Five Habits That Cause Inefficiency at Work

Have you ever looked back at the end of a busy workday with the sense you hadn’t really accomplished anything? If this is the rule rather than the exception for you, it may be time to examine the habits or behaviors that can keep you from working efficiently. Read on for five of the most common habits that may be holding you back and suggestions for new and better habits.

1. Continuously checking email throughout the day

It’s not always easy to resist checking email whenever a notification pops up. We may wonder if something important has come up, have a fear of missing out on something, or simply be curious, but trying to stay on top of a flood of emails as they come in steals your time, energy, and focus. Even if you were to receive only 10 emails a day, each of which required five minutes of your time, you would lose nearly an hour of your workday. To avoid being constantly distracted by email, try making a few changes:

  1. Don’t leave your email application open all day. Think about how often you really need to check email in order to be productive, whether it’s once an hour or six times day, and limit yourself to that schedule.
  2. Turn off push notifications on your phone to eliminate email distractions when you’re in meetings, in discussions in person or over the phone, or away from your desk.
  3. Set aside a block of time for responding to emails, which can not only increase your efficiency, but also give you a very good idea of how much time it takes from your day.

2. Attempting to get work done with an open-door policy

On its surface, an open-door policy sends positive signals about you: You value transparency and accessibility and aren’t overly attached to a rigid hierarchy. In the reality of the daily workplace, however, an open door also sends the message that you can be interrupted anytime for any reason.

The most obvious downside is that you won’t be able to focus on your most important tasks long enough to see them to completion. Less apparent is the effect an open-door policy can have on your organization’s culture: People may become more dependent upon your input or approval rather than feeling empowered to make decisions on their own; employees who are more assertive than their colleagues may dominate your time and attention; and, if your organization depends on hierarchy or a chain of command to function properly, that structure may be weakened.

You don’t necessarily have to eliminate your open-door availability entirely, but there are changes you can make to help you reclaim your time and space:

  1. Schedule some regular, but limited, open-door time on your calendar.
  2. Work on ways to better empower employees to take ownership and move forward on their own.
  3. Ask that people who come to you with a problem also be prepared to offer some solutions.
  4. Delegate more (see habit #5 below).
  5. Spend time out of your office talking with employees, listening to their concerns, asking for feedback, or answering their questions.

3. Multitasking

We’ve all known (or tried to be) a multitasker, that person with the apparently superhuman ability to simultaneously carry on a phone conversation, send a text, check email, and read a note someone just slipped on her desk. The problem? Multitasking is a myth. Research has shown that we’re not really performing several tasks at the same time; we’re just switching our focus from task to task and back again every few seconds. Just think: If we did have the ability to do more than one task simultaneously—giving our full attention to each task—texting and driving wouldn’t be a problem.

The solution, of course, is to simply stop trying to multitask. Better time management methods can help, as can establishing the habit of giving your full attention to the task at hand. As an example, while you’re in meetings, close your laptop, turn off your phone, and take handwritten notes. Schedule time for email (see habit #1 above) and returning phone calls, finish one task before beginning another, and clean up the distracting clutter around you (see habit #4 below).

4. Clutter and disorganization

Whether at home, at work, or in the car, a cluttered space can be a source of stress. It’s a barrier to creativity and productivity, and can even cause feelings of guilt over our shortcomings (“I should really be more organized.”). It also wastes time as we search through piles of things and paper for something we need, and distracts us from the task at hand.

There is plenty of research on the topic of decluttering and suggestions for finally taking control of your workspace, from creating designated zones to changing the physical layout of your space to reduce clutter.

5. Failing to delegate

Some leaders avoid delegating because they believe it undermines their authority, while others fear trusting others to get a job done right. Strong leaders, however, know that one of the most important keys to having the time to actually lead is the habit of delegating.

Making the switch to being a delegator takes work, but it’s worth it in the long run. You’ll ultimately make the most of the limited time you have in your workday by taking the time to coach and develop your employees, and by empowering them to get important tasks done. You should also share your vision for the organization with employees to help them understand their role in its success and why what they do matters to achieving shared goals.

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