All of us hopefully begin our day striving to achieve something; something beyond just making it through the work day. It’s interesting to note how often we sit back at the end of the day and feel we weren’t very productive, or successful at adding value to our job.
Productivity experts have written extensively about avoiding time wasting activities and being more productive. However, it is probably not a bad idea to revisit some of the common time wasting activities and consider ways to avoid them; here’s my personal takeaway.
Lack of focus
Setting goals and targets, even if you’re housebound, on vacation or enjoying the weekend, is pretty important. I was reminded of this on a recent vacation, when my family wanted to take a sea ferry trip from Helsinki to Tallinn in Estonia. In order to do this we needed to book tickets and establish transportation. You’d think this would be fairly straightforward, however since we were super relaxed about how we wanted to spend our vacation, we didn’t do much research or plan the excursion. As a consequence, we had a couple of misfires in our quest. In the end it all worked out, and we had a great time but we could have saved time, had we been focused on research and preparation. Instead, we burned some shoe leather and wasted time. We burned time on changing trams more frequently than we needed to, walking the streets of Helsinki and not really having a proper route planned.
When you’re not fully focused on the mission, you fail to be effective and fail to get things done efficiently and easily.
Another vacation of ours to Finland was very poorly planned, in the sense that we only knew four things: We knew when we were going to arrive, and when we were going to leave. We knew where we would be staying and that breakfast was included in our room rate. What we hadn’t factored in was what we wanted to do. We had 4 days to see Helsinki and we had a couple of specific landmarks that we wanted to visit. In the end, we saw most of what we wanted to see except for two particular landmarks: the Sibelius monument and the Temppeliaukion Church carved out of a granite hill. We didn’t get to visit these because we procrastinated researching days to visit. If we had been a little more decisive, we could have seen everything.
After we determined where we should book our ferry tickets, we started en-route, but made a detour on the way to the Harbor terminal to stop at the supermarket. The detour, compounded with poor planning delays, led to us frittering away 3 hours of our day before we could get back to sightseeing. When you’re focused on the mission, and you allow distraction from that focus, you rapidly erode your effectiveness and risk wasting a great deal of time.
You will waste a lot of time if you think you need to plan everything, and more importantly, if you think you know better, or are the best at doing everything, you will wind up doing too much and not having enough time to concentrate on what you’re good at. My wife and I tend to divide up the responsibilities for the agenda when we’re on a vacation or mini break. We leverage our respective skillsets, and I usually plan the travel itinerary and she, the entertainment. As a result, we tend to go for something that is not too cheap or expensive, but filled with eclectic experiences and adventures. If I had to do it all, we might end up eating all of our meals in the hotel and just staying in the room and surfing the internet or watching TV. Well not really, but you get the idea!
Scheduling unnecessary meetings
We spent a vacation in Mexico as part of a package holiday, and didn’t factor in the fact that we would get hooked into trying to buy a time share at the resort we were staying at. In retrospect, we had an entertaining meeting with a time share agent, but it sucked away nearly 5 hours of precious sun-loving. Meetings can be productive, but make sure they are necessary, and have an agenda or objective.
Living in a state of crisis
My wife and I occasionally watch a program on television about the Bangkok International Airport. If you like to watch the absurdity of life and reality TV, and how some people really cannot coordinate themselves when on vacation – this program provides some interesting insights into the challenges that airport employees have to deal with when interacting with passengers. This program demonstrates just how much time gets wasted on sustained crisis management and firefighting. It’s as if vacationers, to Thailand in particular, seem to completely lose all their common sense and planning skills, and in some cases wind up spending many hours or even days aimlessly wandering the halls of the airport as a result.
Just say ‘No’
I was pleased to hear recently that there are new laws coming into effect that disallow unsolicited calls in the UK, and carry hefty fines for infractions. In the US, the do not call register has been in place for some time to attempt to curb this phenomenon. Although we have the ability to pick up a phone and quickly determine if the call is a wrong number or solicitation call, are we brazen enough to say, “sorry, wrong number” or, “no I am not interested?” You would be amazed at the statistics regarding the amount of time we waste on spam calls before we say no. A mobile advertising technology company from Seattle aggregated data from nearly 40 million phone calls blocked to US small businesses in 2013. The findings determined that the average spam call lasts an astonishing two minutes!
I often find myself engaged in repetitive work, like slowly pouring drain cleaner down the bathroom drain or mopping up coffee spills in the kitchen. They’re repetitive tasks that we eventually become so accustomed to that we accept them as time sucks we have to deal with. Taking measures to avoid repetitive low value tasks buys back time – a hair trap in the tub, a spoon rest near the tea kettle. Simple tools that can save you time. I have the same problem with spam emails, and I should set up a rule in my mail program to automatically delete them.
The concept of re-arranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic is familiar to most, but often we engage in this type of backwards practice as an integral part of the way we work. We kid ourselves into thinking there’s value in doing low value work that ultimately doesn’t make a big contribution to real productivity. Identify low value and wasteful practices, automate them where you can and exclude them from your daily effort.
While most of these examples don’t necessarily directly relate to work, it doesn’t take much to determine that all of these items can be easily translated into work context.
We can all be agents of our own behavioral changes, and it’s important that we recognize and own that agency. Time is precious and unrecoverable when lost or wasted. It’s a resource that is finite and often at a premium. Identify the things you do that waste time and cut them out of your routine. Put tools and automation in place to increase productivity.
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