Sleeping at work is not work

It’s very common for people to say that they put in far too many hours at work. They’ll say that they’re being overworked and underpaid, but a quick tour of the office will reveal that many of these exact same employees are too busy updating their Facebook accounts and playing online games. Some may even be found napping on the job. Just because you are sitting at your desk and getting paid does not mean that you are working. You are simply at work.

There is a distinct difference between being at work and actually working. You may think that you put in a solid eight hours each day, but how much of that time was spent gossiping with co-workers or zoning out in front of the water cooler? In most offices, a manager or supervisor will eventually breathe down your neck and get you back to work, but what about freelancers and other professionals who work from home? Without someone there cracking the whip, what’s keeping you on task?

This is one of the most common reasons why people say there aren’t enough hours in the day. They spend so many of those hours not doing anything productive in particular. I don’t expect you to be your own slave driver, but when you’re working, you should be working. This sounds simple enough. If you’re getting distracted and having a hard time staying focused, it may be a better idea for you to step away and take a break. During that break, you can handle tasks that are unrelated to work. Prepare your lunch. Check the mailbox. Sweep the floors.

If you are struggling to develop a strong work ethic, a possible strategy is to start monitoring and recording your work habits. Keep a pad of paper on your desk and make a note of when you are actually doing work. If you take a 5-minute bathroom break, those five minutes don’t count. If you take ten minutes to surf around on Facebook, those ten minutes don’t count. Only record the time when you are doing something distinctly work-related.

This simple observation, over the course of a week or so, can be very enlightening. You’ll start to realize just how much time you are “wasting” doing things that don’t really further your career or get you any closer to your goals. This strategy may elicit some feelings of guilt and inadequacy, but it can also motivate you to change your habits.

Given our increasingly short attention spans, it’s harder than ever to keep on task. What do you do to stay focused at work?