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Work Smart

5 Distractions To Cut From Your Professional Life To Have The Most Productive 2016

Have your most productive year ever by cutting the things (like too many social media profiles) that are distracting you from your real work.

[Photo: Flickr user Pete]

Every New Year I, like most people, reflect on my accomplishments and failures over the previous twelve months. What I often find is that many of my failures weren’t the result of massive errors on my part. Many of my failures were the result of being too distracted or preoccupied by other little, almost pointless things that in retrospect took up too much of my attention. Almost all of the time these are distractions that are work related, which affects my productivity.

That’s why at the end of each year I like to go through a "cleansing" and review the dead weight in my professional life to see what I can jettison to start the New Year off on a fresh foot. The best part of this professional cleansing is that it doesn’t require active, ongoing attention or work, which is why 92% of all New Year's resolutions fail. Instead, a professional end-of-the-year cleanse just requires letting go. Letting go of distraction. Letting go of annoyances. Letting go of clutter. Here are five distractions to cleanse from your professional life to have the most productive New Year yet.

1. People on Twitter and LinkedIn who don’t add value to your social media stream.

Both Twitter and LinkedIn can be powerful workplace tools. If you’re in the media or marketing fields, Twitter is invaluable. For sales leads and networking, there’s no better site than LinkedIn. Both sites not only allow you to stay connected with others, but in theory allow you to glean valuable information, such as links to useful articles or novel insights, from the people you follow.

But the big pain point with both LinkedIn and Twitter is many times we follow people out of politeness only because we met them at a conference or event once. And there’s nothing wrong with mercy follows, unless you find the person isn’t as interesting on social media as they are in real life. Instead of contributing value, these people are just creating more distraction in your social media feed. If that’s the case, it’s time to cleanse them from your digital life.

"The big biggest point here is to keep what adds value," says Rachel East, certified career coach and co-founder of Clarity on Fire, which helps match people with fulfilling careers. "Does following this person actually feel enjoyable? Do they make you laugh, or keep you informed? If you can’t dredge up anything more than neutrality, then let it go. Make space for accounts that will surprise, delight, entertain, and genuinely inform you."

2. Your own social media profiles that you’ve abandoned or use very rarely.

The best way to promote your personal brand is on social media. The problem lies in the sheer amount of social media profiles you can have: there’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest—and those are just the major ones. Depending on your profession, there are more niche social media sites too, such as Behance for graphic designers.

Managing that many social media profiles can leave you spread thin. Instead of tailoring content to match the social media channel, and thus adding value to your followers’ streams, you just copy and paste the same update from one site to the next. Or worse, you leave certain social media profiles to languish, making it look like you just aren’t that invested.

Instead of trying to be everywhere, pick one or two social media channels to manage your brand on and forget the rest, says East. "Do you genuinely enjoy the platform, or does it feel more like a dead weight? Personally, I’ve let go of my personal Twitter and Instagram accounts because checking them had become more of an obligation than a real desire. I feel much better about having only a couple of business-related accounts to maintain, and my posting is better and more regular because it doesn’t feel like an obligation."

3. Those old emails.

If you’re like me, you probably have emails going back years. Until recently I literally had saved emails going all the way back to 2002. I found it hard to delete all but junk emails in case I ever might need to refer to them in the future. Of course, I never end up having to and this approach only leads to a bloated email client with folders upon folders upon folders of old messages.

"Most of the time, the emails we’re hanging on to are half-forgotten intentions that we never got around to: articles we had meant to read, recordings we were going to listen to, or responses we semi-drafted four months ago," says East. "Hanging on to that stuff, while seemingly innocent, can actually be a huge guilt-inducer; everything we ‘should’ have done, but didn’t, weighs us down and makes us feel unnecessarily bad."

Instead, I learned to think of work emails like I would a receipt for tax purposes. I now hang onto the important ones for three years, and delete most of the rest—only saving any that contain critical information, such as contract agreements.

"I like to think of deleting old emails as a massive release of heavy energy," says East. "Give yourself permission to let it go. If you haven’t [referenced the email again] by now, you probably never will. If there’s something that you absolutely cannot delete, then take that as your cue to actually do the thing you’ve been putting off. Otherwise, release it."

4. Your messy workspace.

One of the best things to cleanse—and one that will have the most visible daily impact—is your messy workspace. Yeah, yeah, I know: Your workspace is an "organized" mess. That doesn’t mean it’s still not affecting your productivity, as researchers at Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute found. In a paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers said they discovered a clear correlation between an inability to focus and a messy environment, like your office.

"With physical space, and really with anything in life, less is often better," says East. "Packing our workspace to the brim with stuff—books, papers, knickknacks, piles of random lists—feels crowded and chaotic, which very often translates into you feeling chaotic when you sit down to work." She suggests giving your workspace its own "New Year, new you" makeover.

"The more space you can create around you, the more calm you naturally invite into your life. And being in a peaceful state, mentally and emotionally, allows for the best ideas and inspiration to happen. Don’t underestimate the power of your space to influence your insights and productivity."

5. 90% of your messaging apps.

WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Skype, Kik, Google Hangouts, Slack, iMessage…the list goes on and on. There are so many messaging apps it's hard to keep track of who contacted you where. More than once I’ve missed an important message from a colleague because it was received in a messaging app I usually use for friends and family and not professional connections.

"Being reachable on too many platforms is literally inviting distraction into your life and work, says East. "Given that we’re more distractible than ever, as a culture, it’s only going to get harder to feel like you’re contributing anything of value at work."

Recently I’ve decided to cleanse all but one messaging app from my professional life. Colleagues and clients can contact me through there—where they can be assured I’ll see their message promptly—or can contact me via old, trusty email.

"If you’re constantly being pinged or messaged, not only should you pick one and insist—kindly, but firmly—that people only reach you there, but you should seriously consider having ‘on’ and ‘off’ hours when it comes to messaging apps and email," says East. "It’s amazing what we can get done in one or two hours if we’re not constantly switching focus to attend to someone’s message, which is usually not dire, anyway."

Related: Who Is More Productive: Multitaskers Or Monotaskers?

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