When you sit down at your computer after a few hours of work, you may often find yourself digging into your laundry list of emails and then opening 12 browser windows as you meander throughout the Internet -- only to realize that you've spent a large amount of time accomplishing, well, very little.
Related: 7 Ways to Maximize Downtime
When it comes to being productive on a computer, the odds are clearly stacked against you. Yet we must find a way to be as efficient as possible despite the never-ending distractions. I’ve found that by setting aside specific amounts of time, or even times of day, to focus on specific tasks to be incredibly helpful. Let’s call it segmentation.
1. Start with email.
I have a particularly difficult time with email, most likely because I have more than five separate accounts going at any one time -- all of which need some amount of attention. I certainly don’t think that I’m unique in this predicament, but do think that keeping any one or all of them open on a browser window has a disastrous affect on productivity. The fact that you can see the little ticker symbol increase as emails come in is just too much for our brains to handle -- new messages must be further investigated. This leads to a loss of focus and a complete stop to whatever you were doing, which is terrible for productivity.
There’s also the issue that arises when you’re looking through your email and unsure which to answer or deal with, mainly because you have an open-ended amount of time to peruse.
The easy fix? To start, never leave your email open in a browser window or tab, then set aside specific times of day that are solely dedicated to checking and resolving email. For example, I have begun to focus on email between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and 3 and 3:30 p.m. That’s it. If you can’t get through all of your emails in one hour per day, you’re either not managing your inbox effectively or your email responses are far too lengthy -- concise is better, both for you and the recipient.
2. Segment your browsing.
This is a tough one for those of us that are business owners and work from home. The Internet can be a dangerous thing due to the growing ability of others to distract you from whatever you’re doing. There are a few great tools for removing at least some of the distractions, such as AdBlock Plus for Chrome, which can help to keep flashy images off your screen. But what they won’t do is keep you from meandering about the Internet while clicking interesting link after link.
To stay on task, set aside particular times for browsing important business topics -- call it “research and development” -- and for general browsing, then stick to it.
3. Segment time for meetings and calls.
Much of the wasted time throughout the day is spent on calls or in meetings. So aside from the previously mentioned items, conference calls and meetings should only be allowed to fit within a very defined window, no more than an hour per day, so you don’t find yourself overly occupied with non-revenue generating activity.
In reality, you really should be segmenting time for everything that you need to accomplish throughout the day. It may be hard at first, but just remember that the better you become at segmenting your time, the more efficient and effective you’ll become. Both of which will lead to you having more free time to use as you please.