Every day is a battle for productivity when you’re a small business owner or consultant. And, if we’re being honest, productivity can be especially hard to hold on to during these warm summer months when BBQs and beach daydreams wreak havoc on our day.
If you’ve ever sat back and wondered what happened between 9-5, a new survey from the creators of OfficeTime  may interest you. Here, the time tracking site polled respondents to answer the question “where does our time go ” and identified some of the biggest culprits to workplace productivity.
Earlier this year, OfficeTime announced the top 5 time killers  and formally outted Email (47 percent), Procrastination (42 percent), Social Networking (36 percent), Meetings (34 percent) and Surfing the Internet (30 percent) as the top vices stealing hours from our day. This time, OfficeTime checked back in to see exactly how much time we were spending in this five time-suck areas.
Warning, the findings may scare you:
- 64 percent spend up to 1 hour on social networking sites each day
- 59 percent spend up to 1 hour each day surfing the Internet
- 49 percent spend up to 1 hour each day in meetings
- 40 percent spend an average of 1-3 hours dealing with email
- 34 percent spend 30 minutes to 1 hour “procrastinating”
Add up the high end of those numbers and it’s pretty easy to understand why some of us leave the office wondering what exactly we accomplished in the first place.
If you feel like you’re not stretching your days as far as you could, below are some quick productivity tips to help you avoid some of the time traps listed above.
1. Create a Plan
Every Sunday I sit down at my computer, figure out what it is I need to get done over the next week, and create a map for the next 5-6 days on how/when each task is going to get accomplished. Sure, it’s inevitable that other things will pop up and that I’ll have to shift my plan, but going into the week with a set structure helps me to focus in on the work that’s really important. Otherwise, it’s easy to leave the week the same way you came in – with a pile of work still on the table because you got “side-tracked” in other areas. Know what you need to get done in your day and your week, and hold yourself accountable to that.
2. Schedule Email
It’s not surprising that email is time and time again listed as the biggest culprit to productivity. In the survey noted above, 40 percent of respondents said they spend between 1-3 hours a day responding to email, and I bet you’ve had days where you’ve spent far more than that. Try to schedule set times where you respond to email so that you’re not spending your whole day bobbing in and out. Maybe you handle email for an hour in the morning and then check in for 20 minutes before lunch and before you head out for the evening. Choose whatever works for you, but get to the point where you’re managing your email, not the other way around. And, if possible, avoid answering email as soon as you get into the office. You’ll find that being able to knock a few things off your plate first will help set momentum for the rest of the day.
This post on 7 Gmail Tips Every SMB Should Know  can help you use your Gmail account smarter by taking advantage of free tools and features.
3. Find Accountability Tools
I don’t know about you, but my biggest obstacle to productivity is keeping myself accountable. When you work for yourself, you don’t have anyone else there to crack the whip and keep you on task. Maybe you’re disciplined and don’t need it or maybe you’re like me and rely on tools to keep you as accountable and productive as possible.
Online time tracking tools like Harvest , Toggl , and OfficeTime  (creators of the survey) can be incredibly useful for an individual or a team to help accurately track time and analyze how its spent. If you charge by the hour, these tools can also help keep track of client budgets and show them how you’re spending their dollars.
If you’re not a fan of line tool trackers, than maybe a trusty old egg timer is your preferred way of staying on track. I keep an egg timer on my desk and use it religiously when writing content. Whatever tool you use doesn’t have to be flashy, just something that you’ll be accountable to.
4. Identity & Limit Distractions
Some distractions we’re well aware of – it’s the blinking light on our smart phone, it’s Twitter, or it’s our favorite blog that has nothing to do with work. Having been identified, it’s easy enough to curb these when we want to. Kill your Internet if you don’t need it at the moment, throw your phone in a drawer where you can’t see it, etc.
But there are other distractions that pop into our day that we may not realize.
Like your office messenger system (Skype, perhaps) that’s filled with more conversations about lunch options than work, or that person who likes to call meetings when an email would have been more efficient. One of the perks of using an online time tracking tool is it can help you spot time sucks you may have not have noticed. If you haven’t used one before, maybe try it for a few weeks simply to help you analyze how you spend your day. Maybe you’ll find you’re spending a third of your day in meetings or you have a friend who texts you every hour. Once you know, cut out the noise. You’d be surprise how easy fixes can add hours back into your day.
What are some of your biggest culprits to workplace productivity? Do they fall on the list or do you have other secret vices?
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