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Don’t Waste Time at Work: How to Overcome 7 Productivity Killers

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You may be brilliant and creative, but if you don’t manage your time effectively, you won’t be successful.

“Everything you want to do at work requires time,” writes Brian Tracy in his book Master Your Time, Master Your Life. “The only way you can get enough time to do the things that can really make a difference in your work is by conserving time that you would normally spend doing something else.”

Start by addressing the seven factors that waste time. Here’s helpful advice:

1. Email, phone, and text

“When the phone rings and the email dings, your train of thought is broken and you’re distracted,” writes Tracy.

What to do: Set aside periods of the day when you allow no interruptions.

2. Unexpected visitors

When someone appears unexpectedly at your office or workstation, that person disrupts your work and impairs your effectiveness.

What to do:  “Stand up quickly when unwelcome visitors come to your workplace, as though you were just leaving,” Tracy writes. “Tell the time waster that you are really swamped today and you have a lot that you have to get done.” Then walk the visitor away from your workspace and return to your task at hand.

3. Meetings

You know this already: Many meetings are a waste of time.

What to do: 

  • Schedule meetings for only the length of time you really need. There’s no reason meetings need to be slotted for an hour. Ask yourself: What can I accomplish in 10 minutes?
  • Set objectives. What does success look like? Only by articulating a desired end-state can you build the elements of success. In fact, every decision you make–from where to hold the meeting to whom to invite to how to facilitate–should be based on how you answer this question.
  • Create an agenda. Once you’ve set objectives, the best meetings are carefully designed to achieve them. The old-fashioned word for this design is agenda, but you need to do more than create a bulleted list of content. You should structure your meeting to have a flow that makes sense, build in opportunities for participants to … well, participate, and manage time so that you get everything done.

4. Firefighting

You know the (fire) drill: “Just when you get settled down to work on an important project, something totally unexpected happens that takes you away from your main task, for a few minutes or even for hours.”

What to do: Think before acting. Tracy advises that you “take a deep breath, calm down, and remain objective. Take the time to find out what happened. Be clear about the problem before you act.”

5. Procrastination

Tracy hates this. “Procrastination is not only the thief of time … it is the thief of life,” he writes. “Your ability to stop procrastinating and get on with the work can change your life.”

What to do: Salami and cheese! Sometimes the best way to complete a major project is to take a small slice (like salami) and complete just that one piece. Or practice the Swiss-cheese technique, treating your task like a block of cheese–“Punch holes in it, selecting a five-minute part of the job,” says Tracy–and getting that done.

6. Socializing

As much as 75 percent of work is spent interacting with other people. Unfortunately, at least half of this time is spent socializing.

What to do: Arrange to get together with work friends at coffee breaks, lunch, and after work.

7. Indecision

Every time you put off a decision or spend too much time making a decision, you waste time–and delay taking action.

What to do: Decide whether the decision is up to you to make (in which case, you should make it quickly) or whether it should be delegated or escalated. If someone else should make the decision, ask for a quick response.

“Remember that you can do only one thing at a time,” Tracy writes. “That one thing should be the most important thing that you can do at this minute.”