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3 Productivity Killers and How to Beat Them: AMA Research

March 24, 2015

3 productivity killers

Do you always complete everything on your to-do lists? Are you looking for tips to improve your productivity? Although you may start the day motivated to get all of your work done, time management often becomes an issue. AMA recently conducted a survey to see what the most common time wasters are. With over 950 responses collected, the definitive results are in. Here is the list of productivity killers that can derail your work, from most common to least common:

  1. Constant interruptions (31%)
  2. Email (21%)
  3. Browsing the internet (17%)
  4. Requests from my boss that have nothing to do with my goals (9%)
  5. Requests from my coworkers that have nothing to do with my goals (7%)
  6. Phone calls (5%)
  7. Text messages (4%)
  8. Personal issues (such as caring for family) (4%)
  9. My health (2%)

As you can see, the three most common productivity killers were constant interruptions, email, and browsing the internet. Those three alone accounted for a whopping 69% of the responses, and clearly pose a tremendous problem when it comes to time management and staying on task. Requests that are not related to your goals took up another 16%, and phone calls, text messages, personal issues, and health combined for the rest. In the context of this survey, these seem to be less universally common threats to your productivity, and some are best addressed on an individual basis. AMA wants your days to be productive and effective, so here are the tips that will help you tackle the top three reasons why your productivity may be compromised.

Productivity Killer #1: Constant Interruptions

Like everyone, you’ve probably had the experience of working diligently when someone comes to your desk to ask about your most recent trip to the movies or if you caught the game last night. People come over to ask if you’ve made progress on their request or ask you to locate a file you sent them three months ago. These are all examples of the constant interruptions that can derail your productivity. Whether you are an executive or an individual contributor, if you work with other people, this will happen to you.

A great way to stay on task is to block off time where you make yourself completely unavailable. If you have a door, close it and write a note that says you are busy for the next hour, or something to that effect. Use Microsoft Outlook’s calendar feature, which allows you to set up appointments or meetings that show others you are busy for a set period of time. Doing this will keep the interruptions at bay and allow you to focus on your priorities. If someone is persistently interrupting your work, have a conversation with them, politely explaining that the interruptions are disruptive and offer to meet during lunch or after work. The constant interruptions will begin to disappear, and you can get back to focusing on your priorities.

Productivity Killer #2: Email

Email is a vital form of fast, convenient communication in the workplace. You can share files and keep track of conversations to help get things done. However, there is a downside to using email: sometimes you become too accessible. You’ve probably received an email in the time it took to read to this point. Your coworkers include you in email strings that you don’t need to be involved in, and the requests pile up. Perhaps you become involved in an email string that never seems to end, and sifting through all of it can take hours. Before you know it, you have hundreds of unread emails with no end in sight.

Fixing this productivity killer is a bit trickier than the first. You don’t want to spend your whole day reading emails, but you also need to be ready to handle a crisis or an emergency request. To alleviate this problem, you can limit your email checking to specific times of day. Check in the morning when you come in, once or twice during the day around lunchtime, and once before you leave. That way, you can monitor what you need to do and have an idea of what’s going on around you without becoming overwhelmed. You can also organize your inbox so you spend less time searching for messages if you need to find something. Finally, turning off notifications will help curb the compulsion to stop what you are doing to see the most recent messages. They are essentially constant interruptions–and will do your productivity no favors. The world will not end if you don’t check your email, so stay focused and on task.

Productivity Killer #3: Browsing the Internet

The internet is an endless universe of information, entertainment, and (most importantly) distractions.  Browsing the internet is the least productive of the three major productivity killers because, at least with the other two, the distractions are likely work related. It is comically easy to waste hours on end on the internet, and before you know it you’ve lost valuable time watching cat videos on YouTube. There are, however, many solutions that can keep you from wasting time browsing the internet.

As with checking emails, you should limit your browsing to certain points throughout the day. If it isn’t work related, you should only browse the internet during lunch or a break. You can also find tools online to keep you from getting off track. RescueTime is a service that tracks how much time you spend on different websites. You can download extensions that temporarily suspend access to designated websites as well. Finally, if all of this is impossible, your company can (and might already) block access to problematic websites. Self-management is the most important step to working productively, and you can use the many tools available to keep yourself from veering off course into the depths of the internet.

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About The Author

Chris Brown is a content marketing coordinator at the American Management Association. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Marketing and a minor in Italian.

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