Productivity goblins are everywhere. Some disrupt from within, while others lurk in the spaces around us. They distract and cause us to lose our focus. They derail our best intentions and efforts. And they frustrate us as days, weeks, and months fly by and we realize we haven’t accomplished anything… and we’re no closer to reaching our goals or fulfilling our dreams.
So, what are these productivity goblins and how can you conquer them?
Let’s start with what productivity goblins are. As mentioned above, productivity goblins can be both internal and external. Examples of internal would be mindset and unproductive habits you may not even be aware of. Internal goblins could also include your energy level. These internal productivity goblins are often the sneakiest and hardest to conquer, because they tend to exist below the surface and aren’t the most obvious when you start looking for solutions to improve your productivity.
External productivity goblins are more obvious. They are the ones we all know and hear so much about. They are the daily distractions we all face every day. Emails, phone calls, unexpected requests, and similar distractions would all fit within this category. And they all have a negative effect on our focus and ability to get things done.
Now let’s look at how you can conquer them.
Conquering Internal Productivity Goblins
When you want to make a positive impact on your productivity, taking an honest look at your mindset, energy level, and habits is a great place to start!
Mindset can affect how you view and use the time you have. Do you see even five or ten minutes as an opportunity to accomplish smaller tasks, or do you tend to think in terms of there never being enough time, focus mainly on larger tasks, and lose out on the value of those precious minutes?
If you are someone who tends to focus mainly on larger tasks, start shifting your mindset to thinking of every minute as valuable. Create and keep a running list of tasks that don’t take much time, but need to be done. With that list, you have possible tasks to pull from when you have a few minutes to spare. For example, you could answer a few emails. You could make a few phone calls. You could even straighten up your desk using those five to ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much you can actually get done in those short spans of time!
What about how you schedule your time? Do you tend to overcommit? Do you cram your schedule so full that there’s no wiggle room or time to decompress?
If you tend to overcommit or over-schedule, it’s time to shift to a more realistic mindset that creates less stress and overwhelm in your days. Start blocking out time on your schedule in a way that allows plenty of time for each to-do on your list. If you anticipate something will take 30 minutes, block off 45 minutes, just to give yourself a buffer. If you’re scheduling back-to-back meetings, build in extra time in-between, so you can stop for a snack, gather your thoughts, or just close your eyes and recharge before the next one starts.
A more realistic mindset would also include learning to say “no” to activities or commitments that are presented to you, when they don’t fit with your goals and priorities or the time you have available. Stress and overwhelm can come from the pace you set and derail productivity faster than anything, so guard your valuable time and set a realistic pace for yourself.
It’s almost impossible to get anything done when you don’t have the energy to do what you need to do! Your energy level is a big part of productivity, but self-care is one of those aspects of productivity too many of us overlook. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Are you making time for your mental and physical health, and making those blocks of time just as important as the time you spend on work?
Self-care is so important to productivity! When we get enough rest, eat well, and allow ourselves time to experience joy in our lives, we have what we need to accomplish our goals and get the things done that need to be done. We’re all familiar with the phrase “burning the candle at both ends” and what the implication of that is. It creates a situation where it burns too hot, too fast, and eventually burns itself out. If we’re not careful, we can burn out too. So be sure to schedule time for yourself, and your family and friends, to keep your energy level at its best.
Habits are especially sneaky little productivity goblins, because they hide so well. They are things you do every day without even thinking about it. Maybe some of them were never a problem in the past, but now you’re realizing that operating on auto-pilot isn’t working anymore and something needs to change. Are you aware of habits that might be keeping you from being more productive? Are there hidden habits flying below the radar of your awareness?
Though some habits may have served you well (or weren’t a problem) in the past, they may be holding you back now. It’s always a good idea to be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it the way you are. Be curious. Start asking yourself if the way you are doing things is working well for you now. Then make conscious decisions about how you will do things in the future.
For example, maybe you’re someone who flies by the seat of their pants and resists the idea of planning for the week. Start sitting down on Sunday and putting a plan in place. Maybe you start your day by checking email, which causes you to lose a big chunk of time and saps your energy. Start a new habit of working on your most important task for the first 90 minutes of your day and scheduling specific times throughout your day to catch up on emails. The list of possible productivity sucking habits is endless, just be aware of what you’re doing and make some choices to change what isn’t working. If something isn’t working for you, you do have the power to change.
Conquering External Productivity Goblins
It’s no secret that scattered focus brings less than desirable results. But what you may not realize is how many distractions and interruptions you’re dealing with on a daily basis. (You can download this Interruption Log to keep track and get a feel for just how many you’re facing on a daily basis.) Notifications from emails and social media, phone calls, and unexpected requests or interruptions from others, can pull our focus away from the things we want and need to accomplish.
According to Atlassian, 80% of the interruptions we experience every day are trivial. It can take 16 to 20 minutes to get back on task after each interruption to a task, and we waste about 2 hours each day because of this. Distractions are definitely a challenge, but there are some very simple strategies for managing them.
A little planning and setting boundaries on your time can go a long way toward taming distractions and interruptions! Planning will set your focus for the day. It will also help you set boundaries to guard your time and stay on task. You’ll know what’s important and be able to divert what isn’t. It’s just a matter of running the day, rather than letting it run you.
Start by writing down your top priorities each day. Then don’t let anyone or anything interfere with the time you’ve set aside to get those things done. Turn off email and social media notifications. Silence the ringer on your phone. And politely tell those who try to dump their emergencies in your lap (or just want to chat) that you’d be happy to talk with them later, and set a time for that.
With just these simple, common-sense tweaks, you really can boost your productivity and send those productivity goblins packing. It just takes conscious decisions about how you will spend your precious time and the action to put these strategies in place.
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