Have you ever found yourself browsing the web aimlessly while you should be working, thinking to yourself, “this is a waste of time. I really need to get back to work”? if your answer is no, I’m suspicious.
This is something we all do; two-thirds of people report visiting at least one non-work related site every day while on the clock, and since that survey is self-reported, the real numbers are probably much higher than that.
But these are instances where we knowingly waste time; we forfeit a few minutes to give ourselves a break, or we realize that we aren’t in a particularly productive mood. We might even be obligatorily roped into a responsibility that we feel is a waste of our day.
These known time-wasters are unfortunate, and sometimes dangerous, but the bigger danger lies in the little ways you waste time every day without even noticing:
1. Communication distractions. How often throughout the day to you stop what you’re doing — just momentarily — to deal with an incoming text, a new email, or a chat notification? In this era of near-constant connectivity and communication, I’m guessing it’s many times a day, and it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. But consider this: it takes up to 25 minutes to return your attention to a task after losing your attention on it. All those minute-long distractions throughout the day could be stealing hours from you. The solution here is pretty easy; turn off notifications when you need to focus on heads-down work.
2. Unnecessary meetings. Meetings are, at times, necessary, but they’re often structured in a way that wastes at least one person’s time; for example, they may include people who don’t need to attend, they may take up twice as long as they really need to, or they may be called despite the fact that an email could accomplish the same goal. There are many potential fixes here, including more scrutiny when deciding to have a meeting, better attendant selection, and shorter meeting times.
3. Going too long without a break. If you’re working on something technically complicated, or if you simply have a lot on your plate, you might try to work for extended periods of time without a break to catch up, or to avoid the break in focus that could slow down your work. However, breaks are important for focus, memory, mood, and subjective energy levels; if you go more than a couple of hours without any kind of break, you’ll end up making more mistakes, feeling more tired, and ultimately, less productive.
4. Doing too much at once. It shouldn’t be news to you that multitasking is ineffective, yet I’m willing to bet there are times throughout the day where you try to focus on multiple things simultaneously. Maybe you start thinking about the next task on your list in the middle of a project, or try to juggle tasks in multiple open browser windows at once. When you attempt this, you end up doing both tasks less efficiently.
5. Duplicating efforts. Have you ever taken the time to explain a new policy to an employee, only to go over that same explanation with another employee hours, or even moments later? Or have you ever accidentally started a task only to realize that someone else on your team already handled it? Duplicated efforts are almost always the result of a hiccup in communication; either someone isn’t communicating enough, or someone is failing to communicate in the right format (such as individual vs. group messages).
6. Micromanaging. Micromanaging can be effective, in certain situations, but for the most part, it’s a waste of your time. You hired these employees because you trust them to handle their work; if they get the job done, why does their approach or methodology matter? Supervising too closely results in a duplication of efforts, and trying to change someone’s work style could make them even less efficient (while occupying your own time). Try to avoid it whenever possible.
7. Procrastinating. You might also waste time unwittingly by procrastinating. For example, if you delay work on an important project, or spend too much time making a decision, it could end up occupying more of your schedule. You could also deprive yourself of time to react to that decision, resulting in even more inefficiency in your own work and the work of your team. There’s no surefire strategy against procrastinating, since it’s so common and so easy to succumb to; all you can do is work to be more decisive.
These time wasters cumulatively suck hours from your workday, and millions of professionals put up with it because they never notice that missing time. Fortunately, all it takes to address most of these problems is a little awareness, and a commitment to ongoing improvement.
Pay attention to how you’re spending your time, and don’t assume that a habit is productive unless you’ve experimented with other approaches.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!