It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and you realize that you haven’t gotten anything done. You panic and worry about how much you still have to do. You think to yourself, “if only there were more hours in the day.”

We have all been there. I know I have been there more times than I care to admit. However, there are a few things that I have learned throughout my professional life that might help answer this impending question of why things never seem to get done while you are on the job.

Unfortunately, we only have 24 hours in a day, we live in the world we do, and in the society that we do. We can either become a total BOSS with what we are given, or we can sit there, twiddling our thumbs, and complaining about what we were not given.

The problem is not the amount of hours in the day. The problem is how those hours are being used.

Time is precious. It is the one thing in this world that we will never get back after it is gone. We can either make the most of it, or we can waste it.

As sad as it is, most people will spend most of their work hours, wasting their time on things that are unproductive, and they end up losing all of that time that has been wasted away.

I am a big believer that human beings were created to work. We feel fulfilled when we know that our work matters, and that we are working toward the good of humankind. When we shift our mindset to finding the things about our jobs that are serving the greater good, our jobs become a little more bearable.

So, why do you feel like you never accomplish anything at work? Why do you feel as though half of your day has been wasted, and you didn’t start on what you needed to start on until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when your brain has begun to shut down for the day?

The biggest issue is wasting time at work with the most annoying culprit of stealing our time: Distractions.

Let’s unpack several reasons why you might be allowing yourself to get distracted while on the job.

1. Keep the chit-chat to a minimum.

Talking is great! I love building relationships and being able to talk to people. Talking is not a bad thing at work, and I know that people actually have to talk to people in order to do their jobs. Usually, there is some form of communication that you have to deal with on a daily basis, even if you are an introvert.

When I say that you are talking too much, I am not talking about the legitimate conversations that you need to have in order to do your job well.

I am talking about the side conversations that have a proper time and place, and in the middle of a big project that you need to focus on, is not it.

There is also a time and place to ask work-related questions.

If it is not an emergency, or a time sensitive matter, whatever questions you have, might be better asked through an email or the instant messaging service that your company uses.

Every time you get up to go ask someone else a question, not only are you stopping your own momentum of work, but you are also halting the momentum of the person you are interrupting. Research shows that it takes about 15-20 minutes to get BACK into the groove of whatever it is that you were working on, after EACH interruption.

These questions, when asked at strategic times are fine, however, they have a tendency to lead to side conversations that are anti-productive. They tend to lead to rabbit trail conversations, about your neighbor’s beautiful new car, or gossiping about the person who is annoying you that morning, and going on tangents about things that may be important, but they are not necessarily crucial to the overall organization.

I feel that I must also add that sometimes, stopping for a quick chat to check in with someone that you know has been sick, or who has a lot of family stress going on at home is completely different. It is always nice to show that you care for the people you work with.

However, gossiping is not a necessity, and really is enemy of productivity.

2. It’s okay to make people wait for a moment when they interrupt you.

This one is the flip side of the previous point. Not only are you interrupting others too much, but you are also allowing other people to interrupt you far too much throughout the day. If you are in the middle of something, and someone is interrupting you, there is nothing wrong with making them wait a moment, until you reach a pausing point.

I know that the higher in leadership you get, the harder it is to avoid the people that want you. That is just how organizations work, which is why there is so much responsibility involved in leading.

That being said, there are times when you are allowed to shut yourself away from the rest of the organization and get things done.

Find those prime times when you notice that there are less people to interrupt you, and schedule your big block priority items in those time slots.

Allow yourself the space to do what you need to do.

Don’t be afraid to tell the person who is interrupting you, that you are busy and cannot talk at that time, and as you want to be able to give them your full attention, ask them to come back at a later time when you are not so engrossed in the project you are currently working on.

There is nothing wrong with telling someone else “no.” There is always someone else who can help that person, or they can be resourceful on their own. Don’t feel like you have to say “yes” to every single request that comes your way, or to every person who wants to interrupt you.

Your time is valuable. Treat it that way.

3. Keep your phone out of your direct line of sight.

One of the biggest distractions is our cell phones. This is a huge one for me, because there are more boring, tedious jobs that I have to deal with at work. I would much rather be planning fleshing out a new blog post idea, or working on social media content, or working on a presentation and ideas for a future business that I am starting with a friend.

However, a company is investing in you, by giving you a job, training, and allowing you to work on their dime. It might be a great job, it might be a not-so-great job. Either way, you are lucky to be working in today’s world, and so be respectful to the organization. Yes, it is much more enticing to play on your phone, and talk to your friends and family, or try networking with people for your side job.

However, your playing on your phone probably is not going to pay your bills at the end of the month. So, put the phone away, or at least have it on silent and tucked away where it is not within your line of sight, and get back to work.

4. You don’t need to check your email so much.

This is another one that gets a lot of people. They feel the need to respond to emails as soon as they come in, but in reality, you really don’t need to check your work email except maybe 3 times a day.

