Whether you’re a CEO, work at home mom, student, small business owner, or pastor, you want to be productive. While our definitions of productivity might be different I think we can all agree that we want to do our part to get the most accomplished on behalf of our cause.

Here are some things I am trying to address that limit my effectiveness and productivity. I hope they are helpful for you as well.

Email

While email is effective, efficient, and the most common way to communicate in today’s world, it can often hinder us if we don’t set boundaries. How often are you diligently working on a project until you hear “ding” coming from your phone, tablet, or computer letting you know that a “very important” email has arrived? We immediately stop what we’re doing and read the email to find that important message from your boss or top client or maybe just another incentive offer to spend some money at your favorite store. Regardless of what email is sitting in your inbox, it very rarely requires your immediate response.

Each time we choose to read an email in the middle of a task we’re working on we not only lose the time it takes to read and respond, but we also lose the momentum and focus we had on the task at hand. The brain-power it takes to shift gears toward an email that we think requires even just a “yes” or “no” 2 second reply could cost us several minutes of true productivity. Multiply this by 20, 30, or 40 emails a day and it could cost us hours every day.

Solution: Schedule times as needed throughout your day to check and reply to emails. For me, I find that giving myself 3 slots of time a day is adequate to read and respond to emails. You may need to give yourself more or less time each day but the point is…turn the push notifications off on your phone, close your mail program while working on your computer, and schedule specific times to check your email each day.

Social Media 

Many of the same principles apply to social media as to email but we often need to be even more vigilant regarding the time we dedicate to it. Social media appeals to us on so many levels (professionally, personally, emotionally, etc.) that many literally become social media addicts. The appeal of social media is a subject for another day, but, try NOT opening Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube for an entire day and you may see what I mean. It may take several days of this to “detox” from social media use.

Without realizing it we are engaged with what’s happening with our high school friends we haven’t seen for 10 years, best friends we see everyday, family, professional contacts, and even the rich and famous who we like to live vicariously through as we view their highlights in an Instagram photo or tweet. It is very easy to become so engaged in the cyber world that we are disengaged from the most important things like the people we’re actually in the room with, the meeting we’re supposed to be accomplishing something in, or the project we are working to complete.

Solution: Get rid of all social media apps right now. Okay, just kidding. But it would be wise to set aside specific “free time” during your day and use those moments to engage in social media, then get back to what’s most important free from distractions.

Poor Planning 

I find myself often operating in the world of the “urgent”. I cram my schedule so full and overcommit myself to the point that I can barely complete my task load in time for a deadline. Or, I don’t strategically plan my day, week, and/or month and simply “run out if time”. Running out of time is a common problem but in reality we don’t run out of time until we no longer exist on this earth. As I write this, it’s 1:44am on a Wednesday. When Tuesday was over an hour and forty-four minutes ago, God granted me another 24 hours. We use the time we have for what we choose to use that time for. If we don’t accomplish the task we promised ourselves or someone else when we said we would do it, it’s not because we “ran out if time;” it’s because we didn’t make a plan that included completing that project. So, we’re left to continuously play catch up and live each day stressed as we struggle to complete the urgent matters at hand.

Solution: Make a to-do list each week aligning it with deadlines and goals for one month ahead. Then, make a to-do list every day based on what you need to accomplish that week. When making your daily list it is often helpful to prioritize your list in order of importance and make your list the day before and read over it quickly before going to sleep. It is not possible to plan everything, but planning what you can gives you margin for the things you can’t.

Unplanned Conversations

Our technology driven world has convinced us that just because we can be accessible to everyone at any time, we should be. I can’t count the number of times in a day that, if I allow myself, I could be distracted by a text, phone call, or an in-person “chat” that will just “take a second” from the person peeking their head in the door as they pass my office.

Solution: When engaged in a project, stay engaged in the project. Turn your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb for at least short increments of time. Ideally, it’s best to place your phone on the other side of the room so you are not tempted or even aware that someone is trying to reach you. Does that sound crazy? Yes, it sounds crazy to me too because I am way too attached to my phone. Will someone or something fall apart if you wait 30 minutes, an hour, or even 2 hours to read and respond to their text or voicemail? Possibly, but it is very unlikely.

As for the surprise visitor to your office, here are a couple of tips:

  • Select a certain number of days a week that you strive to be distraction free and let your co-workers know that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, you are shifting the way you manage your time and will be closing your doors on those days to be as productive as possible.
  • If choosing certain days a week does not work for you, select strategic times during each day and put a note on your door that reads, “I would love to speak with you but I am focused on a project right now. I will be available for a conversation at _:__p.” Don’t worry about offending people, your co-workers will understand and may even be inspired by your new sense of intentional productivity.