The seven biggest sins of your working day

They said computers would make us all a lot more productive, and free up our personal lives.

Is it just me, or was that all a big, fat porkie?

The technology that was supposed to bring us this gift of freedom has entrapped us, eroding valuable time, energy and attention. Don't get me wrong, I love new technology. But let's take a reality check and go back to using it to help us do our jobs, not to dictate and distract every waking moment.

Here are seven key productivity traps to be mindful of:

1. Email

Email can be a highly effective form of communication or a time-waster that eats up your entire day. So many people obsess over email like it's their number one KPI. But for most executives 'proficient email checker' and 'maintaining the fastest company ERT (Email Response Time)' isn't in their job description.

So why then does the average office worker check their inbox ? It's literally the most unproductive thing you can do if you want to complete any higher-level thinking tasks – like actual thinking, or being strategic, or making decisions, or just doing your job. It also increases your stress levels, according to a study from the .

Try chunking your email time into four or five blocks spread throughout the day to allow you to complete your real work and reduce overall stress.

2. Social media (and other inboxes)

Constant connectedness to social media can actually make you very unsocial. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and the list goes on. Just like email, they can interrupt and distract you from the task at hand. Unless your job is to generate content for these platforms, put a time limit on your use at work.

And if you feel the need to check Instagram in the middle of finishing up a piece of work, it's usually a sign that your brain needs a break. Like a REAL break. So try going for a 20-minute walk, grab a glass of water, or talk to a colleague for a few minutes to refresh and reset your mind.


3. Internal meetings

Do your internal meetings feel like a season of Days Of Our Lives? The characters may change, but the story line is the same and not a whole lot happens. Over 50 per cent of meetings are considered unproductive according to a survey by Nancy Koehn, from the Harvard Business School, yet we continue to have them anyway. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Lay out the ground rules before your meetings start to make them more effective. Take a leaf out of Mark Zuckerberg's book and ask people to send through materials in advance of the meeting so everyone is aware of the content. Be crystal clear on whether you will be discussing or making a decision, and the time frame in which you have to work with.

I typically like to cap my meetings at 45 minutes as this ensures the group stays on topic and gives me time to summarise my thoughts if I have another meeting on the hour. And ALWAYS start on time.

4. Mobile addiction

I think it's safe to say we're addicted to our smartphones and it's damaging our health and lives. The average person checks their phone a whopping 46 times per day, with many people checking their screen while shopping, watching TV and when out to dinner (a pet peeve of mine is when you catch up with a colleague for a drink or a bite to eat and they constantly check their phones. That is not being productive – that is being rude).

We live in a world where we are constantly contactable and expect an instant response rate from family, friends and fellow workers. In terms of work-related mobile usage, email seems to be the biggest culprit with 69 per cent of workers checking their phone before bed and 57 per cent while on family outings according to a Good Technology survey.

Limit checking your phone as much as possible and schedule block out periods in your diary (Forced Isolation) to focus on high end cognitive tasks (fancy way of saying doing your actual job).

5. Fatigue

Whether it's poor quality or not enough sleep, being fatigued hinders your ability to concentrate and process information. It increases the likelihood that you'll make an error and also impacts your mood, making you a not-so-nice person to work with.

The easiest solution is to take a long hard look at your routine. Are you going to bed at a reasonable hour, avoiding too much alcohol late at night, and limiting your technology use in the bedroom? If not, then you should be. A good pre-bed routine is essential for quality sleep, which will help you recover in the bedroom and perform better in the boardroom.

6. Poor posture

A lot of people now work from a laptop that may not be ergonomically set up for good posture. The result is musculoskeletal pain that can make workers less productive and also increase their likelihood of absenteeism. Furthermore, it can impact physical and psychological wellbeing – constant pain increases the rate of obesity and depression.

The best way to boost productivity in this instance is to take action. Physical exercise – even walking – can help strengthen the muscles that support the lower back and also boost productivity due to increased circulation. Try to move for at least 30 minutes every day, and also ensure your work station is set up correctly.

7. Inability to say no

Let's finish with a little lesson. Purse your lips and say the letter 'n'. Ok, do it with me: 'nnnnnnnnnn'. Now, open your mouth and say the letter 'o'. Ready? 'Ooooooo'. Put the two letters together: 'no'. Was that so hard?

So many people have Noddy Syndrome, in reference to the character Noddy always nodding and saying yes, with an imaginary bell ringing on the top of your head. Saying no is not being rude, learning to say no is an essential skill to survive in an environment where we are constantly dragged from one thing to the next.

Get absolute clarity on your job description and say no to activities that fall outside the scope. Say yes more to what is important.

Are you a slave to technology or poor working habits? Or have you made changes to boost your productivity and wellbeing? Let us know in the comments section.

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 - plus a few of the pitfalls - along the way.

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