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5 Insidious Habits that Can Ruin Your Productivity

Distractions abound: Slack alerts, Facebook messages, that loud colleague you sit next to, the air conditioner that just doesn’t work

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BY Jared Carl Millan - 10 Aug 2017


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Whether or not we admit it, we are all guilty of wasting precious hours goofing around in the office instead of actually working. Distractions abound: Slack alerts, chat notifications, your Facebook feed, that loud colleague you sit next to, the rumbling of your stomach, and even the air conditioner that just doesn’t work. Anywhere you turn, there’s something that demands your attention.

That’s all right. Everyone gets distracted every once in a while. So as long as you finish your work on time and meet your deadlines, it’s all well and good.

“One of the biggest hindrance to my productivity is my being sociable,” says 28-year-old interior designer Joy Meryl Ngo. “I’m an extrovert, and I find that I lose time talking to people. But the thing with me is I work efficiently and at the end of the day I always finish everything I need to do.”

However, some people struggle to overcome their many distractions at work and end up not getting anything done. Or if they do get something done, they turn in subpar work that ends up being reworked. When this behavior becomes cyclical, that’s when trouble begins.

It’s important to recognize that there are two kinds of distractions. One occurs inside, usually in your head, while the other is controlled by external factors such as the environment, people you work with, and the nature of your work. Each requires different approaches, but the good news is that there are many ways to address them both.

Breaking the habit

Here are some common habits that need to be broken in order for you to minimize distractions and improve your overall productivity.

1. Failure to set goals

A lot of people undervalue goal setting. In reality, it should be clear to you which tasks need to be prioritized and worked on immediately. Goals also provide you a roadmap of where you’re headed and what you need to do to get there. Nobody should work with no sense of direction or purpose. 

2. Ignoring the physical

Many times, the simplest ways to boost your productivity is making sure you’re physically comfortable. Too cold? Turn the air conditioner off. Your notifications won’t stop pinging on your phone? Disable them during work hours. Your colleagues won’t let you concentrate? Plug your earphones in to cancel out the noise.

3. Social media dependence

In the age of social media where Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become crucial aspects of running a business, it’s become easier to find ourselves being drawn by its siren lure. We’ve all been there, and we all know how tough it can be to break out of that particular trance.

So how do you go about it? According to Varun Panjwani, CEO of Singapore start-up Global Health and Travel, preventing people from using social media in the workplace can do more harm than good. Instead he suggests approaching it from a positive perspective, which can be done through these three means: providing extremely clear deliverables, incorporating a layer of social media research in the work that they do, and creating shared responsibility in an open office environment.

4. Overvaluing multitasking

A lot of employers want people who can multitask. It’s a good quality to have, but is it really as special as most people make it out to be? According to Mario Berta, CEO of FlySpaces, not exactly. “I had attended a master’s class in my business school where former Rugby players decided to study psychology and become a ‘performance coach,’” he says. “One of the takeaways I got from [the class] is how ‘multitasking is extremely overvalued.’ Hence, I force my team and myself to do laser focused tasks: if we do a marketing meeting, [we do a] marketing meeting, no other topics allowed and so on.”

More often than not, multitasking can breed distractions, and not the good kind. The trick then is to scale back on the workload and focus on the most pressing issues, one thing at a time.

5. Silencing the noise

Feeling like you’re burning out? Take some time off from work and do something that can rejuvenate both the mind and body. Feeling anxious and worried? Instead of feeding them or pushing them away, talk to your colleagues and even supervisor about it so you can get the support you need. Internal distractions are the most difficult to address, and requires a lot of work on your part. That’s why being honest with yourself is key to overcoming workplace fatigue.

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