A quick check of Facebook, and next thing you know, a half-hour has passed. Start chatting with a co-worker, and suddenly 20 minutes is gone, and the report you were supposed to finish by lunch is late.
Workplace distractions are everywhere, especially in an age of social media and open-plan offices. In the face of so much temptation, accomplishing what you’re paid to do can be tough.
Tough, but not impossible. To find out more, I asked successful professionals from various walks of life for their secrets to staying productive and getting things done at work. Here’s what they said:
• Make a list. To-do lists may be basic, but there’s a reason so many people use them: They work.
• Use your phone. Mary Ann Poladian, an independent college admissions consultant in San Clemente, Calif., relies on her iPhone’s calendar to track client appointments and deadlines. “It helps,” she says.
• Block out time for uninterrupted work. Nina Ries, principal of a Santa Monica business law practice, schedules work in one- to two-hour chunks. “My assistant helps keep me focused and on track by serving as gatekeeper,” Ries says. “During those focused times, I only respond to urgent calls or emails.”
• Work on critical tasks first. Chris Dyer, chief executive at background check company PeopleG2, uses the ABC method to group daily tasks in descending order of importance. To-dos in the A category are either the most urgent or directly related to revenue-generating activities.
• Limit how often you check email.
• Take short breaks. Ries sets aside time at lunch and in late afternoon to shop online, check Facebook or email her assistant an errand list. “As anyone who works long hours can attest, attending to personal matters at work is unavoidable, and the mental break is necessary,” she says.
• Unplug on weekends. On weekdays, Henk Pieters is up by 6:30 a.m. and at the Newport Beach office of his certified financial planning firm by 7:30 a.m., all the better to get a jump on things. But at least one day a week, he disconnects completely to do something outdoors, whether it’s surfing, hiking, running or in-line skating. Being outside “recharges you and keeps your motivation and energy up,” he says.
Yumiko Whitaker, owner of Hummingbird HR in Santa Ana, also swears by walks or hikes to recharge. “I draw lots of inspiration and problem- solving from these one-hour outings,” she says.
•Take care of yourself. A rested mind functions better than one that’s tired. Pieters shoots for eight hours of sleep a night, eats a healthy meal every three to four hours and does a cardio and weight training workout five times a week to reduce stress and increase energy.
Christopher Kim, an earth and environmental sciences professor at Chapman University, keeps a refillable stainless steel water bottle at his desk and refills it throughout the day. “It gets me out of my office periodically to the filtered water bottle refill station one floor up, keeps me well hydrated, and has me moving around enough to ward off sleepiness during those down times.”