You might think that you have your life pretty well figured out. You do the things that need to get done in a reasonable amount of time, you take care of your responsibilities, and you’re generally pretty happy. All’s good, right?
Not so fast.
There are a lot of things that have a big negative impact on your life—things you didn’t even realize were dragging you down.
Here are five of those problems (and what you can do about them):
1. Excessive Email
A recent study found that just knowing you have an unread email in your inbox can make it more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. So if you’re like most people, you have a constant stream of messages hitting your inbox—and thatmeans you’re going to be distracted on a regular basis.
The first step in keeping email from taking over your life is to stop checking it every 30 seconds. Close Gmail or Outlook while you’re working on other things, turn off email push notifications on your phone, declare an email curfew of 7 p.m.
Literally turn off the distraction. Don’t let email steal your attention from what matters most.
2. The Productivity Culture
The Internet is chock full of helpful productivity sites, blogs and tips. But with our interest in maximizing efficiency, we’ve started to lose sight of an important fact: Not every moment of the day needs to be maximally productive. There is a time for productivity, but letting your brain rest is just as important.
According to Skift, almost 42 percent of Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014, which clearly shows that people aren’t giving themselves enough time away from work. Not only do you need evenings and weekends to let your brain recharge, but you also need extra days throughout the year.
Work burnout is real, and it’sunpleasant—so make time to recharge.
3. Too Much Focus on Focus
Similar to productivity, people now place a premium on staying focused. Fighting distractions is a good thing, but as with productivity, there’s a time and a place for singular focus. What many people don’t realize is that our brain does some of its best work when we allow our minds to wander.
When you’re not focused on anything specific, your brain does a lot of unconscious processing, and that processing often connects different areas of the brain, helping you come up with creative ideas and innovative solutions to problems. This is one of the reasons people come up with great ideas while they’re in the shower or mowing the lawn. And it is especially true if you have multiple hobbies and encourage your brain to think in different ways on a regular basis.
So it’s OK to let your thoughts drift, and you should try to get lost in something mindless—wandering can do wonders.
4. Lack of Purpose
Being productive or being focused for its own sake isn’t a useful activity. Not having a goal that to work toward makes it difficult to direct your efforts, measure progress and motivate yourself to keep going.
Don’t know what your “purpose” is? Set short- and long-term professional and personal goals, like meeting a deadline, getting a promotion, paying off debt, improving your fitness or picking up a new hobby.
Write your goals down—and be specific. Then review them regularly, and you’ll be more motivated on tough days.
How much time do you spend looking for things you’ve lost? Paperwork, receipts, emails, files, web addresses, clothes…. What if you could get all of that time back? Think of the things you could accomplish.
Putting systems in place can make a huge difference in your daily life. Is messy your middle name? Try buying the necessary organizational tools, like a day planner, a filing cabinet and folders to fill it with, and a desk inbox/outbox.
It may take a long time to get everything organized and under control, but it’ll save you a lot of mental energy in the future.
So, now that you’re in the know, you can start making small changes to be more successful both at work and at home. All’s (almost) good.
Photo by Korneevamaha/Twenty20
Dann Albright is a freelance journalist who helps people lead more successful personal and professional lives through technology, organization and positive thinking. His experiences in living abroad, navigating graduate school while self-employed and running marathons have helped him develop a well-rounded approach to problem-solving and creativity.