At any given hour on any given workday, your to-do list is teeming with things you have to get done — and there are few better feelings than marking items off that list. We’re addicted to productivity and thrive on busyness. We always want to do more and be more while simultaneously searching for ways to put hours back in our day. So why, then, do we seem to be more strapped for time than ever before?
The answer is we often fill significant portions of our day with “junk productivity” (also called “productive procrastination”). It’s a way of fulfilling our desire to stay busy without doing any truly important work — and it’s forcing us to work more and longer hours than ever before.
But what does junk productivity look like, and how can we keep this bad habit at bay? Here are five ways you can banish this time vampire once and for all.
1. Forget Perfectionism
Here’s the bad news: You’re not perfect and you never will. But you’re not alone — no one is perfect, no matter how much they may seem so on the outside. Perfection is impossible and any time dedicated to achieving perfection is time wasted.
This doesn’t mean you should stop proofreading your emails or send off tasks half-completed. Things still need to be done well, and there will always be expectations to fulfill. But refusing to let go of a project because it’s not everything you’d hoped it would be can drive you insane. Instead, don’t strive for perfect. If something is good enough to move along to the next phase (by realistic standards), then let it go.
2. Stop Being a Slave to Your Inbox
More than 42 percent of Americans say they check email seven or more times per day. Half say they check email in bed and 18 percent admitted to checking email while driving. (Tsk tsk!)
Achieving the coveted inbox zero is a badge of honor for those of us in the Type A category. But does this really make you any better at your job? When it comes to email, ignorance is bliss. Try to limit email checks to just two times per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This prevents you from spending the majority of your day putting out other people’s fires rather than knocking out your own work.
3. Set Boundaries with Colleagues
Did you know it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus your brain after a distraction? So each time a coworker drops by to share their tales of their weekend antics or someone calls an impromptu meeting, you’re losing time. And with nearly half an hour of downtime after each distraction, that can add up fast.
Avoid this time-waster by setting boundaries. Block time off on your schedule, decline meeting requests and schedule social time so it doesn’t consume too much of your workday. While being in a leadership position means being available for your team, don’t make yourself so available you’re too distracted and can’t finish your own work.
4. Don’t Put Neatness First
We’ve all been there. A major deadline is looming, and you can’t stop staring at the pile of clutter on your desk. The next thing you know, you’re wiping down your monitor screen and disassembling your keyboard.
While being clean and organized certainly fosters a better work environment, choosing to start your office spring cleaning in the middle of a major project is just procrastination in disguise. Remember: Neatness can wait, but your deadline can’t.
5. Put Yourself in Solitary Confinement Using Workplace Technology
If all else fails, sequester yourself somewhere away from the action of the office and make use of an app like Freedom to block out distracting sites and concentrate on the task at hand. Book a quiet space using room reservation software to ensure you won’t be disturbed. Do this once a week — or once a day if necessary.
The best way to avoid junk productivity is to stay mindful and live by your prioritized list. Leave junk productivity tasks for the end of the day. Chances are, by the time you’ve finished your more pertinent items, you won’t want to waste time on junk anyway.
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