Ideally, we should just sit down and do our job, no matter what this means. And yet, in many cases, although we set out to deliver a great outcome, our productivity has to suffer.
Let’s try to find out the biggest enemies of a productive state of mind:
Not getting enough rest
Back in the day, when I was 20ish, I still believed that nights are the best time for me to study. There’s no one to interrupt, it’s dark etc. Weird enough, after few nights when it seemed like I’m killing it, my productivity started to dwindle.
I was not getting enough rest. Sleeping during the day, while easy to plan, wasn’t always a simple task (with neighbours, family, phones etc.) and my normal rest at night wasn’t possible, since I was using some of that time to study.
After few days of getting some pretty ‘dark’ eyes and seeing that I can no longer remember too much from the stuff I was studying, I decided that nights are for sleeping.
As soon as my body re-adjusted to a normal routine, my productivity increased. I’d learn during the day and use my nights to get a very good sleep.
I started testing my old experiment once again, after having a baby. I still try to do some online work after my daughter is asleep, but, after spending a day chasing an active toddler, I can barely think straight after 8 PM.
And yet I push myself to at least write an article or make a small design tweak.
Not easy and, clearly, not productive at all.
Music and noise
For years I thought that music makes me more productive. I have few genres that really soothe my soul, so listening to few songs that are dear to my heart seemed like a good decision.
Well, at least in my case, it’s not like this.
If there are lyrics, I’ll soon catch myself trying to understand them (English is a foreign language to me and most songs I enjoy are in English), or, if it’s an instrumental piece, I’ll start listening to the instruments and how the entire song is laid out.
After noticing that my focus fades while listening to music, I decided to give up this joy and try to work in silence, as much as possible.
There are people who might feel different, but for me music is a distraction, even if a very enjoyable one.
Social media kills productivity
We all know it, Facebook and all those similar sites are productivity busters.
Few weeks ago I decided to install RescueTime, to have a clear view on my overall activity online. I was shocked to see that Facebook is eating up quite some of my time on the web and we’re not talking here a serious ‘addiction‘, but, even if I am not too active there, I do log in at least few times/day.
I am using the other social media web sites solely to promote my work, so I’m logging in to see what’s new there and that’s it. But I have friends and colleagues on Facebook and this makes me waste more time there.
I wouldn’t consider the blogs and forums I am active on as time wasters, since I do try to focus only on the content I enjoy reading and promote sensibly in those communities. These have brought me a lot of business and reputation online in the past 13 years, so I am not planning on leaving them too soon.
Multitasking – or doing it wrong
In most cases doing more than one thing at a time will affect your productivity big time. At least that’s the theory.
Weird enough, for me NOT multitasking is sometimes detrimental. Let me explain: I am usually working on a blog / web site design (for my clients or myself). This means tweaking the layouts in my code editor and then uploading the changes onto the server, via FTP.
Well, this is where it breaks.
During the seconds I have to wait to have the old files overwritten, I start losing my focus. That’s when I open my Facebook page or read a blog I shouldn’t be reading at the moment.
The solution in this case might actually be a second monitor that I can ‘tie‘ to my laptop. This way I can still have my ‘code’ in front of my eyes, while the transfer ends. Not having to switch between ‘windows’ would probably help me keep my focus better.
Taking on too much work
I am running my own network of sites, I blog actively and also work with my web design and internet marketing clients. That’s a lot of workload for someone who has maybe 3 hours/day to do the work.
Until my daughter is old enough to go to kindergarten (so 2 more years), I’ll have to cram enough productive work in the few hours I get, so that we can still pay our bills and my network won’t go entirely ‘flat‘.
This means learning to say ‘no‘ to some projects or people. I’ve made it a habit to try estimate how much I can earn hourly and then decide to take on something new or not. If it’s not a money-earner for me right now, it can wait until I have more time on my hands to do the work or when I have a slow day from my regular schedule.
Spending too much time with emails
Years ago I thought something would break if I am not online to answer an email as soon as it comes. I did work for 3 years with a great client, who needed me around for few hours/day, so in this case answering emails as soon as possible was a part of the job. Still, after my work-hours were done, he was pleasantly surprised to see I still replied fast.
This is, of course, an exception: it was the way we did business and he is still one of those people I don’t want to keep waiting for an answer. And yet, spending almost all day with your email application enabled is gonna prevent you from doing a good job.
Now, I close my email app for few hours and just focus on the work. Then I re-open and see what’s there. Not replying in 30 seconds hasn’t actually ‘killed‘ any of my chances to get a client, but it has helped me make the most of my little work time.
