How to stop wasting time at work

by | Jan 7, 2020

Stop wasting time at work and reach your full potential

Life is precious and time is short, so use these tips to stop wasting time at work and start making the most of the time you have. 

Employee engagement is rising, but despite that, according to Gallup only 34% of employees are actively committed to their jobs. One of the by-products of this is low productivity. This can be seen by the amount of time that is wasted in the workplace. Research in 2014 from salary.com suggested that 89% percent of employees waste at least some time at work every day. 31% percent waste about 30 minutes, but the top 10% waste three or more hours each day. That aggregates to 15 hours per week of wasted productivity. So even though this information is five years old, there is nothing to suggest that we are seeing a significant improvement.

Time-wasting is a death knell to any organisation or business. It results in reduced overall productivity, decreased employee engagement, which contributes to lower employee retention and low morale. For the small percentage of top performers who generally pick up the slack, for them the results are physical and mental health issues. Of course this in turn leads to burnout.

But what is time-wasting?

I decided to ask my network what they thought of the topic and was amazed at the response in terms of volume of interaction and the scope of different ideas. It's clear that we can't be expected to be productive every single second of every day and even some "wasted time" can beneficial.

Marta Podorogzelska, BPS Solution Architect, suggested that we are asking the wrong question and instead of productivity we should speak of meaningful or value added activities because it is not always easy to apply for many jobs that we currently execute, where outputs are less tangible or each person only contributes to part of big, complex process.

Hannah Morgan, Career Sherpa said "I don't think it is humanly possible to be productive every minute of an 8 hour workday... The time spent in meetings or simply chatting with co-workers is part of the humanization of work. Relationships with colleagues allows us feel a part of something. We are not robots! " 

Suzanna Lucas, Evil HR lady agrees with her "Wasting time isn't always non-productive. My editor at Inc often asks me where I find things. I often find ideas from Twitter, Facebook and my Feedly feed. But, if you looked over my shoulder you'd say, "Get to work, Suzanne! Get off Twitter!" But, then you'd wonder why my ideas weren't as good."

The slippery slope

Roderick Lewis, Coach and Trainer added a caveat "...some seemingly "time-wasting" activities are necessary for the overall health and wellness of the workplace culture. However, it can be a slippery slope depending on the nature of the work to be done and the professionalism of the individuals involved." 

Mark Anthony Dyson, job search strategist added another perspective, that not everyone who looks busy is productive. "Co-workers who "look" busy and do what's counter-productive. Anal managers will measure stapling vs. paper clipping - and yes, that's real!"   This suggests we need to look at certain elements of the presence culture we see in so many organisations.

 

 

stop wasting time

How do people waste time in work?

Well let me count the ways! Basically, they can be split into three main categories which are a mix between systemic inefficiencies (the way organisations are set up to work)  individual time wasting and the way certain managers work.

1. Systemic inefficiencies

There are two main time consumers that don't always produce the best results or any results at all:

  • Unnecessary Meetings

Research from MIT The Science and fiction of meetings tells us that the average employee spends about 22 years of a 45-year career in meetings. 33% of that time is estimated to be of no value at all. When you reach retirement you may well have spent 7 years in meetings which is 16% of your life. Think about that.

  •  Pointless Emails

A new study in the U.K. commissioned by OVO Energy suggests that Brits send more than 64 MILLION unnecessary emails every day. They maintain that if every adult sent one less “thank you” email a day, we would save more than 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to 81,152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.

In the U.S., according to research from McKinsey, the average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering emails. For the average employee in US, that totals 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day, of which approximately 144 (mostly CCs and BCCs) aren't relevant to their job.

So, if you don't participate you are not being rude, you are being green.

Kevin D Turner, organisation and brand strategist suggests "I have always focused on establishing a culture that sets and manages the goals to get to the right output and celebrates the accomplishments/people. Communication and leadership examples owning the process always made the difference. "

2. Personal time wasting activities

These could include

    • poor time keeping (late arrival and early departure)
    • Extended coffee breaks
    • Long lunches
    • Personal calls, messages and chats
    • Leaving the office to run errands
    • Social media time
    • Personal online tasks (banking, shopping online, booking flights, hotels and other tasks)
    • Personal research
    • Games
    • Job search

However, Susan P Joyce, Publisher of Jobhunt.org, commented "I also strongly suspect this research did not take into account the work people do when they are NOT at the employer’s location — checking email, thinking about something at work (a problem or a project), doing research, making notes, etc." 

 

3. Poor managerial habits

If you are a manager, ask yourself what you could be doing differently. It's not all down to the internet. Most employees when asked why they waste time gave some pretty incriminating answers:

  • Procedures for tasks are unclear
  • No incentive to work smarter or even harder
  • Dislike of the job
  • Boredom
  • Poor management or leadership ( yep...that's you...)

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How to stop time-wasting

The first thing to understand is that being busy is not a badge of honor. Our modern-day obsession with working long hours, characterised by a presence culture in may organisations, is a cover for inefficiency, lack of purpose and poor time management. "Busyness"  helps us feel valued and important, but it is a false friend. It is holding us back, not pushing us forward.

CoolTimeLife suggest that knowing your own rhythm is important and understanding when you work best "It helps to align top priority tasks with a person's metabolic peak. For most people (80% of any population), that's in the morning between 9:00 and 10:30, however for people whose circadian rhythms are wired towards evening (the night owls) this peak time could be 4:00 or later. The strategy for productivity is 1.) to personalize it, and 2.) to recognize that no-one can deliver 8 hours of top-level productivity in any day, no matter how much they want to. So map out your priorities according to your metabolism."

