Tell me if this sounds familiar: You sit down at your desk to work. You have five hours’ worth of projects and about eight or so hours to get them done. And you smile to yourself, thinking how nice it will be to leave work early today. Nice to have some time to relax with family and friends.
But then, upon opening your inbox, you spot a Facebook notification and think to yourself, There’s no harm in a quick Facebook check. Uh-oh. Next thing you know, you look up at the clock and realise you have spent the last three hours perusing friends’ Facebook feeds, watching funny YouTube videos and retweeting your favourite celebrities.
Suddenly, your “free time” is gone. Now you’ll have to stay late at the office to finish projects you should have already completed.
If you have ever experienced this, you’re not alone. While it is not easy to do, learning to identify and eliminate the biggest distractions in your work life can lead to more productivity, free time and, ultimately, happiness.
If that sounds like something you are interested in, then read on.
1. Social Media
While this point may almost be too obvious, social media is still one of the biggest time sinks in most Americans’ lives and therefore worth discussing. The average person wastes 3.2 hours on social media each day. That’s over 21 hours a week — more than half of the ordinary work week! Imagine what you could do with over 21 extra hours each week!
How to avoid this: First, delete all social media applications from your phone. If you are not willing or able to do this (for example, you use social media for business), then at the very least dis-able all notifications so that you are not constantly harassed by friends updating their status.
The next step is to download News Feed Eradicator for your computer so that even if you are tempted to check Facebook, you will be blocked and reminded to get back to work.
I also recommend downloading Rescue Time so that you can see exactly where your time is spent each week and make adjustments to be more productive.
2. Texting, messaging and Snap-chatting
I know that it seems that responding to that one text or sending your significant other a quick Snapchat is merely harmless socialising. However, things almost never end with just one message.
If you respond to one message, you have likely roped yourself into an unproductive 30-minute conversation that you could have had over a three-minute phone call during one of your breaks.
How to avoid this: Employ an Airplane mode. Plain and simple. When you are working, keep your phone turned off or on airplane mode to eliminate all distractions. Use your breaks to respond to texts and other messages as they arrive throughout the day.
3. “Urgent” emails
How many times have you been working productively when all of the sudden a co-worker or business associate interrupts you with a seemingly urgent email? If you are anything like me, the answer is a lot.
Nine times out of ten, these emails are not really urgent and are probably unimportant to you and your goals. However, you respond anyway and spend an hour of your day thinking about someone else’s agenda.
How to avoid this: 80/20 your inbox. Check email twice a day, first thing in the morning and then a couple of hours before you leave work. Respond only to emails that are urgent to your goals and agenda for the day and don’t get sucked into the laundry list of tasks everyone else needs you to do.
Use a free or cheaply available email marketing service to automate your responses. I’ve had great success with Aweber and Active Campaign, but any of them will do the job. One simple autoresponder could save you weeks of productivity over the course of a year.
4. Talking with co-workers
You might love your co-workers. But when you need to be productive, they can often do more harm than good. How many times each day are you interrupted by a co-worker who comes over to your desk for a friendly chat, without realising that he or she is distracting you from accomplishing your goals?
Workplace conversations can quickly turn into one of the biggest time sinks and productivity killers if you do not learn how to effectively handle them.
How to avoid this: When you are working, put on some classical music(no lyrics) and wear earbuds so that anyone tempted to talk to you will think twice before interrupting you. If the music is not a big enough deterrent, politely state:
I am working on a big project right now and need to focus; can you wait and tell me what’s going on, at lunchtime/after work?
Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t be a pushover, either. If you don’t value your time, no one else will.
The human brain is not wired to multitask, period. And, no, you are not the exception. No, your brain is not uniquely wired so that it can multitask more efficiently. If you want to reclaim hours of lost productivity, get more done in less time and have a happier more balanced work life, then quit multitasking. End of story.
How to avoid this: Set a timer for each task that you do and aim to finish the entire task within the time constraints. This will prevent you from getting sidetracked and working on other projects because you know that you are going to complete your other tasks later in the day.
6. Junk food
One of the most under rated factors that affects your productivity is junk food. When I say junk food, I am talking about food that’s processed and contains artificial sugars. Why does this affect your productivity?
Artificial sugar spikes your energy, which will put you in a jittery and hyper mode with the surge of energy. Once that passes, you run out of energy and experience a crash. You won’t be able to focus in either mode; therefore you also won’t be productive.
How to Avoid This: Eliminate as many processed foods and added sugars as you can (eliminate them completely if possible). At the same time, start to eat more whole foods, vegetables and lean meats.
Keep in mind that the hardest part is creating the new habit. When you first stop eating sugary foods, you will crave them since sugar is an addictive. When I stopped eating food with simple sugars, it took me about four weeks before I stopped craving them. As a result, I stopped crashing in the afternoons and I felt much better.
It seems like we live in a generation of distraction. Productivity is something that few people ever take the time to improve and that fewer still ever master. However, if you are willing to put in the work and eliminate the distractions ruling your time, you will have less stress, more success and an overall better quality of life.
So start with these five distractions. Ruthlessly eliminate them from your life, and see how things improve.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.