Everyone has little time-saving tricks they try to apply to their lives and careers. Some sites are even dedicated to discovering and exploring these little “hacks.”
But as you might imagine, not all of these time-saving tricks are reliable ways of saving time.
In fact, some of them can actually sabotage your productivity, putting you in a worse position than when you started!
Take, for example, these five strangely common time-saving work tricks and habits, which can actually hurt your long-term productivity:
1. Saving your big projects for later.
Many workers try to concentrate on all the “little” tasks on their plate as a way to warm-up for the day ahead or eliminate distractions before tackling a big project. They knock out the small tasks as a time-saving strategy to prevent them from getting in the way of larger projects.
However, getting started on larger projects as soon as possible has major advantages, even if you take breaks to accomplish the smaller tasks throughout the process. In a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, once you’ve started work on a project, your brain automatically sends out “reminder” signals that compel you to finish the project.
The sooner you get started on a major project, the more you’ll be compelled to complete it — so trying to handle all the little tasks up front only serves as a distraction that could cost you time in the long run.
2. Working through lunch (and breaks).
More time spent working theoretically increases the amount of tasks you can complete. If you work through your lunch break and avoid taking breaks throughout the day, you could wind up with more than an hour of extra time spent working.
Unfortunately, more time spent working doesn’t always result in more work getting done. In fact, some studies suggest that taking breaks leads to greater productivity, so less time spent productively could lead to a greater end result.
Multiple studies have confirmed this, with some venturing for even more specific answers. One such study by the Draugiem Group indicated that their most productive workers took approximately 17 minutes of break for every 52 minutes of work. Does this mean you should try a 52-17 split with rigorous performance? Maybe not exactly. But taking breaks can give you brain a chance to decompress and allow you to work better.
3. Going with the flow.
Circumstances change quickly in a work environment, so some workers opt for adaptability as an ongoing practice to preserve their productivity. Rather than trying to plan their day, they respond to crises as they come up, answer emails whenever they can, and work on projects when it feels natural to do so.
This approach might seem less stressful than planning every detail of your day, but evidence suggests that a formal planning structure is almost always a better idea for productivity. For example, one study on willpower examined dieters and methods of controlling eating.
Dieters who planned ahead and sketched out their meals in advance were far more likely to stick with their overall goals. For the most part, sketching out a plan ahead of time will make you more productive than “winging it.”
4. Forcing yourself to work.
I’ve met plenty of workers who try to get more done through sheer force of will. They force themselves to focus on a certain task, hoping to charge through as many tasks as possible despite their challenging or unpleasant nature. Such a strategy is actually useful — but only for a limited amount of time.
Scientific research shows that self-regulation is a limited resource. Forcing yourself to go through with something you don’t want to do depletes this resource, so if you find yourself forcing yourself through task after task, eventually this resource will be exhausted and you won’t be able to move forward.
Avoiding this can be difficult, as you can’t always control the circumstances of your work, but try to find more favorable working environments that make tasks less of a test of will, like working from home or choosing more appropriate tasks for your skillset.
We’ve all been guilty of multitasking, thinking we’re getting more done by layering multiple tasks on top of each other. It might be attending a teleconference while finishing up an email draft to a client, or trying to catch up on voicemails while driving to work.
As you might have guessed, multitasking can hurt your productivity. You might be completing two tasks at the same time, but you’re completing those tasks at a far lower efficiency level (and quality level) than if you had focused on them individually, at least according to research from Stanford University. If you want to retain your productivity, you’re better off focusing at one thing at a time — and that also means eliminating distractions!
There are plenty of ways to save time at work, but don’t be fooled into thinking these intuitively sensible strategies are practically effective. Sometimes, the theoretical application of a strategy is in direct opposition to its real-world application, and it pays to be aware of this.
Phase out the time-saving tricks that are actually costing you time, and instead focus on the habits that are proven to be effective, like taking regular breaks and planning your day in advance.by