5 workplace time wasters (and how to eliminate them)

Time wasters at workIf you think of your workplace as an obstacle course filled with distractions, you’re not alone. Between long meetings, emails, social platform notifications, alerts from your mobile phone and loud colleagues, most of us are inundated with potential time wasters. But the killer is not just the distraction, it’s how much time it takes to get your focus back on the task at hand. According to a UC Irvine study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to where you left off, after an interruption. Honestly, it’s a wonder work gets done at all!

But maximizing your productivity at work can mean the difference between leaving at a reasonable time or being endlessly chained to your desk. Work-life balance is important to maintain your sanity and actually have a life outside work. So let’s identify some of the biggest time wasters in the workplace and see how we can address them.

Time Waster # 1: Email

We’ve all become addicted to email. It’s a great way of asynchronous

Too much email
Too much email

communication. Chances are checking email is the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to bed. But emails can also lead to lots of unnecessary back-and-forth communication that wastes time. And with trigger-happy Reply All co-workers, your Inbox is probably full all the time!

Solution:

  • If it’s something that needs to be discussed, talk face to face with the person and get the issue resolved.
  • If you can’t do face to face, then call them on the phone and get the issue sorted out.
  • Follow the call with a quick email detailing what you discussed.
  • If you are not the person to whom the email is addressed, set it aside for later.
  • Check emails at specific times during the day. Respond to urgent ones quickly. Set aside others and Reply All emails to be dealt with at a later time.

Hack: If you are not the person to whom the email is addressed (you have only been CC:d), then don’t feel obliged to respond. Use the same logic when you send out emails too.

Time Waster #2: Meetings

Meandering Meetings
Meandering Meetings

Meetings can be a huge time-sink. And if they are poorly planned and executed, then they are doubly so.  Doodle (an online scheduling service) just released results of it’s study of 19 million meetings in the US, UK and Germany. The cost of poorly organized meetings just in the US in 2019 is estimated at $ 399 billion.

Solution:

  • Make sure that every meeting host has a set agenda to be discussed and that it’s distributed to attendees before the meeting starts.
  • Talk to the meeting host and ask why you should attend. If you feel that someone else from your team would be able to contribute more to the task at hand, then get them to go and give you an update.
  • If you are hosting the meeting, make sure that everything is set up and visual aids are up and running before people walk into the meeting.

Hack: Set up all your meetings to be stand-ups. Schedule them for 20-30 minutes. Very little chance that they’ll go over. 🙂

Time Waster # 3: Smartphones and Social distractions

Smartphones enable us to be more connected and tuned in. But it also comes

Social distractions on your phone
Social distractions on your phone

with a built in productivity sink. US adults spent an average of 3 hours 35 minutes per day on mobile devices in 2018. Recent research shows that 58% of staff spend at least 4 hours per week on non-work websites. That’s a lot of your work time that’s going into unproductive stuff.

Solution: 

  • Turn off all Notifications on your phone during work hours. Believe me, you’ll get a lot more done.
  • If you can’t resist checking your social media accounts every 5 minutes, block them.
  • Give yourself a proper lunch-break. Use that time to check all your social media accounts and non-work websites, without feeling guilty about it.

Hack: Put your phone face down when you’re working. Stops all calls and notifications. Most smartphones let you set up some numbers (family) that will still ring, when your phone is face down. But all other distractions will stop.

Time Waster #4: Chatty coworkers and a noisy office

It’s hard not to talk to colleagues. After all you spend 40 hours (perhaps more)

Chatty coworkers
Chatty coworkers

with them every week. But chatting with colleagues is one of the biggest time wasters. And with open plan offices, even if you aren’t chatting, the noise of others chatting, laughter, phone ring-tones can all contribute to stop you from staying focused.

Solution:

  • See if you can move or work in an empty conference area / room when you need to do focused work.
  • Limit banter to lunch time or break time.
  • If possible, see if you can work remotely when you have important things to complete.

Hack: Wear headphones while you work. Signals to your coworkers that you are busy and they’ll only disturb you if it’s work-related and important. Also, several studies state that listening to calming sounds like flowing water or rain can help you focus.

