Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Top 5 Reasons You Are Wasting Time Instead of Getting the Job Done

It's hard to resist taking a peek at the "Top X articles." We live in a fast-moving world, constantly short of time. The ability to get information in bite-sized nuggets, stripped of all but the most relevant facts makes it very tempting to click those "Top 5 Trends..," or the "Top 10 Reasons..," or the "Top 7 Habits of..." under the impression that by reading them we'll not only learn something new and interesting but save tons of time as well. has made an art of the genre and regularly produces Top articles on the wildest of topics.

But, hang on a minute: when was the last time you read one of these articles? And do you remember what it was about? The chances are you read it recently and forgot what it was about in five minutes. The information in these articles is very rarely actionable. At best, if you're lucky, it entertains; at worst it does exactly what it's supposed not to do—wastes time. Put simply, most of these articles are just filler material, like the pink slime in your favorite burgers.

To prove my point, I've called this article "The Top 5 Reasons You Are Wasting Time Instead of Getting the Job Done". I chose 5 reasons was because I thought 3 might be deemed too few to be considered a valuable source of information, and 7 to 10 would be too many for those of us who do care about "saving time."

In the course of extensive research, I examined 5 other lists of "Top Time Wasters" only to discover that they had next to nothing in common, thus making them useless as a point of reference (so that was a waste of time). It was at that point that I started feeling guilty about tricking my readers into reading as far as to this point, and decided to cut to the chase (i.e. to stop beating about the bush or, to put it another way: to get to the point without wasting words, or time) by providing The Top 3 reasons why people end up wasting time instead of getting on with their work and… bonus!!! – I bet you didn't know this was coming – what are the ways to address that.

#1: Not having a clear goal: when you show up at work and sit down to work, do you have a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish during the day? True, there are meetings in your calendar, and there are tons of emails to respond to, but what should you really be doing today? Today, you should really be looking at the bigger picture and doing something aimed at achieving your plans not just for today but for this week, for this month, for this year and for the years to come.

What should I do? Despite the abundance hi-tech apps and tools that can do all this stuff for you, I personally find the easiest, simplest and most helpful thing is to write down a list of my goals for the day in a notebook and cross them off as I do them. The notebook should always be in your line of sight. At the end of the day, if you see that certain items haven't been crossed off, the chances are that you've been wasting time, but at least you'll know what to do tomorrow! The notebook method also enables you to gleefully review your accomplishments at the end of the week/month and gives you something other than pink slime, with which to beef up your performance reports.

#2: Doing the wrong things: OK, so you didn't get round to doing any of the items on your list but you did get A LOT done. You went out of your way to help micromanage an employee, or you reviewed a report that isn't due for several weeks, just to be ahead of the curve. Even the most conscientious of us has a tendency 1) to procrastinate, 2)to find things to do that are easier than the things we should be doing—and then trying to come up with convincing reasons for doing them.

What should I do? Go back to item #1. If it really is so important to micromanage an employee in the context of the big picture, fair enough, it should be done. But, if it isn't, then grasp the desk with both hands, refocus both eyes on your list and carry on as if nothing has happened.

#3: Yielding to distractions: you're searching for some information or responding to an email when, before you know it, you find yourself reading a "Top X" article. Most of the time, you don't even have to be looking for one. They come at you from all directions when you least expect them, to lure you away from the work you would much rather be doing.

What should I do? This is not easy, and, as with items #1 and #2, it requires constant vigilance. Start small by gradually introducing minor changes into your daily routine. This will allow everyone to adjust painlessly to your new, more efficient work practices. Begin by excluding the outside distractions that interfere with the most productive part of the day, for some, the morning. For example, you could make it a rule not to look at your email for two hours after you've responded to it at 9am. Obviously, this won't be feasible if you work for the support team, but you get the general idea.

So, that's one possible distraction eliminated—and don't worry, if there is a real emergency there are plenty of other ways people can reach you. Another tip: don't forget to mark yourself as "busy" in the calendar for that special time period. Once this has been working successfully for a couple of weeks, implement the next small step of making silent text notifications on your cell phone and turning off all chatting agents for the same few hours. If may appear that you are "unplugging" but what you are actually doing is finding ways to stay focused on your daily tasks, for a portion of the day at least—but it's a start!

That's it. And, if you don't see anything actionable here, get back to work!!? :)



  1. You just made it 6

  2. Then I must have gotten my message across :) My goal was to point out that people are vulnerable to these kinds of communications but that there are ways to focus on what's really important for every person.