While it’s true that time is your most valuable asset, sometimes wasting time can be beneficial. For example, distracting yourself from work for a little bit can give your brain a chance to rest and recharge. It may also spark creativity, boost your mood, reduce stress, and reminds you of your goals.
But, that’s not the case with time-stealers.
Unlike a time waster, a time stealer doesn’t require your time and energy. To put that another way, checking your inbox is a common time-waster. Even though evens a distraction at the moment, you’ll eventually have to check your inbox. Conversely, responding to a “do not reply” email would be pointless.
Time stealers add little to no value to your time or business. But, because of this, you need to thwart these time thieves. And the first line of defense is identifying the most common time stealers so that you can eliminate them.
Perhaps the most common time stealer is procrastination. It’s often unnecessary and will only delay the work/outcome you are trying to avoid.
Moreover, conventional wisdom claims that procrastinators are lazy. According to others, we put things off because we struggle to manage our time. The truth is a lot of us drag our feet because we can’t handle our emotions.
“We procrastinate when a task stirs up feelings like anxiety, confusion, or boredom,” clarifies Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “And although it makes us feel better today, we end up feeling worse — and falling behind — tomorrow.
How can we fix this? “Adapt around emotion management,” Grant suggests. “To achieve this, you may need to exercise self-compassion, reconsider how you approach complex tasks, and collaborate with others. Also, practice mindfulness and align your goals with your values if you’re still procrastinating.
And, in the end, just get started if all else fails. If you do, you’ll gain momentum and continue to move forward.”
“While many people believe that multitasking is about focusing on a few tasks at a time, it’s not so,” notes Lesley Vos in a previous Calendar article. In addition to being a time-stealer, multitasking also negatively affects our brain and rubs us off productivity.
Numerous studies confirm this as well.
A 2009 Stanford University study found that multitaskers struggled to switch between tasks, had difficulty separating details, and were less organized. According to Bryan College, multitasking hinders performance and costs a global market about $450 million annually. And the productivity of multitaskers is reduced by 40% by some researchers.
“A noteworthy detail is that these views are relevant in the workplace,” adds Vos. For example, you can eat while walking or fold laundry while watching TV. But, at work, productivity doesn’t work the same way.
There is no way that the human brain can handle several complex tasks at once. “It needs time to switch between them (up to 30 minutes to get back into the workflow), and it can lead to errors.
According to the Bryan College study mentioned above, multitasking lowers our IQ, decreases our brain density, and damages our emotional intelligence.
When we interrupt one task with another, our short-term memory is disrupted, our attention span is reduced, and our ability to solve problems is impaired.
For better productivity, try avoiding multitasking at work:
- Create to-do lists or a calendar and schedule them into blocks.
- Keep distractions to a minimum and focus on one task at a time.
- Improve teamwork by prioritizing and delegating.
- To improve concentration and increase awareness of the moment, practice meditation.
- Take advantage of the Pomodoro Technique.
3. Doing Work That Isn’t Yours
In a survey by Zapier, 83 percent of workers said they cover for or make up work for a colleague 1-3 hours a day. As a result, this is a major productivity killer.
So, what can you do? Just say no.
There is nothing wrong with saying no. It doesn’t make you selfish of the workplace jerk. But, when you have your own priorities, it’s essential.
If you’re struggling with this, I came across something called the UNER method that might help. Even if you can’t help others, it should help maintain workplace relationships.
The UNER acronym stands for:
- Understand. Be aware of the position the person is in when asking.
- No. Rather than acting aggressively or submissively, say “No” assertively.
- Explain. If you cannot help, clearly explain why.
- Recommend. If possible, suggest an alternative, such as another person who may be able to assist.
4. Drop-ins and “Watercooler Conversations”
You shouldn’t allow people just to drop in and expect you to be free. If seeing someone isn’t convenient for you, be strong enough to explain why. Your time is as valuable as theirs.
A watercooler conversation, which is anything non-work-related discussed during work hours, is another major time thief. These discussions can last for a long time, decreasing your valuable time dramatically.
There is no doubt that casual discussions and free time are essential for improving team bonding and working relationships. However, you don’t want to overdo it with these informal conversations.
So, how can you limit drop-ins and “watercooler conversations?
If you have a door, keep it closed when you’re in the thick of deep work. You may even want to place a “do not disturb” sign on your door. For open offices, putting on a pair of headphones should do the trick.
When it comes to conversations during breaks, set time limits, for example, set a timer on your phone for 15-minutes so that an informal chat won’t go on and on.