Here are 8 ways to stop wasting time:

1. Take stock

Most people have no idea why they are busy. They just know that they are. Set aside maybe two weeks and do a careful audit of your time. OK, we know that takes time, but it is a good investment. Write it down on an old-fashioned time sheet. When you carry out an evaluation, you will be surprised about where your time is going. This requires you to be brutally honest. Any fudging and it won't work.

Lisa of Time and a Place for Everything recommends: "First thing is to record in 15 minute intervals what you are doing, update job duties, create a to-do list, and have a system for dealing with incoming paperwork according to categories"

2. Log the interruptions and take action

Research says we get interrupted about 4 times per hour. This could be by co-workers or with phone calls, texts, etc., which are not KPI related. It takes an average of 23 minutes 15 seconds to recover from an interruption at work and reach full productivity again. Reduce the number of interruptions by monitoring the main sources of interruption and commit to tackling them.

Then apply strategies:

    • Put a do not disturb sign on your email and phone
    • Turn off all alerts  (What's App, LinkedIn, emails, Facebook, Slack etc.) This is my particular favourite.
    • Refuse to attend any unnecessary meetings. Kenneth Lang, Business Analyst, said "We just started a policy at work where you can refuse to go to a meeting during what we call 'quiet time.'" 
    • Hang a do not disturb sign outside your "pod." Completely open plan offices often have quiet space rooms where you can go to cut out the white noise. Go there!

 3. Control meetings

You can do this by limiting either the meetings you attend or hold. If you are the manager, set agendas and insist on prompt time keeping and no devices. Almost every function I have been to recently has started 10 minutes late to allow late arrivals to be present. We need to stop doing that. If you want to introduce some movement, have walking meetings or stand up meetings. Statistics show the average length of a meeting has increased by 10% in the last 15 years; the average duration of a meeting is now between 31 to 60 minutes.

For routine team meetings, limit attendance to key people. Stay focused on the agenda and cut the socialising. For anything that can be dealt with one on one, schedule private sessions after. These are the preferred strategies of Ann Wells Crandall, Marketing Strategist   "A few suggestions: 1) Standing meetings 2) Time limit for meetings 3) Phones, laptops, tablets off in meetings so attendees give their attention to the content on hand"

4. Set up a routine and start task batching

Far too often, we will jump from one thing to another and never focus on what we are doing. Try grouping similar tasks and stay with them all until they are finished. "Task batching" is a time management tool. We all try to multitask, but it is a theory that has been debunked. It does not mean we are super competent, as we imagined, but rather that we are not completing any task properly. Once your brain focuses on a certain category of task, concentrate on that and then other in the same batch. Do this until all similar tasks are complete. It’s the effort and energy of switching between tasks that causes the problem and adds to our stress and fatigue. Hardly surprising we are unproductive.

With task batching you maintain the flow of your mental energy, your concentration and therefore your productivity.

  • Create a to-do list.
  • Group similar tasks by category or function (e.g. emails, calls, meetings,) and methodology (desk top, device, car, or those where your physical presence is required).
  • Arrange work into segments and assign each batch of tasks a time slot.
  • Always budget a little extra to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances.

5.  Learn to say no

How many times have you wasted time doing the work of someone else? Maybe it's a boss dumping on you, or you are micro -managing a peer or a direct report. Develop strategies for not getting involved in something that isn't your responsibility. Don't take on other people's problems. Learn to create boundaries in a constructive way to protect your time.

Remember the phrase "If you want something done, ask a busy person"?

Don't let that person be you.

Empowering reports and eliminating micro-management is a top tip from Jacqui Barrett Poindexter, Master Resume Writer "Truly empowering and trusting your people to do what you asked them - even if they make mistakes along the way - actually speeds up productivity, in the long run. Micromanaged people not only are slowed down in their productivity, but their morale also suffers, which slows their thinking and underwhelms their hope."

6. Limit emails

Ask to be taken off cc or all company mailings. Set aside key times per day to deal with them. Perhaps early morning, late morning and then mid afternoon. For the rest focus on tasks in hand.

"Craft succinct emails with the important information at the top and supporting details below. Use headlines to organize information."  is Sherry Denham Johnson's top email management tip.

7. Encourage people to leave on time

This may seem counter intuitive. A common suggestion is usually to advise managers to block or restrict access to the main time-wasting social media platforms via Google Extension apps such as StayFocused. This will block certain sites that distract you when you should be focused on your to do list!  A manager can make it as light or tough as she wants, but this is more of a band-aid solution.

If employees spent more time at home, they could focus on their personal lives in their own time. It can also be tricky to manage because employees can simply use their own devices which will have 4G. So best to move on from a presence culture and free people up to be productive at home and in the workplace. Research studies also fail to factor in the time employees spend on work related activities in so-called out of office hours.

8. Remote working

Research indicates that remote workers are productive. This systemic change also reduces down time spent commuting a tip from Carlos Miguel Fazendeiro "Unfortunately most of the companies and managers are not wise and open-minded on this and do not understand that the benefits for both employers and employees are high. With new technologies available it is possible to manage and work within motivated teams using this model. "

This whole topic was captured succinctly by Gijsbert Wierink, R & D Director. "The challenge is not so much the amount of interactions (email, call, meeting, ...), but the effectiveness. We can all save our precious time when we define a clear purpose of the interaction for ourselves, clearly communicate the purpose and question to others, and finally follow-up with actions. This must be more than just talked about. It must be lived. It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate."

 

What other ways can you suggest to stop wasting time?

 

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If you would like to check out the whole interesting discussion on LinkedIn follow this link. 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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