Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on December 15, 2017

Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?

Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?

Do you find yourself being busy all day with endless to-do’s? Are you constantly stretched for time?

If yes, it’s possible that you’re not making the best use of your time. It’s likely that you have too many distractions that have been masked as ‘tasks’. And it’s these tasks that are eating away your time and energy.

For example, do you believe you are being super-productive when you’re checking your emails or sitting in meetings? You might think so, but at the end of the day – how much have you really accomplished?

Fortunately, as you’ll see shortly, it’s possible to eliminate (or at the very least shrink) the unimportant stuff so that you can make space for the tasks that have real impact and bring about tremendous results. However, before we get to that, let’s take a brief look at what happens when we allocate too much time to low-impact tasks.

Procrastination, Parkinson’s Law and More

Procrastination

The Oxford Dictionary describes procrastination as: “The action of delaying or postponing something.” Clearly, it’s not a trait that successful people are associated with.

Now, to be fair, from time-to-time we’re all guilty of procrastination. It really only becomes an issue when procrastination starts to be our default way of working. I’m sure you’ve had colleagues like that. Whatever the task or project that they’re supposed to be working on – they constantly find reasons and excuses for failing to get started.

You may not be one of those people, but…

I bet you don’t feel that you’re procrastinating when you’re working on low-impact or low-return tasks like checking emails. I know this, because I used to be like that too! I distinctively remember feeling productive when I was working on these type of tasks – even though they never led me to accomplish anything worthwhile.

It took me years to realize this, but focusing time and energy on low-impact, unimportant tasks is a form of procrastination. This is because – if we’re honest with ourselves – it’s easier to work on the maintenance stuff rather than tackling the bigger more important tasks and assignments.

Advertising

Parkinson’s law

Parkinson’s law states that your work expands to fit the amount of time you have available for it. In my previous working life, I found this law to be especially true with tasks that were low-impact.

Why so?

Well, your limbic system (nerves and networks within the brain that control drives and emotions) puts up such a fight against working on your more challenging, highest-return tasks, that the low-impact tasks that support your work almost serve as work ‘crack’ or work candy. In other words, you feel productive when you work on them. This is understandable, as you’re most likely super-busy. But, as I stated earlier – being constantly busy on low-impact tasks means you’ll fail to accomplish anything of note.

    There is no order

    It’s Monday morning, you’re feeling tired, and you’ve just arrived at your office. You grab a strong coffee, go to your desk, log in to your computer and start working. However, you immediately fall into the common productivity trap that stops people from achieving their goals – namely, you fail to allocate any time for prioritizing or planning. Because of this, you’ll probably end up working on a whole list of unimportant tasks before reaching any genuinely important tasks.

    For instance, how many times first thing in a morning do you find yourself just catching up with emails (and gossip from your colleagues)? The answer is probably – a lot! It may seem like a way to warm up before the real work, but in most cases, you’ll simply find that you lose an hour or more without really achieving anything. You may even find that by the time you’ve caught up with emails and gossip, that you’ve been called off to a meeting. And by the time the meeting finishes – you’ve probably already missed the deadline for completing a project.

    Company culture and the dreaded meetings 

    I don’t know about you, but previous places I’ve worked have led me to realize that: People love setting up meetings to discuss, to present, to find solutions, etc.

    But in many cases, these meetings may not be the best use of yours or other people’s time.

    Although some meetings are important, the average employee wastes an incredible amount of time in them: 37 percent of the average office worker’s time is spent in meetings. (A shocking statistic!)

    Advertising

    Furthermore, a survey of 150 senior executives found that they think 28 percent of meetings are an unnecessary waste of time. (I’d argue that number is north of 50 percent for the majority of employees, because senior executives aren’t invited to the most pointless meetings!)

    Unproductive meetings are the opposite of high-return tasks like working on projects. These meetings use up a ton of your time, but have virtually no positive effects on your work output.

    Consequences

    Everything in life has consequences. And this includes how you approach your work.

    If you spend a lot of time working on unnecessary tasks – then you won’t see great results. In fact, your productivity is likely to be stagnant at best. Of course, the reason for this is obvious: you’re not producing your finest work because your time has been eaten up trying to finish those endless low-return tasks. Here’s the sad part about this. You may find yourself falling behind the rest of the pack (e.g., your peers, your colleagues) because your performance is increasingly below par.

    So, what can you do to address this issue?

    My Take on This

    Having previously been a low-impact tasks addict, I now feel confident in being able to help you out of this hole.

    Firstly, whatever your job, there will be low-impact tasks that you can eliminate.

    That’s right. Every single support or maintenance task in your work can be either shrunk, delegated, or even – in a few cases – eliminated entirely. After you have gotten a better grip on how much time and attention you spend on these tasks, you’ll open up opportunities to work on what I like to call… the real stuff!

