Ever get the feeling there aren’t enough hours in the day? Join the club. Time is the one thing seemingly no one has enough of, and even super-diligent workers often find themselves falling behind schedule and constantly playing catch-up.
Sadly, time isn’t like break-room coffee — you can’t simply make more. So what’s a tired and stressed worker to do? In a terrific U.S. News & World Report post titled “The 5 Biggest Time Sucks at Work,” writer Robin Madell offers tips for trimming all the fat out of your day. And there’s plenty of fat to choose from.
Madell’s first suggestion is a tough one for anyone with a desk job, an Internet connection, and a mind that wanders: “cutting back on “non-work-related social networking.” As she says, it’s easy to get sucked into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other such websites, and while some companies use web-filtering software to prevent such behavior, nearly everyone has a smartphone that allows unfettered access. That makes it a matter of willpower. Fight the urge to Tweet or look at your friends’ baby pictures until you get home, and you’ll be far more productive.
The next “time-suck” Madell cites is “mismanagement of incoming messages.” Just because people are pinging and emailing us constantly, it doesn’t mean we have to respond lickety-split. As per Diane Gottsman, head of The Protocol School of Texas, one way to avoid getting sucked into IM conversations and email chains it to close your inbox whenever possible and use the last 10 minutes of the hour to catch up on emails.
Madell’s third “time-suck” involves “time-traps,” or unimportant tasks that draw your attention away from more pressing matters. Agenda-less meetings are a good example, but there are lots of little things that can eat up your minutes and hours and throw you off your game. Madell’s suggestion: make planning a priority. When you’re swamped, you might not think you have time for planning, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you take a few minutes each morning to figure out how best to spend your day.
One way you shouldn’t spend your day: “attending the wrong meetings.” That’s time-suck No. 4 on Madell’s list, and it’s something you can prevent by speaking to your supervisor whenever you notice that you’re often invited to powwows with little or no relevance to your responsibilities. Quite often, the key points of a meeting can be summed up with a quick email recap — preferably one you read during the final 10 minutes of an hour in which you’ve had your inbox closed!
Finally, Madell cautions against “doing things you should delegate or outsource.” Everyone has specific skills and talents, and it doesn’t make sense to take on busy work that someone else could handle. According to UsersThink founder and CEO John Turner, a smart strategy is to spend a week or two making a list of everything you do at work. At the end of that period, it should be pretty clear what tasks could be handed off to others.