No matter how efficient you think you are, it’s incredibly likely that you waste time regularly. A professional work environment is designed to help you maximize efficiency, and with modern technology, we’re theoretically capable of higher productivity than ever before. Unfortunately, some of these office fixtures and technologies actively work against us, sabotaging how much work we’re able to get done in a finite amount of time.
Here’s the good news — if you’re actively aware of the distractions and habits that waste your time, you can start to fight back against them. Here are five of the most common:
1. Spending too much time on the wrong assignments. If you’re like most workers, you have a wide range of different assignments to work on at any given time. You might have a month-long project to work on in installments, regular calls and meetings to handle, and micro-tasks that you do in between your scheduled events. If you’re spending too much time on low priorities, your high priorities will suffer, but how can you tell how much is “too much” or keep track of everything you do on a daily basis? A time tracking app can help by allowing you to visualize where you spend the most time, and figure out where you could be better spending it. For example, can your micro-tasks be delegated? Can you request more time for your bigger projects? Can you re-shift your order of work during the day?
2. Attending unnecessary meetings. Meetings are known productivity killers — it’s why so many people loathe going to them. So why do we keep having them? Because sometimes meetings really are necessary; they serve as convenient ways to hold group brainstorming sessions or answer common questions about new company policies. The problem starts when meetings are called unnecessarily, such as going over an email update that was already pretty succinct, or when they include unnecessary people, such as those completely outside your department. You can’t just skip meetings, but you can start being more critical of the meetings you’re invited to.
Before attending, ask what the purpose of the meeting is, why you’re included, and what the agenda’s going to be. This will help the meeting organizer understand whether or not there truly needs to be one.
3. Getting distracted by digital media. The tool that has allowed us to triple our productivity is also the one responsible for dragging it down. All our devices are automatically connected to the Internet, and the Internet is full of tempting time-wasters. It might be a newsfeed of notifications from your favorite social media platform, or the latest headline to roll out on your news site of choice. All it takes is one rogue click or one tap of an icon to pull you away from your work. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it breaks your focus and forces your mind to reset.
The best way to avoid this is to delay that gratification—if you want to check Facebook, schedule a time to do it later. You’ll feel the same satisfaction as if you actually checked it, but will maintain your focus until that future point.
4. Being pulled in multiple directions with constant communication. Communication is critically important in a professional environment, but it can also be distracting. This is especially true for modern environments, where email, phone calls, instant messages, text messages, and more are all normal and expected during a typical work day. When you’re trying to focus on an assignment, incoming phone calls and message notifications are the last thing you need. There’s only one way to get away from this; have regular “blackout” periods where you engage in no communication whatsoever and simply focus on the tasks at hand. This may seem intimidating at first, but those incoming messages can wait.
5. Doing work outside your niche. First, let’s establish a principle; doing work outside your niche can be a good thing. It can help expose you to the problems of another department, help the team work better together, and give you experience to use in your career in the future.
However, when you’re forced to do work outside your area of expertise consistently, it starts becoming a productivity problem. You’re a specialized worker with a specialized skillset, and if you’re not using those skills to get work done, you aren’t using yourself to the fullest possible benefit. You can correct this in a number of ways—by requesting different assignments, by improving other skills, or by delegating or trading those assignments to others.
These are just five of the most common ways we waste time as modern professionals, but if you can conquer them, you’ll put yourself far ahead of your working competition. This isn’t about doing as much work as humanly possible, nor is it about proving your worth to your employer (though it can be if you want it to). Instead, it’s about getting rid of the unnecessary items that are sucking up your precious time.