How We Waste Our Time and What to Do About It

Undoubtedly, if you are into time tracking, you are also into using your time wisely. You recognize the value of time and understand that wasting time is all too easy and tempting. You definitely want to encourage your employees to use their time effectively but you may not know exactly how to turn them around. The first step is in understanding how often we are distracted and why. Distractions come in many forms, many of which may seem perfectly normal, but there is an ideal time, place, and dosage of them. Understanding this will help us transform our inefficient employees into a highly productive workforce.

Kicking a Bad Habit, Gaining a Good One
Unfortunately, many of the things we do everyday are no more than distractions from the more meaningful activities of our lives. Succumbing to the constant urge to remove ourselves from the task at hand, whether it be during work or play, is, quite frankly, a bad habit. These habits can be very pervasive and it can become very difficult to deny the urges to waste our time. Like any other bad habit, fortunately, we can kick it with a little discipline. With the constant barrage of various media in our everyday lives, we do have to fight this temptation. It is similar to walking through the grocery store and fighting the desire to fill the cart with cookies. The temptations are out there. When we succumb regularly, we build a habit that is hard to break.

Temptations
There are distractions, there are pastimes, and there are respites from reality. These are not the same. Taking breaks is important. Dilly dallying is not just for children, and stopping to smell the flowers is certainly no demise against productivity. Au contraire! Slowing down and stopping to reflect is part of the key to getting on the ball. Pastimes also are important to recharge us and keep our minds and bodies challenged and rested. Distractions are the things we do instead of work, rest, and pastimes.

  • www: All things Internet tops the cake for distractions. Want to know the latest development? Check the Internet. Want a good laugh on YouTube? Check the Internet. Want to find out what your favorite personalities are up to? Check the Internet. The excuses go on and on and ultimately, most of it just doesn’t matter. Surfing the web both wastes time in great blocks or in little spurts. Each is equally destructive. In the workplace employees will probably only check the web for moments here and there when a curiosity pops into mind. But care needs to be taken to maintain focus and not give in to these whims every time a thought occurs to us. Diverting attention away from a job, or a game, or a conversation, or anything we set our minds to do, degrades the quality of our effort.
  • Social media: While it definitely has it’s benefits to business and personal life, it is quickly becoming an addiction for many web surfers – posting every flitting thought, and following all the friends once lost and connections yet to be made. It is a powerful temptation and should be handled with care. An article on Social Media Today confirms this accusation against digital social networking and suggests ways to keep it at a healthy level.
  • Email: It is important, and most of us can’t live without it, but that doesn’t mean we need to read the messages the moment they drop into the inbox (unless work requires it). It causes a break in the rhythm of work and that costs us the time it takes to regain our bearings.
  • Text messaging: Phones should simply be turned off while we are working. There will rarely be a message that demands our immediate attention. Most of them that come through during the day are trivial and, again, serve only to turn our attention away from what is present and important right now.
  • Eating snacks and candy: Snacks stashed in a drawer is just a distraction waiting to happen! Who can resist yummy stuff? Save the junk food for later and just eat lunch and a healthy snack at work, taking them away from the desk as a break. Eating at the desk requires multitasking and doesn’t yield great results, but taking a break will renew a tired mind.
  • Television: This is not usually an issue at work – although it can be in certain offices – but it it falls under the umbrella of distractions and is worth mentioning. Watching an interesting tv program or two is fine, but sitting down in front of the tv and watching whatever is on, truly is a replacement for the more fulfilling things we could be doing with our time.

Developing Good Habits
The minimalist movement is gaining popularity these days and you can guess that they talk a lot about eliminating all the things that distract us from what’s important. Minimalism may allow a person to be more productive when he or she has less stuff and has fewer demands. With fewer things to distract us, i.e. fixing broken things, contemplating buying new things, replacing old things, keeping up with the fashion of things, loaning things, borrowing things – you get the idea – we have ample time for the important stuff. In order to be productive we need to clear our minds. This means doing as little multitasking as possible and focusing only on the task at hand, i.e. eliminating distractions. Check out my post on time management for more on the subject.

Additionally, in order to narrow down the main culprit in our interruptions and distractions, it is a good idea to keep track of the work we do, including how often and for how long we veer away from it. A good online time and project tracking software like Timesheets.com can help us recognize our errors and then correct them.

Our Feelings at the End of the Day
No matter what the accomplishment, be it a work related task or a long-pursued personal goal, the satisfaction we derive from achievement and hard work is more gratifying than any of the avenues with which we waste our time. This feeling of satisfaction is akin to the endorphins felt after exercise or the rush brought on by some drugs. Good news is good for us, and just as addictive! The larger the dose of accomplishment or the greater number of little ones, the better the feeling. It’s really easy to get addicted to feeling good about ourselves. As habit forming people, we can get addicted to just about anything. Whether we choose our addictions to be positive or negative is both a choice and a matter of exposure. So, expose your employees to the good feelings associated with using their time wisely and you will see more positive attitudes and more accomplishment in the office!

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