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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Small Ways You're Stealing Time From Yourself Every Single Day

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The clock strikes 3:00 PM. Suddenly, you realize you’re not nearly as far down on your to-do list as you planned to be. You think: Ugh, who’s stealing all my time? But let’s get real: No matter how busy you are, the only person sapping your productivity is you.

The truth is, it’s easy to get into routines where you mindlessly waste the precious minutes of your day. These unconscious habits might seem harmless—or even, ironically, like they’re actually boosting your productivity—but ultimately, they slow you down, distract you from doing your work, and leave you scrambling to catch up by the end of the day.

Fortunately, there’s a way to overcome every bad habit. So if you’re serious about upping your productivity game, it’s time to ditch these three patterns and replace them with ones that work (pun intended).

Bad Habit #1: Slow-Motion Mornings

When you arrive at work first thing in the morning, head straight for the snack pantry, stop by your friend’s desk to discuss the latest episode of whatever you just watched, and then plop down in your chair to sort through your inbox, you might think that you’re just easing your way into the work day. But with that routine, you might not find your flow until an hour in or longer—and that’s not a productive way to get your day going.

The Fix: Go Straight to Your Desk, Do Not Pass Go

So, when you first step through the door, don’t get too comfortable—get working. And yes, that means delaying your morning coffee chat. If you don’t have time to make a cup before you head to the office, try picking one up before you get to the office so that you can head straight to your desk and knock out a few quick tasks, allowing you to set the stage for success. (Of course, avoid picking it up from a place like Starbucks where you’ll lose all your time waiting in line.) If you really want to maximize your efficiency, jot down your morning to-dos before you even get into the office. Even taking 10 minutes at the end of the day—or, if you take public transit, during your morning commute—can help you dive into productivity mode right off the bat.

If you struggle to get down to business right away, you may want to try standing up at your desk instead of sitting. It doesn’t take a specially outfitted desk—you just need to find an elevated surface to place your computer on. Many people find that it naturally launches them into action—you feel focused, energized, ready to conquer your to-do list. If standing's not your thing, try putting your phone out of reach, or changing up your to-do list strategy, or seeing if listening to ambient noise helps you.

Once you make some headway and reach a good stopping point, reward yourself with a mental break and grab that second cup of coffee. If you bump into a colleague who wants to dish about the podcast you both listen to, go for it: You’ve earned it.

Bad Habit #2: Sitting Through Too Many Meetings—Literally

Few things are more frustrating than having a day so filled with meetings that you don’t have time to get anything done. But here’s the secret: You probably don’t have to be in all of them. And if by some chance you do, well, then, you need to make them a lot more effective.

The Fix: Stop Following the Meeting Herd—Lead the Efficient Pack

In an effort to clear their inboxes, plenty of people blindly accept invitations without thinking about whether or not they actually need to go, but prioritizing your precious time is key to productivity. If a seemingly non-essential invite comes through, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking the organizer if you need to be there or letting her know that you need to tackle some other urgent items instead. You’d be surprised at how accommodating people are when you directly communicate your position. No one wants a disengaged multi-tasker clacking away at her keyboard in protest instead of paying attention to the meeting’s leader.

But sometimes, due to pressing deadlines or simply office politics, there’ll be meetings you can’t get out of. In those situations, if you’re able to, get out of the conference room and organize a walking meeting. This is especially effective for recurring check-ins or one-on-ones, less so for large gatherings, but if everyone is game, it can work for four or five people as well. Making meetings mobile keeps the energy levels high and the ideas flowing, while giving all participants involved a much-needed break from laptops and phones.

Bad Habit #3: Hiding Behind Your Keyboard

There’s something about using a computer as an intermediary that makes a lot of people feel more comfortable weighing in on sensitive issues or sharing honest opinions. And often, communicating through an online chat system or email just seems like the quickest way to get things done.

The Fix: Get in Front of Your Team

The keyword here, though, is seems. Sure, typing out a quick question and clicking send may be a couple of seconds faster than walking over to your teammate’s desk, but think of all the confusion that can result from only communicating through writing. (Anyone who’s ever felt momentary panic after receiving a text that says nothing but “OK,” knows exactly what I mean). If you’re trying to problem-solve or have a deep, multi-faceted conversation through email or chat, you risk getting pulled into a thread of back-and-forth misunderstandings.

Kill the never-ending email chains once and for all by resolving to sort things out in person whenever possible. It might feel a little intimidating at first, but nine times out of 10, talking things through face-to-face will be quicker and less painful. And the good news is, the more you do it, the easier it’ll be.

Whether you find yourself constantly running out of time—or you just want to step up your ability to get things done—it’s worth keeping those little time-sucking habits in check when you can. If you want to win the productivity game, you need to make the most out of every moment you have.

Who knows? If you use these small changes as a launching pad, you might even become the office badass who gets a ton of work done, plays a role in major accomplishments, and still has time for the after-work happy hour.