When you are in business for yourself, exchanging time and effort for money, you may reach a point where you start feeling like your time is no longer your own. Even if you are a time management maven, it can sometimes take a super human effort to pull yourself away from all the digital distractions clamoring for your attention.
Since a day will never be more than 24 hours (no matter how much you want that extra hour), how do you go about reclaiming your time and attention? How can you do your work, yet have enough space and energy to focus on the (off-line) things that matter the most?
Below are ten of the most common bad habits that are absolutely destroying your productivity and your quality of life. Some of these bad boys are keeping you from being productive; others are actually causing you to work harder than you need to, resulting in unnecessary stress.
The good news that is many of these habits are small ones. So, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel or totally re-design your life to reach real, lasting change. The biggest, most positive difference to your life can come from a few simple tweaks to your daily routine.
The 10 Productivity Killers
1. You are sleeping next to your electronic devices. Numerous studies report that the blue LED light that electrical devices emit interferes with the body’s internal clock. This not only makes it harder for you to settle down and fall asleep at night, but it exposes you to a full plate of adverse health effects. Instead, keep those devices far away or shut them off completely, and make your room as dark as possible. You don’t need to check your email when you are sleeping anyway.
2. You are going to bed too late. While we are on the topic of sleep, research also suggests that if you want to maximize your resting hours, then you really need to be asleep by 12:00 am. While you might not turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes twelve, after midnight the quality of your sleep gets increasingly poor no matter how many actual hours you have your head on the pillow.
3. You are constantly surrounded by distractions. While digital technology may have increased our productivity in some select areas, it is eating up our time, energy, and attention just about everywhere else. The lure of social-networking streams and status updates makes it easy for us to interrupt ourselves. Research reports that some of us can’t even concentrate on important tasks for more than 2 minutes at a time without stopping to check social media or send an email.
The only way to get out of this is to create blocks of time during the day when you turn off that cell phone, close your browser, and leave social media till later. Seriously, take out the batteries if you need to, and lock these devices away.
4. You are trying too hard to multi-task. While multi-tasking may seem like the best way to “cheat” Father Time, research reveals constantly trying to get several things done at once can have adverse effects not only on your health but also on your productivity. So, don’t do it! Make a commitment to being present and “mindful,” focusing on only one task at a time for one full hour each day.
5. You have little separation between work and life. It used to be that when you left the office, your work for the day was done. Now that mobile technology allows us to be constantly connected, it’s much harder to resist the impulse to check email or make work-related phone calls and chat sessions. When you work for yourself, the lines can be even more blurry. One solution to this: have separate devices for work and regular use. When your work is done, turn your work devices off and put them away.
6. You check your email too often. And, this brings me to the next bad habit. Even with all the options out there, email is still one of the primary forms of online business communication. It is also a place that can quickly get inundated with unwanted solicitations and other forms of spam as well as all those emails from subscriptions you’ve been meaning to unsubscribe from.
To get out of this, have set times during the day when you check your email account. The rest of the time, keep the account (or window tab) closed and turn off email notifications. Another pro tip: if you are using Gmail, then try out the Boomerang Gmail add-on which allows you to schedule your messages to be sent later. This helps you because when you send someone an email he or she may immediately respond and you may be tempted to further the email conversation right then, or repeatedly check your account as you wait for the response to come.
7. You don’t live a healthy lifestyle. Routinely skipping meals and eating unhealthy food is a recipe for disaster. The same is true for not having a regular exercise routine. While you don’t have to totally overhaul your diet, nor start training for marathons, even small changes, such as reducing the amount of processed foods you consume and taking a 20 minute walk a few times a week, can go a very long way. Taking care of your body will not only improve the quality of your life, it will also help you to better focus and maximize work performance.
8. You are over-planning and failing to prioritize. Time management is a skill that anyone with a little will power can learn. But, if you freelance or own your own small business, then it’s really an essential skill for success. Note: Be sure to check out my earlier post on the best time management tips for freelancers.
9. You don’t have a set routine. While there are certainly benefits to getting a change of scenery and to working flexible hours, it comes at a cost. Without the routine and familiar surroundings, you will have a greater struggle to get your head into work mode. So, make it a habit to set yourself up in the same place (or places) and try to keep consistent work hours.
10. You are using way too many tools. Productivity tools and apps can, in theory, be extremely useful. They save us time, and allow us to do things that we couldn’t do otherwise. But, you will start to see diminishing returns the instant your app count starts reaching for the double digits. Instead of being helpful, they’ll just end up being another distraction. So, make it a point to primarily work with tools that perform several functions at once as well as those that play nice with and sync up across multiple platforms.
Bottom line: take some time to reflect on the way you work (and live) and resolve to uproot the negative habits that are preventing you from maximizing your potential- both online and off.