Does it feel like you can’t get anything done at work these days? Don’t jump to the conclusion that you’re just lazy.
Working harder isn’t always the answer to a lull in productivity. Sometimes, there’s a larger issue at play. To figure out what’s going on, you need to dig deep, examining the habits that are holding you back. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can focus on changing the behaviors that are preventing you from achieving your goals.
Begin with some honest self-assessment. See if any of the reasons below resonate with you. Here are a few possible reasons why you can't get anything done:
1. You're spread too thin.
Multitasking sounds like a great idea, especially when you’re busy — and these days, we’re all busy. It seems that everyone is trying to do more with fewer resources and in less time. The problem is that multitasking really doesn’t work. Focusing on just one thing at a time allows for a kind of deep attention that brings out the best in you. Trying to juggle too many things at once spreads you too thin and makes it tough to produce quality work. So, slow down and let yourself focus.
2. You're tired.
Do not underestimate the importance of getting enough rest. Lack of sleep has a profound impact on both your body and your mind. Even just a low level of sleep deprivation changes how you think and feel. Lack of rest impairs attention, alertness, concentration, problem solving and more.
If you’re used to not getting enough sleep, you might not recognize the full impact of your habit. Try making sleep a greater priority for a few weeks and see if it doesn’t have a significant positive effect on your life and your work.
3. You're setting the bar too high.
It’s possible that your assessment of your productivity is not entirely accurate. Perhaps you’re just setting the bar way too high when it comes to setting priorities for the day.
Are you planning to do too much? Do you have 20 things you’re trying to do everyday or half a dozen? It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to accomplish more than a handful of things in a given day. And, it’s important to be realistic in order to realize a meaningful feeling of accomplishment.
Try setting your top three priorities for the workday. Then, allow yourself to feel accomplished when you check them off. And, always remember that you’re only human.
4. You're spending too much time on social media.
Are you on your personal social media a lot at work? It’s estimated that the average American spends nearly a quarter of their workday scrolling through their feeds.
While you might not check in quite that often, your usage could be infringing on your workday more than you realize. For example, do you know that spending too much time on social media may negatively affect your mood? Researchers have found that browsing social media websites actually lowers happiness levels — and cutting back or quitting might restore your emotional balance
“Quitting social media seems to improve mood,” writes Markham Heid at Time. “Last year, a study team from Denmark split more than a thousand Facebook users into two groups and asked one of those groups to take a week-long break from the social site. Compared to those who kept using Facebook as usual, the people who took a break experienced big jumps in life satisfaction and positive emotions. The more a person had used Facebook before taking a break, the greater his happiness boost after giving it up, the study data show.”
Of course, quitting altogether might not be possible for many professionals. If you work with social media or use it to build your brand, you may understandably feel that you can’t give it up. But it might be worth paying attention to how much you’re on these apps — and cutting back if appropriate.
5. You aren't organized.
It’s not easy to juggle everything you have to get done during the workday. You have to find a system that works for you in order to keep it all straight. Typically, this means using tools like calendars, to-do lists and productivity apps to keep things straight.
You can get as high-tech as you like — Tom’s Guide has a good roundup of apps like Trello, Slack and Asana — or keep it low-tech with paper and pen. The best system is the one you’ll actually use. Remember, it’s not just about adding things to your lists and calendars — you have to check them reliably and regularly, too.
Also, keep in mind that a disorganized workspace can really hold you back. If you’re spending a few minutes looking for materials before starting a task or attending a meeting, it’s costing you in the long run. Invest a little time in creating good organizational systems now to save yourself time and energy later.
6. You're stuck in dumb meetings.
Meetings can be valuable, but generally only if they’re focused on solving problems and innovating new ideas. Regular status meetings tend to be a mostly a drain. Instead, checking in by email or on a one-to-one basis, as needed, could save workers and their companies a tremendous amount of time and energy. Is there any room for change in your current situation?
7. You have chatty coworkers.
There’s a lot to be said for having friends at work. It can make the workday a lot more fun, and it’s also good for your career.
However, you have to be a little self-protective if you ever want to get any work done. Setting boundaries can help you focus on your own to-dos. Don’t be afraid to tell your work friends when you need to concentrate. You can always let them know when you’ll be available again to talk or answer their questions.
And, find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, if possible. Even just an hour or two of solid work without interruption can go a long way.
8. You don't take vacations.
At first it might seem counter-intuitive to even consider taking time off when you’re struggling with too much work. But, in many cases, it could be quite helpful. Research has shown that taking vacations increases productivity. Detaching from work gives you the much-needed rest that allows you to reengage wholeheartedly when you return to the office. After a break, you’ll be more productive, innovative and engaged.
9. You don't unplug.
Vacations are important. But, in order to perform at your best, you need to unplug more regularly than that. Perhaps one of the reasons you can’t seem to get anything done at work is that you spend too much time and energy thinking about it during your off-hours. Lack of work-life balance can leave you feeling depleted and drained. So, be sure to take time for hobbies, friends and family in the evenings and on weekends. Doing so comes with its own rewards, and it could also help you to get back on track at work.
10. Your smartphone is draining your productivity.
Smartphones and other mobile devices can be terrific productivity tools, helping you stay organized and enabling you to get more done in less time. But they can also be a time-suck, distracting you when you need to focus on the job at hand.
Have you ever gone online to research something for a project you’re working on and become distracted? Of course you have. Twenty minutes later you realize that you’re still scrolling and you can’t even remember what you got online for in the first place.
Do you check your phone between tasks, or even just randomly, when you’re at work? Well, all of those seemingly brief moments take a significant toll over time. They cost you hours and minutes, sure. But, they’re also distracting you on a deeper level, limiting your ability to be engaged in the here and now.
If you really want to get more done at work, try being more conscious of how often you check your phone. And, cut back where you can. It takes some time and effort to change a habit, but you’ll almost certainly be more productive at work if you can get better at limiting distractions.
— Gina Belli
This article originally appeared on PayScale.