Productivity Tip – Keep Your Personal Life Out of the Office

Only nearly 10 years later am I ready to admit how much work time I spent planning my wedding.  It was just so easy to procrastinate by surfing the Web for flower ideas and bridesmaid dresses.  And the caterer could only chat with me during business hours, so…

The biggest time suck is…your life

Although work/life boundaries are more blurred than ever, spending too much work time on personal tasks will lead you to be much less productive.  Here is where I expect you’re ready to quibble with me.  Since we now check work email at home and finish work-related tasks after our kids go to sleep, shouldn’t we be able to borrow some time back at the office?

The short answer is yes, except it’s a slippery slope because we do not limit the time we borrow back.  At all.  From what I’ve seen, many people will spend exactly as much work life on personal tasks as they can get away with and others will simply not pay attention.  From chatting away to a spouse and scheduling a doctor’s appointment to researching a vacation and buying a new grill for the weekend barbecue, it’s easy to use upwards of a quarter of work time engaged in tasks that have nothing to do with the job.

Now before you feel too guilty…

People who multitask at work are not necessarily unethical.  But it is tempting to put off a complex project that requires significant brainpower to update your Friends list in Facebook.  When you’re sleep deprived and exhausted, staying focused is hard and the path of least resistance is reading Blind Gossip.  Furthermore, it’s often easier to do things at work than at home.  There’s the business hours thing I mentioned, and there are also helpful resources like Fed-Ex, servers that don’t go down, and free international calls.

We don’t know that we’re ripping the company off, because unless we’re in a services profession, we don’t add up the time spent on personal tasks.  We just think we’re busy and forced to work tons of hours because our jobs are super-demanding.

Witness my radical transformation…

I recently engaged in an experiment, because although I work for myself, I still have the productivity problem associated with spending too much designated work time on non-work-related tasks.  One day, I decided not to do any personal tasks whatsoever from 9AM-5PM.  I took no calls from my husband, I ignored personal email and social media accounts, and did no online research or shopping.  It was like being on a diet and I was a tad grumpy, but man did it work.

I kid you not.  I was done with my “real” work for the day by noon.  Usually, at 5PM I am high-tailing it to finish several to-dos, but on this day I didn’t dilly dally – and look what happened.  I challenge you to do the same experiment and see just how much work you are able to accomplish in a smaller window of time.  If it works for you, you might seriously consider banning personal tasks from your work day.

Finding a middle ground…

Okay, I understand that a total ban may not be practical as a permanent solution.  After all, we have lives and families to which we must attend.  Perhaps you can instead commit to using only one hour of your work day for personal matters (except in an emergency, of course).  For example, you might schedule the 9-10AM hard-to-get-moving hour, the 1-2PM sleepy and winding down from lunch hour, or the 5-6PM burned out and ready to leave hour for your wedding or honeymoon planning.  This will leave the rest of your day available for the things you actually get paid for and might have real payoffs for your career growth and development.














Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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