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Go ahead and scan the subheadings, you know you want to. You probably expect to see the usual suspects… spending too much time on Facebook, pinning too many recipes.
But this list is a little different. These are productivity suckers of the worst kind because they are things we have to deal with every day. So while you can take a “just log out of Facebook” approach to those other kinds of distractions, the ones I want to talk about are in front of you whether you like it or not.
And it’s easy to let them get out of control.
So if you want to be more productive, have more time for working on your business and in your business with some leftover for living your actual life… listen up! Here’s what’s stopping you from working at your best right now.
1. Your Insane Downloads Folder
Do you know what’s in my download folder right now? Nothing.
What’s in yours?
If you’re like most people I know, your download folder is filled with… well, whatever you downloaded. Ever.
And while this may not seem like such a big deal (who really checks that folder, anyway?) it becomes a big deal when you download something and then can’t find it because it’s lost in the hundreds of other things taking up space in there.
I was working with someone recently and as we were doing a screen share, I watched her download a file then open her download folder where there were quite literally hundreds of files. And she scrolled and scrolled and clicked and scrolled then decided she couldn’t find it and downloaded it again.
Now she had hundreds of files… plus two.
By the time she found the actual file I wanted to pull my eyeballs out.
If this is you, you’re wasting time every time you download a file and spend more than one second trying to find it.
If this is you, you’re wasting time every time you look for a file that you need and never took out of the downloads folder to place it in a project folder or client folder or somewhere it might make sense to find it in the future.
2. Not Knowing Where Your Insane Downloads Folder Is
And while we’re on the subject, you do know where your downloads go, don’t you? I’ve also seen plenty of people download a file and then spend the next half hour sorting through folders to find it.
Bad, bad, bad! You can set a preference on your computer so that all downloads go to one location. Figure out how to do that and stop guessing.
3. Your Insane Email Inbox
This is sort of like the insane downloads folder but worse. Have you heard of “inbox zero”? It’s not just a myth, I swear. It can be done.
Remember this: your inbox is not a to-do list. If you receive an email that warrants a reply, then reply. Even if you don’t want to send it immediately then save it to your drafts or schedule it.
If you receive an email that requires an action then move the action to your to-do list and archive the email.
If you don’t know what to do with an email, it won’t decide what to do with itself no matter how long you leave it in your inbox. Stop and think about it.
It’s amazing the things you learn about people when you screen share… once I watched someone sift through her inbox for a specific email. And as she scrolled, there was everything from jokes from her mom to emails from clients to coupons for Macy’s… from 2013.
It made me want to cry.
If you have anything in your inbox that goes back weeks or months, let alone years, you’re wasting time.
If you’re not archiving emails and keeping your inbox clean so that you can actually process incoming emails, you’re wasting time.
If you’re using your inbox as a to-do list instead of organizing your tasks then guess what? You’re wasting time.
4. Keeping Your Insane Email Inbox Open
The concept of inbox zero actually has less to do with the number of emails in it than the amount of time you spend thinking about it: zero.
But chances are that in order to stop thinking about your emails, you either need to archive them, act on them or organize them.
But there’s another concept related to inbox zero, which is shut the inbox.
It’s a 21st century addiction. We can’t stop checking our email. There are days I check my email one last time before shutting my laptop for the evening then I pick up my phone and ten seconds later I check my email.
We can’t help it. The email chimes every time it comes in. The little badge pops up telling us how many we have. If you’re really insane, you have one of those floating notifications that drift across one corner of your monitor every single time a new message comes in.
Unless you’re in customer service and your job is to monitor emails in real time and respond or assign them to someone who can… then stop it!
We are Pavlov’s dogs. Pop an email in front of us and we salivate. Or, in 21st century terms, we stop what we’re doing and divert our attention to our email. Even if we don’t respond, that constant distraction sucks a ridiculous amount of time out of our day and messes with our productivity in horrifying ways.
Repeat after me: nothing is on fire. If I don’t respond to that email for an hour, the world will continue to spin.
