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Your Top 10 Productivity Killers And How To Fix Them

How to cut through all those emails, meetings, and noisy coworkers to finally get things done.

Your Top 10 Productivity Killers And How To Fix Them
[Photo: bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock]

Distractions in the workplace are everywhere, and it’s a wonder anything gets done.

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CareerBuilder surveyed more than 2,000 hiring and human resource managers from a variety of industries and company sizes to identify the worst productivity offenders.

Fifty-two percent say cell phones and texting hamper workflow, 44% say the Internet is a problem, 37% admit that gossip hurts productivity, 36% cite social media, and 31% say email gets in the way of work. More than a nuisance, the study found that consequences from these distractions include a compromised quality of work, lower morale for the employees who have to pick up the slack, a negative boss/employee relationship, missed deadlines, and lost revenue.

So how can leaders rid their organizations of the productivity killers–or at least lessen their impact? Company policies help mitigate the problem–such as blocking certain Internet sites and banning cell-phone use while on the job–but management experts say more can be done.

Here are eight things leaders can do to model positive behavior that boosts productivity and eliminates distractions in the workplace:

Problem: Not Knowing How Time Is Spent

Cure: Keeping a time journal

Keep a time journal and write down what you do and the percentage of time you spend on various tasks and responsibilities, such as answering emails, conference calls, and putting out proverbial fires, suggests John Manning, president of the leadership consulting firm MAP Consulting, and author of The Disciplined Leader: Keeping the Focus on What Really Matters.

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“Within that snapshot, analyze when you were most productive,” he says. “When were you least productive? Of everything you’ve listed, what really matters? Anything that qualifies as ‘noise’ or is extraneous to your company’s mission and core strategies isn’t vital.”

Manning says eliminating the “trivial many” from your daily agenda will help you be proactive about doing more of what’s essential to your success.

Problem: Being Constantly Interrupted

Cure: Send a clear signal about when you’re unavailable

Set up personal systems to stay focused on work. For example, close the door to your office, or if you’re in an open workspace or cubicle, wear headphones to tune out the noise, says Eileen Adler, chief human resources officer at PeopleFluent, a human resources software provider.

“I have a friend who puts a ‘do not disturb’ sign on her cubicle and wears headphones,” she says. “The headphones, however, are not hooked up to anything. She believes it sends a strong message to people who are tempted to ignore the sign.”

Another way to limit distractions is to stand up when someone comes to your office to talk; this signals to them that you don’t have time to chit-chat, says Adler.

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Problem: A constantly dinging smartphone

Cure: Use apps to block notifications

The “do not disturb” feature on an iPhone or Quiet Hours on Windows phones will block calls that interrupt your focus, says Michael Fritsch, president and COO of management consulting firm Confoe, Inc.

“You can configure it to let certain people or communications through,” he says. “Or simply set your phone aside or in a drawer to keep it from distracting you.”

Problem: So. Much. Email

Cure: Designate blocks of time to wade through your inbox

Instead of checking your inbox constantly, designate blocks of time to work through email, says Fritsch. If you’re worried about missing an important email, use filters that route keywords or senders, such as your boss or client, to a specific folder, and check that folder more often.

Problem: Deadlines Keep Flying By

Cure: Create accountability around goals

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Project deadlines will keep you and your team on track, especially if individual goals are shared with other members of your team, says Adler.

“Competitive employees in particular will thrive with deadlines,” she says.

Problem: So. Many. Meetings

Cure: Only meet when there is a clear agenda

Don’t call a meeting if you can meet your objective through other means, such as email, project management software, or an electronic status update, says Fritsch. If you do need to hold a meeting, only invite the relevant players.

“And only meet when there has been an agenda published prior to the meeting,” says Fritsch. “If you are invited to a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda, decline the meeting.”

Problem: Endless unfocused hours staring at a screen

Cure: Schedule “play” breaks

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Re-energize your focus by taking periodical breaks, but set a definite ending time, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. “Not only will you have something to look forward to after you’ve worked hard, you will also know when it’s time to get back to work,” she writes in the study.

Problem: Coworkers draining your energy

Cure: Surround yourself with productive people

Much like laughter, productivity can be infectious, says Haefner. Stay away from people who like to waste time; they will drain your energy. Instead, align yourself with the company go-getters.

“Watching how others make themselves productive can inspire us to act similarly,” she writes.