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I have a confession: I am a productivity nerd. I thrive off of constantly reviewing my systems and processes trying to achieve productivity-zen.

After testing almost every shiny new tool that has come out and subscribing to several productivity and time management blogs, I have designed a system that works for me. It’s important that anything new I add into my workflow doesn’t come with unnecessary overhead.

What’s more important, though, is understanding what can kill your productivity. This isn’t always obvious, especially because many of these productivity-killers have been baked into our business culture. While the list may sometimes seem never ending, I’ve identified the top 7 that have affected me over the years.

  1. MultitaskingThe research continues to mount about the benefits of single-tasking and how we’re not wired to multi-task, yet it’s the hardest habit for most of us to break. We feel more productive switching from email to Twitter to an IM to our phone and then back to the document we were working on. I struggle with multitasking almost daily, and, in general, I’m ok with the impact to my productivity given the other benefits. But, I’m aware of the productivity hit, and when I really need to focus, I will switch from my dual monitors and multiple windows to a single window with everything else shut down.
  2. Desktop notificationsShut off all desktop notifications. This includes the incoming email pop-up that’s turned on by default in Outlook and several third-party social networking and IM apps (TweetDeck is a perfect example of this). These pop-ups distract you. Even if for a split-second, you’re paying an interruption tax that is negatively affecting your productivity. Trust me, it’ll be OK. The email, IMs and tweets will still be there. You’ll still see the little new email icon.
  3. Multiple device alertsThe consumerization of IT ensures that our data is always synced across our ever-increasing number of devices. This is fantastic, except when you have 2 laptops, an iPad and an iPhone next to each other all alerting you to the same meeting starting in a few minutes. Even switching your mobile devices to vibrate still creates a distraction that draws your attention away from the current project you’re working on.
  4. Not taking breaksNo matter how much false pride you may take in telling others how hard you work without taking a break, the truth is that you’re actually negatively impacting your productivity. Not only is it draining to focus for that long, but there will be diminishing returns as well. Taking frequent breaks allows you that mental rest. It provides a small reward for being productive for a specified period of time. This is what several systems such as the Pomodoro Technique and the 10/2/5 system are based on.
  5. Allowing others to control your calendarSo often when I mention that I timeblock my calendar, people say they should do the same, yet it never happens and they continue to complain about a lack of time to get work done. Don’t allow others to control your calendar. Schedule “do not disturb” time necessary to complete your projects. Here’s a helpful hint: don’t completely block off every minute of your calendar or else people will just schedule the time that works best for them thus defeating the purpose. Leave open time blocks.
  6. Not properly managing meetingsYes, meetings are necessary. Yes, when you’re workshifting you will likely have more online meetings because it’s one of the only ways for you to connect with your team. And yes, meetings can be productive if structured properly. Take the time to properly prepare and manage your meetings.
  7. Having 1,000 email foldersI know you’re proud that you developed a system for categorizing each email down to its finest detail but it’s killing your productivity. When you have a never-ending list of folders in your email client, you spend more time filing and searching for emails than you do effectively processing your inbox and finding the information you need. There are several ideas for folder structures you chould use but all them boil down to one simple concept: use fewer folders. For years I’ve used a 5 folder system: Review/Follow-Up, External, Internal, Misc. and Travel. Every email that arrives can be filed in one of those folders quickly and easily. Oh, and while we’re at it, this applies to your folder system for normal files, both digital and physical.

Now the next and hardest step of all is to actually take action on the items that you nodded your head at. Just reading this or any advice on how to improve your workflow won’t help you boost your productivity, so put the tips into action.

What about you? What are the things that kill your productivity?

Photo Credit: leif

  • http://pgiselfdirected.com/ John@PGISelfDirected

    I am guilty of numbers 4 and 5! (I say Instagram should be at least an “island” in the Bermuda Triangle.)

    • http://justinrlevy.com/ justinlevy

      Instagram and Pinterest could both be added there. Once I start looking at the food boards on Pinterest, I am doomed for at least 30 minutes. :)

  • http://www.seoconsultantz.com/alan-cliffe/ Alan Cliffe

    I was nodding my head while reading all these points but multitasking is something I’ve been trying to avoid, I definatly need to take more breaks and what a great idea it is to cut down email folders to only five.

    • http://justinrlevy.com/ justinlevy

      Glad you found the tips helpful, Alan! I’m guilty of multi-tasking and hence why I listed it as the top killer of productivity – because it’s something that I constantly have to work on.

      To take more breaks throughout the day, either schedule them into your calendar or use a timer such as your phone, an egg timer or an app such as Focus Booster, if you’re a MacBook guy.

      Cutting down your email folders will help relieve so much stress you don’t realize you’re causing yourself. Email search has improved so much now that I could probably even cut it back to less than 5 but this system works for me and I’m used to it.

  • http://www.sandrarand.com Sandra Rand

    I just changed the settings on my cell phone because I allow that little blinking light to interrupt me every time.

    A few weeks ago, I installed RescueTime across my devices and laptop so that I can get a general sense of how my time is spent. I’m not obsessive over hours, but it’s good to be more aware of the distracting sites/apps so I can make the conscious decision to keep them at bay during my day. The challenge there is that Facebook is both work and play for me…

    • http://justinrlevy.com/ justinlevy

      Great tips, Sandra and thanks for sharing.

      Since I have an iPhone I don’t have the distraction of the blinking light but I know that’s a huge distraction for many Blackberry owners.

      I love RescueTime and have used it since they launched a few years ago. I’m not obsessive over hours too and have the same challenge as you with social channels such as Facebook being both work and play.

      • http://www.ac2lv.com/ Marc

        I actually switched from Blackberry a few years ago because I didn’t want to deal with the light. I know I could turn it off, but knowing it’s there only made me want to look.

        • rose duggan

          I don’t miss that red light at all, it used to drive me nuts back in the Bb days!

  • rose duggan

    Some of these tips are great, like time blocking your calendar and running effective meetings. But, I need my desktop notifications – I miss too much without them on certain apps.

    I work in social media for a job, so getting caught up can be easy. I try to notice what time I start looking at Fb, so I can make sure not to stray for too long. And I only keep one chat client sign on, and it’s NEVER Fb chat. That is what gets seriously distracting!

    I always keep my cell on silent, same with emails, etc. Like I said – selective notifications keep me streamline.

    I do have way more than 5 email folders, and it doesn’t seem to be bogging me down. I feel flustered when my inbox piles up, but the same goes for a gmail folder that’s 20 pages long – how is that helping at all? I think I likely have around 15ish folders.

  • http://www.suzemuse.com/ Susan Murphy

    I used to file my emails incessantly. I had all these folders and at the end of each day I’d meticulously file everything. But when I had to go find an email, I would have to remember the folder, find the folder, and search through the folder. Then a friend said “Just archive everything, and use search to find emails”. I started doing tht and my life is so much easier now! Now it’s one step to find an email instead of four.

  • http://www.unManage.com/ Karl Rohde

    Great article. Thanks heaps. I find a huge impact of personal
    Productivity is reaction. The pressure is constant and we need to choose what we react to if at all. I wrote some ideas on managing this pressure. Often we mean well, however this can be a huge hit on our productivity.

  • KP

    I think you should patent the Bermuda Triangle Diagram.. :P
    pretty helpful blog

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