It’s harder than swearing off ice cream, but trust me. If you close your inbox and then do actual work you will get a lot more done. You may even start to feel less stressed, less pulled in every direction.
Control your email. Don’t let it control you.
5. Your Insane Desktop
Here is my reaction 98% of the time when I screen share with someone and see their desktop: “Holy crap!”
Right now there are four things on my desktop: one I’m working on which will be trashed by the end of the day, one I’m working on for this week and want to keep front and center, my main organizational folder and the draft of this blog post.
When this blog post makes it to my site, the document will go in the trash and I’ll be down to three.
Your insane desktop is not that different than your insane downloads folder. You may use it as a catchall to keep stuff. Or maybe you drop stuff there that you don’t know what to do with.
I’m guilty – sometimes I drop bookmarks there. Sometimes I make notes and save each one in its own document. Sometimes I download things and because I want to keep my downloads folder clean I drop the thing on my desktop to remind me to clean it up. Weirdly defeatist, I know.
But that can’t be the norm. There are bookmark toolbars for websites you want to remember. There are folders for notes. There are dropboxes for files you need to keep but that you don’t need in front of you every day.
Because every time you stop to sort through the junk on your desktop… you’re wasting time.
6. Answering The Phone When It Rings
If you call on my office phone right now, there is a 100% chance that I won’t answer it. Do you know why?
Because the phone is unplugged.
Also, if you call on my cell I won’t answer it either, because the ringer is off (kind of a nightmare when you lose the phone in the couch cushions and can’t call yourself to find it, but that’s another story…)
Right now I’m writing, and as awesome as you are, I don’t want to talk to you.
And when you’re busy, you shouldn’t want to talk to me. Or anyone else.
The phone is just a louder equivalent of your inbox. It rings, you salivate.
When you’re working on something, especially something that requires creativity, attention or brainpower, the phone can be a huge distraction. Even if you don’t answer it, the ringing alone triggers that Pavlovian response and takes you off task.
Besides, it’s a lot more productive to collect your voicemails at once then schedule a dedicated time to speak to someone when your attention is on them 100% – not still mulling over the unfinished sentence in your blog post or whether you added those two line items right on the invoice.
7. Your To Do List
I saved the worst for last.
I’m a bit of a list junkie, so I admit to having notes and apps and stickies everywhere with to-dos. And that is the worst possible thing for productivity.
This is an entire topic unto itself and Ralph is going to talk more about GTD (Getting Things Done) in a future post so I’ll save that for him.
For now, suffice it to say that most things on your to do list are not to do items at all. They are projects.
Take my list, for example.
- Write blog post.
Looks like a legitimate to do, right?
But break it down: I have to choose a topic, write the post, compose a title, draft it in WordPress, output a feature image, write SEO titles and descriptions, write an excerpt, set up a promotional email, record the audio, edit the audio, tag, bag and publish the audio…
I’m exhausted before I get started!
I bet if you broke your to-dos down like that you’d see you have a list of projects instead, each with their own to-do list.
And that’s why to-do lists make us feel so overwhelmed. It’s why we look at the clock and say, “It’s 5PM and I only got one thing done today!”
When your to-do list overwhelms you then you start bumping things down to the bottom. You put them off or you freak out and your creativity and productivity suffers. Maybe you miss deadlines or stay up all night meeting them.
And until you understand that this is why it’s happening, you are always going to feel like you’re behind the eight ball. You’re always going to waste time “catching up” instead of getting ahead.
Now you have some homework. Give yourself an hour today and start cleaning up that insane inbox, desktop or downloads folder. Do that until you’re an organizing superstar. When you’re deeply engaged in a task, shut the phone and focus. And tomorrow, check your email in the morning then close the program. Go divide up your to-do list into project lists and then itemize out all those to-dos and be as granular as you want to be. Because honestly, other than inbox zero, not much is better than looking at a long list of stuff that’s crossed out because you’ve completed it.