Just as many ‘egomaniacs’, I do feel that my designs are the best, my blog comments cannot be replaced and everything I do is amazing.
Kidding aside, I do find it VERY difficult to find someone who is skilled in the tasks I need done and just let them do the job.
I have improved here though, I am currently looking to delegate some of my internet marketing efforts to a very dear friend of mine whom I trust completely. She is a great fit, since she does an amazing job and is also very trustworthy.
This will help me save some of my time and use it for more design work for instance (something I am not ready to outsource, since it’s my main ‘selling point‘ to my clients).
Using too many project management and productivity apps
Let’s say I’ve done my share of testing: from various online PM tools to stuff I could download on my computer. Too many of them (or switching too often) will clearly eat a lot of work hours.
At the moment I am using Asana to track my work and have installed RescueTime just to get a view on how much time I’m wasting each day.
Guilty as charged once again. My desk is pretty hectic most of the time. My computer, some invoices I need to file, an agenda, phone and stuff from my toddler that somehow gets there.
If your desk is also messy, this will affect your productivity. A clean desk gives you a nice stress-free feeling that allows you to get more things done.
I have noticed that my productivity soars when I have a clear tasks list. Instead of wasting time to pick my next ‘move’, I am preparing mentally for my challenge and just get it done.
Not knowing what I ‘have’ to do makes me a bit anxious and this will clearly allow me to waste valuable time trying to find something to do. Most of the time I end up browsing my Facebook account or just reading some blogs.
Of course I’ve done the other thing: setting up a gazillion of tasks for the day, even if it was clear that I won’t be able to accomplish them (especially when not having too many hours in the day to do the work).
At the end of the day, seeing that I have accomplished almost nothing made me feel demoralized, which of course ruined my evening and some of my night sleep.
Trying to get it all perfect
Again a personal experience: I sometimes run into various challenges in my web design work: I cannot find a good stock image for my client’s design, or the menu doesn’t work on mobile, I cannot make the auto-responder work etc.
Small stuff that distracts me from doing the rest of the work. Being too stubborn to just move on and DO SOME work has caused me to lose a lot of work-hours in all these years.
My new strategy is to attend to everything I can do fast and well. Then, when everything is done, I can spend some time on that menu or look for a good image. This has clearly boosted my productivity, made me feel like I am accomplishing more during the day and sped up the design delivery.
Waiting for the perfect time of the day to do the work
I am now mostly working from 9PM till midnight (if I am not too tired, of course). And probably get an hour at noon, if I am lucky and daughter is sleeping well.
The perfect time to work?
I have no idea, right now I just get every minute available and just work.
Ideally, I should probably work during my mornings and maybe few hours in the afternoon, but my time right now is not mine entirely, so I just work when I get the chance.
Waiting for the perfect place to work
As I am typing this, my laptop sits on a small desk in our friends’ mountain hut and my … behind sits on a bed. I’m in the bedroom next door to the one we sleep in, my daughter is asleep there and I’m cranking up the words here for your enjoyment.
I’ve worked on a sofa, on a dining-room table, on the floor etc.
Learning to never care about the surroundings does help me a lot to be productive.
Another personal story from myself: years ago I was close to ‘addicted’ by Travian. You know the game, if not, you are lucky, don’t bother look into it. It wasted MANY hours of my life and I also paid some of the ‘gold’ used there. Fortunately not too much money, but the time I wasted with it clearly ‘cost’ me quite a lot.
It’s a war MMO game that can trap you in very fast, as soon as you understand its dynamics. If you play from time to time, there’s not a chance to make it there, so you’ll need to be online most of the day and have a ‘sitter’ (a replacement) during the night. This is, of course, if you would like to have the chance to do more than just being a sitting duck for all the attacks sent by other players.
I was working online for my clients, so it wasn’t difficult to have my game on a browser tab as well. But building my ‘village’, training troops and attacking anything around me did take a lot of time.
While the game is absolutely amazing for someone who needs to fill their day, it’s horrible for someone who actually needs to do some work.
Fortunately for me, in the past years people stopped calling me. I probably get a client inquiry one in a while and maybe a phone call from my folks. These are of course not a big issue, so I never thought about keeping my phone ‘closed’ for calling.
If you are getting too many calls though and most of them are just distractions, set a time-frame to work and just put the phone to silent or shut it down. Make sure your closed ones do have a way to reach you in case of real emergency and just let the others wait until you have finished your work.
These are my 16 things that ‘kill’ my productivity. Please feel fee to add your own ones in the list and help us all do a better job at work.