    From my experience, here are some of the low-impact tasks that you’ll be able to shrink or eliminate:

    Advertising

    1. Recurring, low-return meetings.
    2. Low-return phone calls, and the productivity porn of social media and news websites and other time wasters.
    3. Tasks and projects that make little use of your time, unique talents or skills.
    4. Tasks and projects in which you contribute negligible value – but which suck up an abundance of your time.

    Take email, for example.

    In Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project, he conducted an informal survey, where he asked several friends, to keep a tally of how often they checked for new email messages at work every day for a week. The average between them? An astonishing 41 times!

    Another (and this time, more scientific) study found that most people check their email about every 15 minutes – which adds up to 32 times over an 8-hour day.

    When you check for new email 32 times a day, that’s 32 times your attention is derailed from what you’re supposed to be working on. It’s pretty hard to maintain any mental clarity in those conditions. Email may be a vital support task, but you also shouldn’t be checking it 32 times a day.

    Here’s How to Get Your Productivity Back on Track

    Keep note

    The simple act of keeping a time log makes you more aware of what you’re working on daily. But time is only one part of the story. Low-return tasks also take up a boatload of your attention.

    After you identify these low-return tasks, think about how frequently you focus on them throughout the day, by keeping a formal tally for a day or two.

    List them in order of how much time and attention they consume. For example: replying to emails, attending meetings, paperwork, managing your calendar, etc.

    Chances are that you have maintenance-type tasks like these that support your real work – pretty much every office worker on the planet is inundated with email and gets invited to too many meetings and events. But, as I highlighted earlier, it’s possible to shrink, delegate or even eliminate those support tasks. You can do it – and you definitely should!

    Set limits

    I find the most effective answer to shrinking low-return support tasks is to become aware of how much time and attention you spend on these tasks – and then literally shrink them by setting limits.

    Advertising

    Some support tasks in your work take up a disproportionate amount of your attention rather than your time. For instance, most emails only take a minute or two to respond to, but when you check your email dozens of times a day, those are countless times you’ve had to transition from focusing on something important to focusing on email.

    The switching costs associated with multitasking can be enormous. (And not in a good way!)

    Of course, there’s also the uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether you have new messages – which impacts your attention. And then there are the frequent email alerts that interrupt you when you’re actually trying to work on something more productive.

    For tasks like email, the best way I’ve found to shrink their impact on time and productivity is to limit how often I focus on them throughout the day. I turn off my email alerts, and only check emails at a few specific times: in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.

    The same goes for meetings.

    Don’t just accept every meeting invite you receive. Instead, limit the number of meetings you attend a week. Not only will you free up time to get on with your real work – but going forward, you’ll also discourage colleagues from inviting you to unnecessary meetings.

      Over to You

      So, please don’t let low-return tasks drag your productivity levels to hell. Start each working day, week and month with a plan. Know the things you want to achieve – and by shrinking and eliminating time wasting activities – go ahead and achieve them!

      I promise you, you’ll be amazed at the uptick in your productivity when you put your focus on the big stuff. Your boss and colleagues will look at you with new eyes. They’ll wonder how you now manage to accomplish so much – with seemingly, so little time. One thing’s for sure. Your new super-productive work life will in time pay you handsome dividends. These could come in the form of increased job satisfaction, pay rises and even promotions.

      As the saying goes… the world is your oyster!

      Featured photo credit: janeb13 via pixabay.com

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

      Why Do I Have Bad Luck? 2 Simple Things to Change Your Destiny The 25 Best Self Improvement Books to Read No Matter How Old You Are How to Be A Genuine Expert in Your Field Seriously Stressing Out? The Complete Guide to Eliminate Work Stress 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

      Trending in Smartcut

      1 How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive 2 Seriously Stressing Out? The Complete Guide to Eliminate Work Stress 3 17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team 4 17 Ways to Ace Your Next Phone Interview And Land the Job You Deserve 5 How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising

      Last Updated on September 17, 2018

      How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

      How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

      Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

      Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

      All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

      Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

      How bad really is multitasking?

      It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

      Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

      This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

      Advertising

      We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

      So what to do about it?

      Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

      Now, forget about how to multitask!

      Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

      1. Get enough rest

      When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

      This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

      When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

      Advertising

      2. Plan your day

      When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

      When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

      Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

      3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

      I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

      I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

      Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

      4. When at your desk, do work

      We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

      Advertising

      Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

      5. Learn to say no

      Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

      Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

      By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

      6. Turn off notifications on your computer

      For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

      Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

      7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

      Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

      Advertising

      You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

      The bottom line

      Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

      Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

      Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Read Next