We all need a break now and then. We need to call home,
write the list of errands to complete on the way home, or email a professor
coursework due that night. Taking ten or fifteen minutes once in a while to
handle personal business is not wasting time at work.
Of more concern than a few minutes now and then is when time
is wasted without awareness.
Here are a few examples:
When entering a division meeting, a
colleague within David’s division asks him how a project is going. The
colleague, Glenn, is not David’s supervisor but is someone he has worked with
on other projects. David happily tells Glenn all about the project as they walk
into the meeting and get seated next to each other. Glenn emails David an idea
about the project the next day. David replies that the idea is very helpful and
will be considered as the project proceeds. He includes something about keeping
Glenn informed about the project going forward. Glenn responds that he looks forward
to keeping in touch about it.
How could this situation lead to
Here’s another one.
A five-person team is working on a
project. One teammate, Pauline, writes an article about it for the intranet site at the
team’s request. It is an internal article, not an external one or a promotional
piece. Pauline sends the article to all teammates for review. One teammate sent
the article to his own supervisor to get his input.
How could that lead to wasting
Here’s one more.
Peter and Mary were asked to create
and deliver a new training course for their division. They have weekly meetings
to discuss actions taken thus far and next steps. After the weekly meeting,
they divide and conquer with each doing whatever task they named at the
meeting. When they get the first draft, they will set a time to meet with the
division head about the program and will take it from there.
How could their approach waste
Okay, one more.
Jill is working on a proposal due
in three days. She just found out one of the most important subcontractors,
with unique skills needed for the solution, backed out today. Without a key
area of the solution covered, Jill needs to decide how to proceed. She can get
a new subcontractor to replace the one that exited the proposal. Or, she could
advise her management team that the proposal cannot go forward.
How would either of those options
impact Jill’s time? Or, others’ time?
Even with good intentions and the culture of trust at the
forefront of our minds, it is not always easy to spot the potential for wasting
time. The following ideas can help us avoid spending time ineffectively:
Stop winging it.
Nearly all projects need some kind of plan. Whether it is ten pages long with
timelines and a team or it’s a list of five bullets, every project needs some
thought in advance. Winging it rarely leads to efficiency, and more often
causes swirl. At minimum, write a list of tasks needed to be completed and
dates for each. Don’t rely on memory for work if you’re trying to be efficient
or at the top of your game.
Understand your span
of authority. We all have a certain span of authority with our positions.
Understand yours and gain input from others as needed. The tendency to gain
input for everything can slow teams down. With that said, however, be
absolutely certain you have the experience to operate within the span given. If
you are attempting something new or making a decision that affects more than
one or two people, get support. Seek guidance from colleagues with more
experience often; however, do so without relinquishing your responsibility for
Say “Yes” first.
When you work somewhere for a long time, it’s tempting to bring up history
along with each new project or idea. Every day people say, “We’ve already tried
that here and it didn’t work.” Or, “We have always done it this way.” Keep
those historical experiences in mind and share them when ideas develop, not
when they are first brought up. They waste time because the conversation ends
up being about history, why it did or did not work, or how now is different.
Save that battle. It might be unnecessary anyway.
Avoid the weapons of
mass distraction. Turn off alerts for Facebook, Snap Chat, and other social
platforms. Turn off email pop-up notifications, set a time to check email
throughout the day instead of one at a time upon arrival, and create rules to
manage incoming email efficiently.
Multitasking got trendy for a while, but research is proving it is wasting
time. MIT’s Dr. Earl Miller is one of the leading researchers on multitasking,
and his studies show there is no such thing. People are not really doing two
things at once, they are switching rapidly between two or three things. That is
causing errors, duplication of effort, and stress. We all have more than one
task on our plates at the same time. Single-tasking, instead of multi-tasking,
just means focusing on whatever you are working on at the moment. Work at a
quick clip—avoiding distractions and interruptions—and complete the work.
Bouncing all over the place wastes time.
Contribute well to meetings.
If I had a dollar for every time someone complained about inefficient meetings,
I’d be wealthier than last week’s Powerball winners. There is zero excuse for
meetings without objectives and agendas. Even if both must be stated at the
start of the meeting, state them. Identify the topics needed to discuss, plan
an appropriate amount of time for each, and proceed as planned. If deviation
from the agenda is needed, advise the participants. Holding people hostage is
annoying and rude. Side conversations, being unprepared, and not following the
agenda are too. Pay attention so topics do not have to be repeated, especially
if you participate via the phone. Whether you are the host or participant, you
contribute to whether the meeting is useful or a time-suck.
Be aware of how you spend time each day. They say time is a
gift. Each day, we are given the gift of 1,440 minutes. Be selective about how
you spend each one and don’t take any one for granted by wasting it without
What else helps you be efficient at work? Share more tips.