This is another hard one for me, because I genuinely LOATHE the little red notification flags. I want to get rid of them as soon as they come in, so I will check my email.

However, you don’t necessarily need to respond to emails right away. As long as you respond within 24 hours of receiving emails, you are doing just fine.

I started adopting the practice of checking my email within in the first 20 minutes that I am at work. The only things that take higher priority are checking my “to-do” list, and getting debriefed by my coworker during the transition time between her leaving for the day, and me coming in for the afternoon shift.

I check it maybe once more throughout the course of my shift, usually in the middle, and then I don’t really look at it again until later in the evening as I begin to wrap everything up for the day.

5. Take advantage of planning out your day.

Some people are very good at keeping calendars and having to-do lists, but this is kind of a huge concept.

It makes such a HUGE difference when you walk into work and see the list that you made the day before of things that you need to get done that day. It helps focus your mind on the various tasks that you need to handle.

I have a legal pad at my desk that I pull out every time I start my shift. I have a running list of everything that I need to do. I just continue the same list for a few days, and as things get completed, I cross them off.

There is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off of a list, and knowing that I’ve accomplished something!

It’s simple, crude, and completely old school, but I love it! It helps me focus my mind on the tasks before me, so I can see a layout of how my day needs to look.

Sometimes, this doesn’t always work, because there are last minute priority items that pop up that I need to tackle before I can do anything that is on my list, and that’s okay. Because I took the time to create my list and see what needs to get done, I have more freedom to shift tasks as I need to in order to make room for the priority item.

This brings me to the next point.

6. Prioritizing your tasks, stop letting your tasks are prioritizing you.

If you are not managing your time, your time will manage you, and pretty soon you will have lost track of everything important that needed to be done.

I had to learn this excruciating lesson the hard way. Part of the reason why I make a to-do list of everything that I need to get done, is because it helps me prioritize. I can easily see which tasks are for individual people, and which tasks are for the overall company. Without some form or planning and prioritizing, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. There are ways to manage stress, and prioritizing your to-do list helps. 

The tasks that impact the most people always take precedence over the tasks that only impact a handful of people. If the over organization will be hurt because I did not complete a certain task, then that certain task needs to take priority.

I am currently doing admin work at the place I work for, and so I have a lot of random requests from a lot of different people. I want to help as many people as possible, because that is what I am there to do.

However, if a request comes in from the director or assistant director of our organization, and it is a last minute item, that item takes priority over everything else, because the director is looking out for the overall good of the organization. Now if the request from the director can be held off for a period of time, then I will continue to work on a task that might be more important, before getting to the director’s request.

Someone else’s priority is not automatically YOUR priority.

Many people will come up to you very urgently and act like they need something right away, but in reality, they may not need it for another few days. You may have other priorities, that are more pressing than their request, and that is okay.

Ways that I figure out what a priority is, and what is not, is by asking a few up front questions.

When do you need this by?

Who is this for?

Is it an emergency, or can it wait until later on in the day?

If they come up a little later asking what the status is on their request, and they seem a little impatient, I also like to provide a small explanation, just being up front and honest with them. This would look something like, “I’m sorry, I haven’t started it yet. I am currently working on A and B for the deadline this weekend. I should be done around this time, and will start on your project afterwards.”

They are usually very understanding, and grateful that I gave them a time to expect their request, and will quiet down for a little while.

If you are not sure of how to set your priorities, use an Eisenhower Matrix to figure it out. You can make one yourself on a sheet of scrap paper, and fill in the boxes. This really helped me when I started learning how to prioritize my work better. 

7. Start your day off right.

I know that when I am rushed and feel like I barely have time to get ready in the morning, my entire day is thrown off. 

When I give myself enough time to wake up, and take a few minutes for some personal time, or time to work on the business that I mentioned earlier that I am starting with a friend, or I have time to write or journal, and even get a few chores done, I feel much more awake and able to tackle the world. This makes it easier to focus on the more tedious, yet important tasks at work, that need to get done.

Drink lots of water in the morning.

I know this one sounds like a cliche, and you may sit there wondering if it actually works or not, but it really does. I always try to drink a big glass of water every morning before coffee ever enters my system. A cold glass of water is extremely refreshing, and you are giving your precious body what it needs to survive, which your body wholeheartedly thanks you for. Literally.

Being more productive at work is not hard. You just have to start eliminating all of the distractions that you face throughout the day.

Find productivity apps that help. I really like the Focus Keeper app on iPhone, while others like Flora, which gives you a visual gauge of your productivity. It uses the Pomodoro Technique, of working 25 minutes straight without interruptions, then rewarding yourself with a 5 minute break, and continuing with however many rounds you need. 

You can do it! I have complete faith in you!


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Published by Michelle Newbold

Just a young, ambitious woman marching to the beat of her own drum, and writing her own story.

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