By: Larry Alton March 16, 2017
We all waste time, so don’t try and kid yourself. Whether you’re a young kid at a temp job trying to relieve your boredom by browsing the Internet or an experienced CEO who can’t focus on what he needs to, time-wasting is painfully common in workplaces all across the U.S. According to recent data, the vast majority of employees know they waste 30 minutes or more every day, with 4 percent wasting half the day or more — and that’s not accounting for self-reporting biases! If you’re like most self-driven workers, at this point you’re thinking to yourself, “I believe that, but that’s not me. I’m not the type of person who wastes time.” This is because you don’t waste time deliberately — unfortunately, most forms of wasting time are sneaky and go beneath your notice until it’s too late to do anything about them. You could be wasting hours every day without even realizing it.
What’s the solution? Raising your self-awareness, tracking down the roots of your time-waste then accounting for and correcting those discrepancies.
- Rituals. We all have rituals at the office — small routines that we do every day, some of which are productive and most of which are not. You might circle by the water cooler, making small talk for the first 15 minutes of the day, or you might start out by reading the news for 20 minutes. While not always a waste of time, the danger here comes in not being conscious of your time spent. Human beings tend to forget individual repetitions of long-term routines (the way you often forget driving home from work), meaning you’re spending this time doing rituals without even realizing what you’re doing. Taking breaks and reading the news aren’t necessarily bad things, but they can put a damper on your total productivity.
- Distractions. Distractions are a major cause of time loss, and this is well-documented. Most people understand the obvious, superficial distractions that catch their eye in the middle of a project — for example, you might check Facebook instead of working through that tough problem or shop online between tasks. These are easy to identify but tough to beat. Usually, disconnecting from the Internet (or source) and scheduling time for these activities later are good strategies. However, you’re more likely to suffer from distractions you don’t recognize as distractions — such as answering emails that constantly pop-up or being drawn into an office-wide conversation. Strive for a higher awareness here.
- Communication. Communication is necessary and, in an ideal world, efficient. The most efficient communicators can use things like emails, meetings and phone calls to actually improve their collective productivity. However, for most of us, these mediums and institutions are ripe with the potential to waste time. How many times have you received a long-winded email that spent several paragraphs explaining a very simple idea? How many meetings have you attended that didn’t need to be held in the first place? Strive for more efficient communication, and you’ll find yourself with more time that you can spend productively.
- Refusal to adapt. People have different reasons for refusing to adapt. Some like their niche and pace and aren’t comfortable changing anything. Others are forward-planning perfectionists who don’t like changing their outlooks or approaches when circumstances change. In any case, refusing to adapt your working style or focus when the situation shifts will cost you dearly in terms of time spent. For example, if you gain new information about a client’s needs for an RFP, you’re better off stopping and readjusting than you are muscling through the proposal and hoping it hits home somehow.
- Working on the wrong priorities. Let’s say you’ve managed to identify and conquer all the temporal fault points I’ve listed so far. You’re working on tasks that need to be done for 100 percent of your day — excluding breaks, which are actually important to remaining productive). Are you sure you aren’t wasting time doing the wrong kind of work? Are you burying yourself in unimportant tasks or ones outside your wheelhouse, only to realize at the end of the day that you still have your biggest, most important projects to take care of? If so, you have a prioritization problem. Fortunately, this can be addressed by more proactively categorizing and working through your tasks.
Becoming more productive starts with accepting the harsh truth that you likely waste just as much time as everyone else. Once you recognize that, you can identify the key areas of your work schedule that require improvement and gradually phase them out or improve them. This doesn’t mean you’ll eventually be perfect at managing and spending time — nobody is — but you will get a little bit closer to the ideal, and that translates to hours of extra time every week.