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What would you do with an extra Wednesday?

Author: Andy Papadopoulos | | March 29, 2017

Imagine having a whole extra workday to create and bring your ideas to fruition. You know what? Just by eliminating some of the most common time-wasters we all encounter almost every day, you can earn one back. Here’s how.

“Oh my god. It’s four o’clock! How did today get away from me?”

Sound familiar? Every day at four o’clock, someone somewhere is muttering this in frustration and disbelief.

We don’t usually set out to have an unproductive workday. Maybe we start off trying to work from home, feeling like we’re really going to get stuff done. We settle in at our desk with a fresh coffee and a plan for the next eight hours – feeling good about the day.

But… then we can’t get onto the VPN for some reason. Frustrating. So, we pack up and head into the office.  There we get called into a meeting (of course), and three different people ask us to do small tasks for them, which add up to two hours of work – the kind of things we were trying to avoid by working from home in the first place. And, because this cake needed some icing, our computers freeze, then crash, causing a document we’d been working on for days – and that yes, of course, we’d saved! (what a dumb question)–  to inexplicably disappear forever.

“Oh my god. It’s four o’clock! How did today get away from me?”

Interruptions and distractions at work cost you more than you might think. One study by Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine found that it takes people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to work after a distraction or interruption. That’s over an hour for every three interruptions. Or, with just five interruptions a day, a full eight hours – or an entire workday!

Think about that. If we could manage to eliminate just five interruptions a day we would have an entire extra workday every week. Imagine what you could get done in that time.

Whole new ideas could have room to grow.

What would it take to eliminate five interruptions a day? Here are five things you can do.

1. Work remotely. Or, if you’re a manager, make working remotely as painless as possible. Jason Fried argues in this TED Talk that “work doesn’t happen at work,” a statement with which many of us can relate. There are too many distractions at work, as noted above. (Not mentioned: people stopping by to chat, free food, puppies in the office…). Also, the commute can add several unproductive hours to the week. Just cutting out those hours will add a whole day for many.

2. Keep your tech up to date. At my former job, my boss – yes, my boss – was forever tussling with this old PC he’d been given six years ago and that was probably ten years old back then. It crashed all the time and took forever to do anything. I think he had to wind it or shovel coal into it or something. If you’re a business owner, this is not how to get the best work out of people. Tech equipment, network reliability, your IT services provider, your internal IT team – these are the things that matter when it comes to productivity. Keep them oiled and shiny.

3. Block off meeting-free times every week. Employers can block off sections of the week in which no one is allowed to hold meetings. Ideally this would be midday, since midday meetings are, arguably, the most disruptive of productivity. Also, Friday. People are already unproductive on Fridays. Don’t kill what little you’re going to get out of them with meetings. Or you can just block off time in your own calendar in which you are not available, so when people try to book you, they can’t.

4. Wear headphones (even if you’re not listening to anything). This one is just a little bit sneaky, but “Co-workers stopping by” is one of the top workplace distractions, according to a recent study by Career Builder. Headphones can act as a deterrent to interruptions. They’re not going to work on everyone but some people will think twice before making you remove them just to talk about Game of Thrones.

5. Track your time and see where you waste it (or ask your team to do so). This exercise is never wasted. People I know are consistently amazed to discover how much time they actually spend on Facebook, texting, or putting out fires. Tracking every minute of your time for one week will show you whether you’re making the most of it, and if not, how to do so. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is.

One idea leads to another. Creative innovations come from building layers of inspiration on top of hard work and analyses. It’s a mix of art and science, and none of it can happen if you have to keep stopping the train of thought for interruptions, distractions, and technical glitches. Set yourself up for success by lumping meetings together, blocking off time to work, and having the right tools in place from the outset.

You’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish in a day.

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