What Are the Biggest Things That Keep You From Being Productive?

I was just reading a blog post by Joshua Milsapps in which he highlights three lessons he learned from the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I happen to be reading the book myself and agree with the three changes he made. Another thing I did recently as part of reading the book was to take an inventory of the things that end up distracting me during the day and thwart my productivity. Here are a few of mine:

1. The Google Search Gone Astray: You know how it goes. You do a Google search for something, find an interesting link…then another…then another. Then you look up and wonder: now what was I searching for? I just saved a bunch of great links and learned something new, but I’m not sure I found exactly what prompted my quest.

2. The Quick Ping: Quite often, I’ll be pretty focused on reading or writing something when I’ll get an IM from someone. Since I am a remote manager, I want it to be like I’m in the office – immediately available – and I don’t want to keep people waiting if it means they won’t be able to move forward on a project. So I try to answer right away…but even a 3 minute exchange will knock me off track temporarily and I need to take a few minutes to get back in the groove on what I was doing. Note to Colleagues: Please keep pinging me. I want / need this form of communication as a lifeline in terms of both getting things done and as a social / fun part of my day. This is my issue to figure out! 😉

3. The Tyranny of Email: I also feel pressure to be checking email almost constantly in order to keep the information and communication flow going. However, what happens with a “quick check” of email is that I’ll get caught responding to multiple messages and find myself 45 minutes deep into some of the little rocks vs. really moving the big rocks of the day.

How about you? Have you identified your most common culprits (and how do you overcome them)?

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Aaron Winchester

It must be the kid in me but one of my largest distractions at work are game notifications on my iphone/ipad. I play scramble with friends etc and whenever I get a notice of it being my turn I am derailed. I know how to stop these distractions, the problem is that I don’t want to. Time to register for gamers anonymous.

Megan Price

I agree with all of your points Andy. I’d even add a slow internet connection to the mix. Without the internet, how can we get anything done?!?

One thing that has helped me stay on track or in the zone, is I’ve turned off my email and IM pop-up notifications. This way I don’t know what I’m missing until I’m ready to address them with my entire head in the issue. Once I get through my thought process I’ll look over and catch up with colleagues requests and respond to emails. However, just about everyone knows if they need me all they have to do is call, text or tap me on the shoulder 🙂

Troy M. Andersen

My biggest interruption is hands down visits from employees, other supervisors or top-level managers who have something they need to tell me (often times its a reminder because they have already told me). Here is what I do so that my employees don’t feel the way I feel about my supervisor. It works for both electronic communication and face-to-face interactions. Note there are exceptions.
– I think of or read something that I need to pass on

– I write it on a note card with that employee’s name at the top or copy and paste it into an email

– When the note card or email gets to 7 items, I go vist or hit send on the email

This minimizes the number of interuptions and the amount of email traffic.

Henry Brown

At least 1 and 3… and add to 3 the RSS feeds that I feel like that if I don’t read and take for action I am somewhat of a Failure… Have learned, just like with Email, to set aside a specific time during the day for dealing with the RSS feeds, most of which hit the trash bin, some of which get added to my projects list. At the end/beginning of the week I archive/delete all feeds more than 3 days old, knowing that I have probably missed some really fun things…

The real big culprit is overloading myself with self-imposed projects, all of which seem to have a deadline of yesterday… Getting better at stretching the deadlines on some projects but all that seems to do is allow me to attempt taking on more projects…. but still not there

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I share your pain Andy! Plus, we use MS Communicator’s Instant Messenger, which requires immediate attention. Then, I feel compelled to check my ever-growing Twitter feed to make sure that I don’t miss any breaking news or new ideas. I also feel compelled to check all my social networks – GovLoop, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and others at least daily. It’s funny that I used to be fixated on my phone and voice mail, but most of my calls are from vendors now.

However, I don’t consider any of these a waste of time. They are part of my job and I am as responsive as I would like everyone else to be.

Dave Bell

The biggest thing keeping me from being productive is quickly changing priorities. A lot of the work we do requires planning and coordination and then, before we can implement, management gives us different marching orders so… we have to start over and we lose all the time we spent on the first project. When I couple that with disorganized communication channels, it can be a bit frustrating.

There is an old quote, “If project content is allowed to change freely, the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress.”

Andrew Krzmarzick

Aaron – Thanks for the warning. I will not look up scramble lest I fall into the same trap 🙂

Megan – Wow. Not sure I could do that (turn off all notifications), but appreciate that tactic, for sure!

Troy – I like that approach. Thanks for mentioning it.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Terry – I don’t know how you do it all! No small feat to keep up.

Dave – Not sure what the solution is to that situation, but is there any way you can quantify that lost time and dollars? If leadership understood that, would they change their MO?

Christine Rueter

Nice post! Dare I say that GovLoop is one of my greatest distractions (in a good way)? The daily email notifications from GovLoop pull me away from the day-to-day and get me thinking about policy and the “big picture.” Case in point, a GovLoop email led me to register for the GovLoop Innovator’s Summit which in turn led me to research the current open government initiatives more closely. This is information I need to absorb (whether I’ve alloted research time for it in my daily task list or not); it allows me to be a leader rather than just an in-the-weeds, details-details-details project manager.