Another tip? Share your calendar with others. It’s a simple and effective way for them to see when you’re available. And, if you need to talk to each other, you can schedule a time that works for both of you.
Also, for remote workers, you may want to turn on the Do Not Disturb (DND) mode on tools like Slack.
5. Working When Everyone is Working
“If you have some flex on when you show up at the office, flex that muscle,” suggests best-selling leadership author, speaker, and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof. “If you can, try coming in an hour or two early.
We live in a culture where being the early bird is not that difficult. However, the majority of people don’t even try. If you do, you’ll catch more worms if you get started early.
“As I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m., you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., it could take you three times as long to travel the same distance,” he adds.
It’s not necessary to start at 5 a.m. in an office. But it’s probably reasonably quiet at 7 a.m. — and sometimes even later. As an added perk, your commute will be less stressful and time-consuming since there aren’t as many people on the road.
You’ll be so much more productive if you start the day undistracted, Carey states.
“You’ve got the work lane all to yourself, which means you can work uninterrupted,” he states. “You can think uninterrupted and accomplish all your most essential tasks completely distraction-free.
Additionally, you may be able to leave early as well.
In short, productivity will always be a struggle if you work only when everyone else is working.
6. Unproductive Meetings
Each week, executives spend 23 hours in meetings, according to an article in the Sloan Management Review of MIT. With most of us working 47 hours a week, this means we spend 50% of our time in meetings.
The truth is that we squander a lot of time on meetings that are not necessary. One survey found that 71% of respondents thought meetings were inefficient and unproductive.
Make sure a meeting request is 100% necessary before scheduling or accepting it. Then, consider alternatives, such as a short phone call or Slack thread.
If a meeting is required, keep it short, stick to the agenda, and troubleshoot any problems in advance, such as testing software beforehand.
As a perfectionist, you will spend more time doing what needs to be done. As a result, this can also become a significant time stealer.
Your ability to be realistic and practical with your tasks will help you resolve the tendency to overthink a task. Or, as Angela Watson sums up perfectly, “Perfection is impossible; just strive to do your best.
8. Chasing the “Shiny Things
A stealth time-stealer is getting caught up in “busy work.” These small tasks on your to-do list appear to be essential. But, in reality, it reduces your productivity.
In psychology, it’s called “shiny object syndrome,” in which people tend to get distracted by anything new and exciting.
“Accomplishing lots of little things gives us hits of dopamine, which makes us feel great until we realize we’ve procrastinated our highest priority work by chasing the shiny things,” explains Anna Dearmon Kornick, a time management coach.
“You might sit down with every intention of focusing, but all of a sudden, you remember that you’re out of toilet paper, so you pop over to Amazon to order some toilet paper, and then you remember that your mom’s birthday is coming up, so you order her a gift,” she continues. “Soon, you’ve done so many small tasks that popped into your head that you’ve missed that window of focus before your next meeting.”
Here are some tips on how to defend yourself from “shiny object syndrome”:
- First, start reviewing your to-do list and selecting three priorities.
- Then, schedule time blocks for each of those three items to stay focused.
- Kornick recommends saving the smaller tasks until after you’ve completed your top three. After that, however, I suggest you delegate, automate, or drop these tasks if possible.
9. Looking for Something
It can be both time-consuming and frustrating to look for small bits of paper, phone numbers, or website addresses. Therefore, put some effort into being organized to save time.
- Look at your current filing system and consider how you can make it more user-friendly.
- Ensure you have an effective system for keeping track of people’s contact information. Regardless, you’re all good if you know where to find a phone number. In addition, getting in touch with people you have just met is vital for networking, as otherwise, you may think they might be helpful.
- If you have an untidy desk, it will take too long for you to locate papers, etc. Plus, a workplace that is too cluttered can be distracting.
- To avoid duplicate work or spending valuable time searching for documents, adopt a rigorous file naming system. Save your electronic files in a consistent location and set up folders for them.
- Whenever you’re done using something, put it back where it belongs. This way, you know where it is next time you need it.
“How much time do you spend each day worrying about things that might happen?” asks life coach Brian Bartes in Forbes. “Worry takes up valuable real estate in your mind and your planner.” You can’t focus on what matters most when you are endlessly worried about what is next.
There is no easy way to stop this, but you have a right to happiness. “Work on cultivating positive emotions, and look for simple pleasures,” Bartes adds. “When you establish the habit of being happy, you are less likely to allow worry to sidetrack you.
Image Credit: Anna Shvets; Pexels; Thank you!