If you're more of a night owl, perhaps planning to stay later would work best.

Whatever your solo-time strategy, it may not be enough to help you face the big productivity killer within. "The biggest source of distraction and stress is the habit of trying to keep things in one's head," he said. "Your head's great for having ideas, but not for holding them."

Better than internalizing what you need to get done, Allen recommends writing out to-do lists; keeping a bullet journal to outline all your daily, weekly and monthly tasks; or using one or more apps to manage all that's going on in your life.

"Capture it all out of your head, decide next actions and outcomes you're committed to complete, hold the results in a trusted system and reflect on and review it consistently," he said.

Above all, be sure to differentiate between being busy and being productive — and focus on the latter.

"If one wants to be healthy and happy and satisfied at work and have a sense of accomplishment, you have to be incredibly proactive about how you manage your time at work," Glei said.