The typical workday is currently around eight hours in Western society, but I know there are many people reading this that may well work significantly more than that.
Regardless of how many hours you’re officially “working”, my question to you is: how many of those hours do you think are genuinely productive?
This “study” of UK office workers, which has been cited frequently across the internet, came back with an average of 2 hours and 53 minutes of actual productivity in the workplace. I put the word “study” in inverted commas because it was more of a poll than a study and I don’t think the figures would necessarily be representative of the workplace across all industries.
However, I would be willing to bet that the number of hours people are actually productive in the workplace is almost certainly no more than 4 hours at the most.
A lot of time can be wasted at work, but if you know the culprits, you can take action to eliminate them.
In this post, I look at ten common workplace time-wasters and what you can do to avoid or overcome them.
Email is a double-edged sword.
It provides us with incredible ease of communication, allowing us the potential to get so much done.
And yet it is also one of the biggest killers of productivity and time in the workplace.
The problem is, instead of being the master of this amazing tool and using it wisely to our advantage, many of us have actually become slaves to the Inbox.
We spend so much time dealing with emails that if someone asks us what we do for a living, we might even be tempted to reply, “Email.”
And I’m pretty sure that is not the way things should be.
But it’s (mostly) not our fault.
Back in the days when most jobs involved working with your hands and producing something physical for a living, productivity was unambiguous. You could clearly see the results of a task when the field had been ploughed, the cobbler had finished the shoes, the dress was made and when the car rolled off the assembly line.
These days though, in an era dominated by what is commonly termed as knowledge work, the lines between “in progress” and “done” are often much less clear, so it has become harder to measure productivity, which makes it more difficult to demonstrate our value as an employee.
So in the absence of any clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable, the default position for knowledge workers is to what Cal Newport describes in his book, “Deep Work” as “busyness as a proxy for productivity“. If you’re interested in finding out more about this book, I have reviewed it here.
Pinging emails around all day makes us look and feel busy, even though it may be achieving little or nothing that helps us move towards whatever the ultimate goal may be.
Learning how to manage your email efficiently will probably make the single biggest difference in your work life when it comes to both your time and your productivity.
The best method I have found to date is called Inbox Zero. Check out how to use it here.
2. Phone usage
Ah, the smartphone! How did anyone live without a smartphone in the ‘old days’?
Seems impossible, doesn’t it?
What wretched lives our ancestors must have led without this black mirror of constant notifications, half-naked Kardashians and teenagers unboxing Air Jordans . . .
Joking aside, like email, the smartphone provides us with so many convenient benefits that can make our lives much easier, but at the same time, it is also the biggest causes of distraction in most people’s lives. Period.
And if you have your phone with you when you’re at work, I can guarantee it remains a distraction there too.
Read more: How To Focus At Work And While Studying
Yep, just like phone and email, the internet has transformed the ease with which information can flow.
And that is great.
But, there is also so much on the internet that can distract attention away from our work-related tasks.
This is made more difficult by the fact that the same device we use for work is also the source of distraction.
Use website blockers at work and work offline as much as you can. Check out my recommendations in this post.
One of my pet hates when I worked in an office was meetings.
Particularly those meetings about setting up meetings.
They usually (actually, always) went on too long, were poorly structured and were invariably dominated by a couple of co-workers who talked a lot, but never actually brought anything productive to the table.
A waste of time, in other words.
They could have easily been replaced by a couple of one-to-ones with the boss or a group email or the use of a group platform like Slack or Trello (neither of which actually existed at that point, but we have that luxury now, so it’s worth mentioning).
However, meetings seem to be entrenched in modern work culture, so dealing with this distraction is not always something you can easily influence.
Try discussing the value of meetings with your team and see if you can come up with some alternatives.
However, if meetings cannot be avoided, there are some meeting hacks that can save you time, which I will cover in this blog soon.
A bit like pinging emails around, jumping from one uncompleted task to another may make you look busy, but multi-tasking is not the most efficient way to work.
Don’t get me wrong, many jobs require you to have several tasks on the go at the same time and that’s fine, but you need to manage the time you devote to these tasks in a way that means you’re not constantly jumping from one to another.
I talk all about this and what to do about it in this post.
A bit of office banter and camaraderie is great.
But if you’re not careful, you can end up spending all your time on small talk and gossip when you should be getting stuff done.
You don’t need to give your co-workers the cold shoulder, but if you value your time, chewing the fat at the water cooler needs to be kept to a minimum.
7. Lack of social interaction
You don’t want to waste too much time gabbing away with your colleagues, but at the same time, you don’t want to go to the other extreme and completely cut yourself from what is going on in the office.
We are social creatures after all and nobody thrives in a vacuum of isolation.
So, ideally, it is best to find a happy medium.
A lack of social interaction can be a particular problem for people working from home.
If you are someone that works from home and perhaps doesn’t have much contact with others during the day, make sure you schedule in some time to meet friends or family for lunch or coffee.
It is important for mental health and should not be viewed as wasted time.
There is research to suggest that the presence of physical clutter may limit your brain’s ability to process information and make it more difficult to sustain attention.
And if you can’t focus on a task properly, it will take you longer to complete it than it should – which is wasting time.
And a messy working environment can also be a distraction for your co-workers.
In addition to that, it demonstrates a lack of organization. Don’t believe that BS that a messy desk is a sign of genius. That’s just something said by messy people who can’t keep their crap in order.
The environment we work in is important and can influence our ability to focus. Being too hot or too cold can create an internal distraction, so make sure the office is a comfortable temperature.
Noise is another factor that can be incredibly distracting and this is a very common complaint in an open office.
Every office has those co-workers the talk too loudly or have that grating laugh that winds everyone else up. If you’re that co-worker, you may not be aware of it, so take the time to do a bit of a self-assessment – or ask your colleagues, if you dare!
Being hungry or thirsty will create an internal distraction, but it is a very simple one to solve. Make sure that you have a bottle of water on the table and keep some snacks and supplies in your drawer or locker.
Take frequent breaks, including a lunch break that actually involves eating lunch (many people skip lunch).
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
There is a wide range of factors that can have an impact on productivity in the workplace. This can be due to a combination of the physical environment, the stability and consistency management, the systems processes, the culture and the habits of the individuals employed.
As an employee, most of these factors may well be outside of our control. However, there are strategies that can be implemented to improve our own efficiency through better personal time management.
Taking care of the ten points listed in this post will help you become better at using your time more effectively at work. If you want to really understand how you are working currently, a good place to start is with an audit of your time, which you can read more about in this post.