Nobody wakes up hoping to get little done in the day and to be distracted by a bunch of things that don't really matter. Despite this, that's what many office workers do unknowingly.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about the "metric black hole" that so many of our activities fall in to. This black hole is where the measurements of the costs for our activities fall in to. Email seems productive because you're pushing words around in the company, but most of the time it does little more than make you feel productive and finishes no projects.
Here are three ways you can cut those distractions and pull productivity out of that black hole.
Yes email is the way most companies communicate. Quick messages are dashed off across the company with many people CC'd in to them. It feels like something is actually getting done, but most often what you're really doing is pushing around deck chairs. You've simply reorganized in the guise of working hard.
To get on top of this productivity stealing beast you need to take drastic action. First, only check your email twice a day at most and set a time limit. I use the Pomodoro productivity method and I allow only one 25 minute block per day to go through my email. Putting this time limit on email means that it can't expand in to all available time like it's prone to.
When I was last an employee and the lowest person on the totem pole even the CEO understood me only checking email twice a day. A calm rational explanation that I needed large swaths of time to focus on my work was fine with him. He even adopted the practice of only checking at 11am and 3pm like me and loved how much extra focus he had.
Second, start scheduling almost all of your email. I use Right Inbox to only send email at 4 p.m. regardless of the time I check it. The only exception is when someone is waiting on something from me and they need a response right away. This helps ensure that you're not playing email tag as you try to clear your inbox and replies keep coming in.
Third, never check your email first thing in the morning. The thing that email is really good at is telling you what everyone else thinks is important for you that day. It rarely has any bearing on what you need to do to push your projects forward. You should figure out the night before what your most important task is. Come in and do that till you have your scheduled email block.
Fourth, turn off all notifications on your email. Studies show that having these notifications cause you to get distracted from the task at hand. If you're not focused you're not doing your work well. Just get used to waiting for your scheduled email times. Nothing will catch on fire and if it does the alarm will go off or someone will stop by your office as they run out the door in panic.
These can be great tools and so many companies are diving in to group messaging tools with both feet cutting out email. The problem is that the expectation is for employees to have chat open most of the time and respond instantly to any message no matter how trivial. I've talked with one manager who felt the most productive programmers were those that had a notification engine built in to their code editors so they could jump to chat instantly from the task they were focused on.
This is simply the notification problem with email exponentially increased. Simply because there is some benefit to a tool doesn't mean that it's a good tool.
Just like email turn off all notifications on your chat tools. Then quit the application in favor of scheduled checkins. I check my Slack channels twice a day. Once just after my morning workout and once just after lunch. I'm already not focused on anything in particular so there is no attention stolen.
Finally we have meetings. So often someone can call a meeting with 10 people for 2 hours which in terms of salary costs thousands of dollars, but they could never approve an expense of half that amount. Why does no one bat an eye at this?
To curb meetings start by refusing to go to any meeting that doesn't have a clear agenda 48 hours in advance with a single clear decision that you need to be involved in. Again with my last full-time employment as the lowest person in the building I put this in place and managed to avoid most meetings.
When your boss asks you to join a meeting show them your task list and ask which item needs to get bumped off the list for the meeting. Much of the time your boss is going to say that the meeting needs to get bumped. When I've used this tactic a two-hour meeting turned in to someone coming to get me for the 15 minutes I really needed to be there. I weighed in and then was gone.
That super important meeting often isn't that important it's just that no one has challenged it yet. In the face of a challenge people acknowledge that the interruption in the work day is worth less than moving projects forward so you don't have to go.
Like I said at the beginning, there are so many distractions in your day. Cutting those distractions out and taking control of your day will mean that you get more done and don't have to work all hours to be as productive as you are.