How time wasters are killing your productivity at work

Updated on:
January 26, 2023
Created on:
January 23, 2023
Sarah Roberts
By:
Sarah Roberts

Shallow work, scrolling through social media, chatting with colleagues, and a myriad of meetings: it’s extremely easy to be distracted during the workday.

If you’ve been dropping the ball recently and need to know what’s going on… time wasters are probably to blame. These short breaks probably don’t seem like a big deal but they add up and before you know it, you have wasted almost a quarter of your workday.

What is a Time Waster?

A time waster is a fruitless, time consuming activity. Something that drains time from your working day because it’s a distraction or brings little value to your work. Basically, something unproductive. Everybody wastes time, procrastinates and gets interrupted from time to time, even managers and bosses. The key thing is to identify the biggest time wasters and find ways to overcome them.

There are only eight hours in a working day and it’s very easy to waste a couple minutes here and there throughout the day. In reality, time wasters at work are everywhere and endless, and they can quickly add up to wreak havoc on your productivity

Without further ado, here are some of work’s key time wasters, how many of these ring true for you….?

Biggest Time Wasters at Work:

1. Shallow Work

Checking your emails, responding to that slack notification, logging your timesheets, filling in your expenses… These annoying little tasks constitute shallow work. They need to be done but they feel inconsequential and sap large amounts of energy and time from your day. Studies by McKinsey estimate that we spend over a quarter of our time at work on just responding to emails! 

Not only that but when you constantly switch between the task at hand and these distractions, you never fully reach your cognitive peak.

One of the best ways to tackle this unproductive busy work is by time blocking, scheduling blocks of time to group all shallow work together. Check the small jobs off your to-do list all at once, enabling you to use the remainder of the day for deeper, more productive and rewarding tasks.

2. Social Media

Surprise surprise, social media is one of the biggest time wasters in your work day. Responding to texts, checking the news or accidentally opening Tiktok; these can all completely throw you off track and lead to hours being wasted.

As with shallow work, schedule times into your day when you look at your social media in controlled short breaks. Use social media as a reward for completing more meaningful work! Outside of those times, use anti-distraction apps to restrict or limit access to those sites.

3. Meetings

Meetings are such an important part of work and being aligned in a company, but only up to a point. According to Zippia, each employee wastes 31 hours in unproductive meetings every month. To keep meetings from being time wasters, keep them short and focused with a clear agenda, take notes and always question whether they’re necessary in the first place. Could this meeting have been an email? Am I adding value to this conversation? Am I learning anything new?

4. Socializing

Socializing at work is essential for good company culture and morale, but too much non-work related chatter in the office can end up as a massive distraction and time waster. 

By limiting socializing to lunchtimes and scheduled breaks throughout the day, you can have the best of both worlds: catching up with colleagues and smashing through your to-do list.

Another good way to limit chatting, is a good set of noise canceling headphones. This shows the office you're locked into what you’re doing and as an added bonus, you muffle the sounds of noisy co-workers.

5. Multi-tasking

Constantly switching between tasks at work is a massive drain on our energy and time. Like responding to emails while writing a blog post (ahem ahem)... or being in a zoom call while editing a social post, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re simply not focused or mindful of the work you’re doing. In the end it will take you longer to finish the tasks and they will be of a lower quality

Tackling one task at a time and until completion is the best way to get way through your to-do list. If you feel like your attention begins to slip, schedule a break or change task.

6. Overcommitting & Long to-do lists

Being overwhelmed or time-anxious can be a major cause of procrastination. It feels too big to tackle, there’s too much to do and you just feel like you suddenly can’t do any of it, or worse you begin multitasking-which as we’ve discussed doesn’t help at all! 

Sometimes, it’s better to be honest and tell colleagues you don’t have the capacity to do the task they’ve assigned you. It can be really hard since you don’t want to disappoint anybody, but in reality you need to set realistic expectations and goals. 

The easiest way to help with overcommitment is to track your time. By tracking your time, you learn about your capacities in real time and become more aware of how long certain tasks take you. You also learn which hours you are most productive!

7. Putting off bigger tasks

There’s always at least one thing on your to-do list that seems like a mammoth task. We don’t want to even start because we know it’ll be challenging. But ultimately, the longer you wait to start, the more likely you’ll spend longer periods of time on shallow work or work that simply doesn’t push the needle. It’s better to just get it done!

Productivity techniques like Eat the Frog can really help with these tasks. Breaking down bigger tasks into smaller more manageable tasks and scheduling focused periods in your calendar to get them done can really help.

8. Lack of automation

As mentioned earlier, shallow work needs to be done but it shouldn’t eat up the energy we have for more important deep work. 

By using automation we can minimize the time and effort we spend on simple repetitive tasks. If you’re looking to be more efficient and rid yourself of massive time wasters such as time tracking, project management, meeting scheduling, social media scheduling etc, there are plenty of tools out there to automate that.

Who are the biggest Time Wasters?

Now without naming names, we all know who facilitates time wasting at work. There’s always somebody asking you about the latest Netflix show or delving into the latest office gossip when you’re trying to concentrate. Then there are people who never seem able to get their own work done and you’re always lending a helping hand… But even Managers who plan too many meetings are contributing to your lack of productivity. The main culprits are:

  • Social butterflies
  • Gossipers
  • Managers

Key Takeaway

At work, our concentration is constantly being interrupted and we often end up spending long periods of the work day doing unproductive things. Scrolling on your phone, checking emails, notifications and distracting colleagues. These time wasters can really eat into your productivity and time can feel like it’s always slipping away without tasks being finished.

Manage your time and be aware of these key time-wasters:

  1. Shallow work - emails, expenses, time tracking etc.
  2. Social media
  3. Excessive meetings
  4. Socializing
  5. Attempting to multi-task
  6. Overcommitting
  7. Procrastinating on big tasks
  8. Lack of automation

Once you’re aware of them, you can find solutions:

  • Time Block
  • Using Anti-distraction apps
  • Reduce socializing to breaks
  • Schedule regular short breaks
  • Single Task
  • Know your capacity and how to say “no”
  • Using methods like Eat the frog
  • Automating when you can.