The 5 Biggest Time-Sucks at Work

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By Robin Madell

Trying to get too much done in too little time is commonplace at work. Since time is so precious, it's imperative to use it wisely in the office. Otherwise, you won't reach your goals.

But even if you know this, there are many ways to drain valuable hours from the workday, keeping you stuck in place. If you succumb to these "time-sucks" on the job, you'll quickly find yourself behind the eight ball.

Here are the five biggest time-wasters at work and ideas on how to avoid them:Non-work-related social networking. Whether your habit of choice is Pinterest, Facebook or YouTube, you know you aren't getting any work done when you surf these sites. "Yes, some people need to do this stuff for their job – but everyone's doing it," says Tim Eisenhauer, President of Axero Solutions.

Brian D. Kelley, chief information officer for Portage County Information Technology Services in Ohio notes that the distraction can be attributed not only to actual time spent on social media during the workday, but also to the mental disengagement that can occur when viewing content that leaves a negative emotional impact. Plus, he adds: "While some companies use Web filtering to restrict access to certain social media in the workplace, most employees carry a personal device with unfettered access."

The solution, according to leadership consultant Deb Hornell, is to utilize only those social media platforms that make sense for your business. "Resist the urge to mindlessly 'creep' on," she says.

Mismanagement of incoming messages. Pings and rings can derail you all day if you let them. While it may be tempting to check who it is each time someone tries to reach you, clicking each email notification and answering calls as they come in will ensure that your own strategic agenda never gets activated.

Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, suggests that many employees may have more leeway than they think in deciding whether to take a call or return an email message right away. "Set aside a time to return phone calls periodically throughout the day. Follow this formula with emails as well," says Gottsman, who counsels companies and employees on how to be more productive in the office. "Whenever possible, close your inbox so you are not getting pop-up notifications every time an email arrives," she adds. "Take 10 minutes at the end of each hour to check and respond to emails."

Getting sucked into "time traps." How many times a day do you start off working on a high-priority item and then find yourself sidetracked by less important tasks that hijack your focus? Mitzi Weinman, founder of TimeFinder and author of "It's About Time! Transforming Chaos into Calm, A to Z," calls these unwanted pulls on your attention "time traps." Weinman has identified a number of common workplace time traps, including planning meetings without agendas, communicating vague deadlines like "ASAP" and allowing others to interrupt you by keeping an open-door policy.

She also highlights failure to plan as a major time trap. "When you're terribly busy, planning is often the first thing to go," she says. "But planning should be your first to-do! When you are too busy and think you don't have time to plan – plan. Keep planning, because what you are doing is perpetuating the habit to plan."

Attending the wrong meetings. Many companies plan meetings that include team members who don't really need to be there. If you're receiving invites to meetings that don't seem relevant to your job or position, speak up to your supervisor.

Ellen Grealish, partner and co-founder of FlexProfessionals, believes that required meetings that don't directly impact an employee's role or ability to contribute are by far the biggest time wasters at work. "Often, an employee can waste hours at meetings on topics that deviate from their job responsibilities," she says. "Information that might be pertinent could easily be communicated in meeting notes, meeting summaries or even a five- to 10-minute update from their supervisor or colleague."

Doing things you should delegate or outsource. Avoiding time-sucks means focusing your limited hours and energy on tasks and projects that matter the most to your overall business and professional goals. That means it's a career mistake to squander your precious resources on minutia or busy work that someone without your specific credentials could do.

John Turner, CEO and founder of UsersThink, says that personally taking on repetitive tasks – those that can be outsourced, automated or that you can train others to do – is a waste of your time.

To find these types of issues, Turner recommends spending one or two workweeks meticulously tracking what you spend your time working on. "By the end of a full week or two, you should have enough data to see what you're spending significant time on that doesn't really need you," Turner says. "Freeing up even a few hours per week can be a big deal, as you can spend that time working on things that will lead to a much greater impact at work."

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership and career issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, including finance, technology, healthcare, law, real estate, advertising and marketing. Robin has interviewed over 1,000 thought leaders around the globe and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book "Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success," published by Random House. Robin is also the author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success." Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter: @robinmadell.
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