5 Time Wasters That Kill Your Productivity

Posted August 28, 2013

—By Lawton Ursrey

Are you really as productive as you could be? There's only so much time in the day, and no matter how much time you put into your business it never seems like it's enough. But maybe your problem isn't that you don't have enough time—maybe it's that you're using the time you have inefficiently.

You may need more balance in your life—but you think there's no possible way you can add any "play" to your day. What you really need is to cut down on the time wasters.

It's time to get real with yourself and start getting more out of your day. No more excuses. If you're not sure where you're wasting time, a good place to start is with a time audit. This will give you good insight into whether you're spending your time effectively.

Time Is On Your Side—Yes It Is

RescueTime can help you see where you spend time on your computer. It installs a small program on your computer or mobile phone, and it tracks your activity. You can see reports on your time spent per site, per activity and per program. It rates you on the level of productivity from -2 to + 2, and it gives you an overall rating out of 100 percent. If you don't want to go the tech route, get out your pen and a pad of paper and take notes on your typical work day.

What behaviors destroy your productivity? Here are a few habits that entrepreneurs have cited as classic time-sucks.

Time Snatchers and How to Beat Them

1. You multitask

Did you have difficulty completing your time audit because you were doing too much at once? It's a common trap. Multitasking makes you feel productive, but cognitive studies show that only 2 percent of the population can multitask successfully. Try monotasking instead. Focus on one task for a set period of time and do nothing else.

Be practical. If 15 minutes of total focus is all that you can handle, just do that. Focus on one task for 15 full minutes, and then switch to something else. But stick to it for the full 15 minutes.

2. Your phone dings every 10 minutes

Does your phone ping all day with alerts? Every time your phone announces new email, FourSquare check-ins, and Facebook comments, it breaks your concentration. Be honest: those alerts aren't pressing, and most of them have nothing to do with your business.

This was my biggest time suck during the day. Between text messages, emails and app alerts, I was constantly "on." They all felt like urgent messages, and I responded to them immediately. When I did my audit, I saw how much I interrupted my day— and my nights—by responding to alerts in real time. I turned off the alerts and trained myself to respond to texts at certain times of the day.

If you're distracted by alerts, go to the settings on your phone right now and turn them off alerts for all of the apps that ping you throughout the day. Email, text messages and social media are the main offenders, but goal tracking, games and journaling apps may be to blame too.

3. You get lost in your inbox

According to a survey conducted in 2007, Microsoft workers found that they spent, on average, almost 10 minutes responding to an email after receiving an alert. It then took another 15 minutes to get back to work on their tasks. Each time they entered their inbox, they scanned through other messages, hit refresh and got "lost" in responding to other messages. Just three interruptions from email in an hour can waste that whole block of time.

You can tackle this problem with a one-two approach. First, find a tool that filters out the fluff in your email inbox. You can use Unroll.me to wrap up all of your newsletters into one easy-to-read digest. SaneBox automatically filters non-essential emails into folders. Once those are gone, train yourself to check email at specific times per day—8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for example.

4. You visit time-wasting sites

Your time audit may reveal that you spend a lot of time checking Facebook or other time-wasting websites. You don't rely on willpower alone to break this habit—try site blocking tools. StayFocused is a Chrome browser app that lets you visit time-wasting sites, but only for a certain amount of time each day. SelfControl for Mac blocks out all offending websites and native programs for a certain time length. SelfRestraint does the same thing for Windows.

5. You allow too many unscheduled meetings

Email, Skype and text messaging all make it easier for pop-up meetings to interrupt your day. Streamline your schedule by setting specific hours for phone appointments and Skype chats.  You can use a tool like Doodle to schedule a meeting and reduce the email back-and-forth. It quickly polls participants to choose from a set of predetermined meeting times.

OK, you've faced your problem. You have solutions. Now you can bring balance back in your life, be more productive and grow your business—without losing your sanity. 

Lawton Ursrey is the CEO and founder of Indie Peace, an eco-friendly apparel company and the product marketing manager for Sage One, an online accounting application for small businesses.

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