6 Reasons You Can't Get Anything Done at Work

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 10, 2013

The Importance of Buckling Down

You know the feeling when you look at the clock and suddenly it’s 5 p.m. and your to-do list is barely touched. Thanks to multiple meetings, an email inbox with an endless supply of new requests and information, and shifting project deadlines that demand juggling, it’s no wonder that many of us reach the end of the day the way an exhausted runner approaches the finish line: spent.

Even when you think you’re buckling down, chances are you’re not as productive as you could be. Taking a quick break for coffee or fresh air is one thing. However, a mental shift to scouring the Web for those cute cat videos or funny memes and keeping up with personal social networks cuts into productivity, costing businesses about $1.1 billion a week according to business liability insurance company BOLT.

There’s a mental cost to distractions, too. Although taking on more than one thing at a time may appear to be the most productive way to tackle a packed workload, studies showl multitasking may not be the most effective way to get everything done. For instance, that glance at your phone is enough to send your train of thought off the rails, according to new research showing that a three-second distraction can double the number of mistakes people make.

6. Your Head Isn't in the Game

You’ve heard this in sports, where athletes have a single-minded focus to score. The clock is ticking as they are hunkered down, shifting from foot to foot, fingers itching to make the next play that will clinch a victory. To start being more productive, you need to adopt that stance: head down.

Need some inspiration to assume the position? In his now-famous Last Lecture, Carnegie Mellon professor and alumnus Randy Pausch delivers a one-two punch that’s certainly a life lesson, but good advice for your career as well: “You can always make more money, but you’ll never get your time back.”

Chewing on this statement may help when distractions abound. And finishing projects promptly and well may also increase the chances that your career will advance when others take notice of your accomplishments.

5. You're Not Maintaining Dedicated Focus

To be most productive (and less stressed at work), dedicated focus is required. That means starting with a clean slate and a blank schedule. Taking a page from Warren Buffett’s playbook may not net you cool $53 billion but in a recent interview, the octogenarian CEO stated that he’s cultivated a mindset of comfort around saying no --especially to productivity-draining meetings. "You've got to keep control of your time," Buffett said, "and you can't unless you say no. You can't let people set your agenda in life."

Saying no shouldn’t be haphazard, though. It’s important to take stock of your commitments and the goals you have for the coming days and weeks. Still at a loss (and squirming to check your phone)? It helps to look back at your calendar and analyze where you’ve invested your time in the previous week to see where you’ve spent the majority of it. Start a log of how you spend your time. Like a food diary, it needs to include snacks --on email, texting, and social media, too. Then, schedule a sit-down with yourself at least once a week to give it all a once-over and make adjustments accordingly.

4. You Don't Have Distraction-free Zones

Finding a distraction-free zone is tantamount to keeping focus as you work. This may involve taking a few laps around the office to locate a space that allows you to tuck yourself away for an hour, out of the sights of supervisors and co-workers who can’t resist leaning over to ask a question, pull you into an impromptu brainstorming session or simply to shoot the breeze about the latest episode of Big Bang Theory.

If you work from home, designate your lair off-limits to roommates, partners, and children. The kids may squawk loudly, but they’ll eventually understand that a closed door is a boundary that’s not to be crossed while Daddy or Mommy is working. Should the din be too distracting, consider a local cafe or co-working space that removes you from the fray.

3. You're Not Tapping Into Your Natural Productivity

We all have them: hours of the day in which we feel like our brains are engines firing on all pistons and we come up with brilliant ideas or connect the dots to find solutions to pesky problems. Some of us are early birds and do our best thinking before breakfast. Others may need the solitude of the wee hours to buckle down. Understanding when these times are may require a little self-analysis (see step 5) but once you know, you can use the slots wisely.

Once you find them, place the particularly tough tasks into those spots and allow yourself at least an hour during that period to hit your stride and get stuff done. Because no one is able to spend their entire workday head down, these shorter bursts of dedicated activity -- a sprint if you will -- will allow you to accomplish much in a more concentrated space of time.

2. You're Checking Your Phone Too Much

If you find your ears buzzing with the sound of e-mail and phone notifications, you need to turn them off. During your focused time, the only thing that should be humming, dinging or otherwise singing, is your brain.

Think about the way you’ve set up your workspace and your devices. Take a moment to turn your mobile phone to silent and close your email window. To avoid the irresistible urge to check the news, weather, or YouTube, there are a variety of apps that will turn off Web pages temporarily so you won’t be tempted. And if you’re worried that you’ll lose track of the time while on task, set a timer for the required increment you’ll need to reach completion.

1. You Haven't Communicated Your Plans

Like teamwork in sports, maintaining productivity should be a group endeavor. Communicate your goals to your manager and your colleagues and let them know you’d like to spend some distraction-free time working towards achieving them. Don’t be afraid to let them know you won’t be available for certain hours, but that you’d be happy to join the chatter once you’re finished. Reinforce the need for solitude to your boss through results. No one can argue with a project delivered on time.

It's Always Time to Negotiate

Once you've gained your focused and zeroed in on your goals, perhaps you'll realize it's time for a raise or career change. Soon you'll have to focus on negotiating salary or a pay increase. Luckily Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.