Time Waster #5: Failed multi-tasking

You probably think that multi-tasking makes you more productive. But the reality

Failed multi-tasking
Failed multi-tasking

is very different. Studies have consistently proved that the majority of people have lower performance when trying to do multiple tasks. So if you find yourself juggling 3 or more tasks at a time, it’s time to reevaluate your work habits.

Solution:

  • Spend some time creating a daily task list that promotes single-tasking.
  • Prioritize and then break up your day accordingly.  If possible, assign a set time to do each task, based on importance.
  • Complete one task before moving on to the next.

Hack: Put specific tasks at specific times on your calendar (phone/desktop/paper). Make sure that you do the tasks at those times.

While each one of these time wasters probably doesn’t seem that serious, collectively they can be a huge drain on your productivity and work time. They can prevent you from focusing on real work, causing you to stay late or taking unfinished work home to your family. I hope this list helps you identify your personal time wasters. And gives you some pointers on how you can get more quality time with your family and on things that you really enjoy. Good luck! And do share your tricks to eliminate time wasters.

 

 

 

Is time really moving faster? The story of time measurement

Talk to almost anybody and you’ll hear about how rushed their lives are and how they never seem to have time for anything. Talk to older people and they’ll tell you about how their growing up years were slower and gentler. So has time measurement changed? Are we measuring it differently now?

Think about life in an agricultural society. Nature set the pace there. Farmers woke up when the rooster crowed, ate their mid-day meal when the sun was right overhead, brought their animals home to the barn at dusk and went to bed, when night fell. A simpler time? Perhaps.

That worked when people lived and worked individually. Even when craftsmen and handloom workers worked individually or with a few apprentices, they had the luxury of doing things at their own pace, perhaps even taking a day off because they felt like it. But as work became more inter-connected and inter-dependent, that lifestyle began to change. And pretty dramatically at that.

The Industrial Revolution
Our modern value of time stems from the Industrial Revolution. It brought about a huge change in the perception of time. Time became more defined and standardized.

Factory Time

With the Industrial Revolution came factories. With factories came

The 8 hour work day
The 8 hour work day

machines. Machines were expensive to start and run. So the factory owners needed people to start and end work at specific times to maximize the use of their machines. And with that came the concept of factory clocks and loud sirens that aurally signaled to workers when they had to come in to work. Sirens or whistles would signal lunch times and break times. These break times were the only times that the machines would stop and fall silent. And gradually, all factory workers times and schedules got inextricably linked to the machine on-off times. Factory workers became slaves to time as demands for efficiency became greater.

As the Industrial Revolution progressed, banks and other commercial activities began to grow to provide services for the fast growing and expanding factories. While workers at these commercial activities were not ruled by whistles or sirens, they too had specific, defined work hours. Easier perhaps than those of the factory worker, leading up to the term “banker’s hours”.

Transportation time.

With roads and turnpikes and tracks for steam engines criss-crossing the country, the Industrial Revolution completely upended travel in England. And from a time perspective brought about big changes. Towns generally went by solar times and kept it’s own local time. Even in a country as small as England, these times could

Owen Blacker
1913 time zone map of the US

vary by over 30 minutes if the town were on opposite ends of England. Now transplant that same system to the United States and see how much more complicated things become in this vast country. The greater speed of locomotives made inconsistent times even more difficult to control. Scheduling trains and stage coaches was a nightmare. So uniform time became a big issue. As a result in England, a uniform railway time was adopted, based on the Greenwich Mean Time, leading to the division of the world into time zones.

Military time

The mania for timekeeping and efficiency spurred by the Industrial Revolution made pocket and wrist watches very popular. And with the growth of wrist watches, life became simpler for the military. It was easier to coordinate attacks across larger geographical stretches with officers having synchronized wrist watches. For the most part, officers were expected to purchase their own wrist watches, preferably with a luminous (radium coated) dial and an unbreakable crystal. By the end of the First World War, all officers and soldiers in the British Army had been issued wrist watches. The wrist watch made it simpler for soldiers to check the time, without having to take their hands off the gun to take out a pocket watch. After the war, men continued to wear their wrist watches, propelling them into the mainstream.

The number of minutes in an hour or the number of seconds in a minute has not changed over time. But the ruthless efficiency demanded by the Industrial Revolution, has regulated our lives and made more synchronized withe clock, rather than with the natural rhythms of nature.