Create your balance. Design your life.

Lost In Space: 10 Tips for Eliminating Time-Sucks at Work

When it comes to work-life balance, time management is one of the areas that pops up most frequently.  While there are many factors involved with creating your own ratio of work to lifestyle balance, addressing the way you spend your time at work and at home is a great place to start.

Looking at the way you spend your time at work might enable you to find more time to fit in stress-relieving activities such as: stretch breaks, organizational time, meditation, and exercise.  Here are ten common time-sucks you can avoid:


10. Taking on extra projects.

Don’t be the office dumping ground for tasks no one else wants to do.  It can happen as a response to “fear of losing a job”, the desire for praise, or accidentally over a long period of time, but “extra” tasks at work can be detrimental to your time budget (and sanity).  If you find your plate filled with non-essential work tasks put there by your boss, it’s time to have a talk.  If your plate is filled with extra projects put there by YOU, it is time to look at your reason for taking on extra duties.  Don’t think because you volunteer for extra work that you are automatically going to be put up for promotion.  Be strategic about which extra projects you take on.

9. Repetitive Tasks

Can you automate that?  Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Workweek speaks about “outsourcing” your life on career and personal levels.  It’s a great mindset to adopt.  If literal outsourcing is not possible (although you should really look in to it), what repetitive tasks can you automate for yourself?  Make templates for e-mails, memos, and other communication you send frequently.  Automate reminders and social media posts too.

8. Fixing Mistakes

Cleaning up after people is a terrible waste of time—irritating and unfair to boot. It can be an extremely sensitive issue to address, but finding a way to get people to do work correctly, the first time, is key to productivity.  Without being confrontational, figure out ways to get people back on the right track (whether your boss or your co-worker).  If other people’s mistakes fall on your shoulders, it is in your best interest to help them fix/solve the problem.

If you are making your own mistakes, and having to go back over work you’ve already done, invest a little extra time into figuring out where you are going wrong.  Learn a better system and/or ask for help.  It takes longer to clean-up mistakes than it does to learn how to do the task correctly.

7. Interruptions

Water cooler, coffee maker, co-worker lurking in your cube….  How many times have you had to stay late at work just to do your work?  A positive, friendly, and communicative work environment is important, but interruptions are deadly to your workflow.  Interruptions break concentration, which can prevent you from getting into “a grove” and cause mistakes.  Don’t be afraid to ask for uninterrupted time, to close your door, or to ask people to come back later!

6. Meetings

Ugh.  If you are calling the meeting, have a clear and concise agenda—AND STICK TO IT!  I wish I had a dollar for every minute of my life that was wasted in a rambling meeting where NOTHING was accomplished.  Calling a meeting, just because, is not productive—especially when it can be handled by a memo or e-mail.

If you are in a meeting that you are not in charge of, and see that it has taken a turn down a meandering path to Nowhereseville, ask pertinent questions to get people on track.

5. Internet

The web is hypnotic.  I know I can open my browser and lose a half-hour in the blink of an eye.  At work, this can be harmful to your productivity and your evaluation.  Some companies even monitor the amount of time employees spend on the web (and most monitor where employees spend their time on the web).  Limit any personal web-time to your lunch-hour or breaks.  Have a plan for work related internet use.  Make a list of places you need to visit, the kind of research you need to do, and set a timer to help you stay focused as you browse.

4. Gossip

Getting caught-up in office drama can catch you unawares.  Not only does the act of gossiping take time out of your work schedule, the messy mis-communication and clean-up required can take away even more.   Stay focused on your work, limit idle visits with co-workers, and immediately clear up any misunderstandings (often caused by electronic communications) in person.  Nip it in the bud.

3. Looking for things

Staying organized saves time. Period. Create a system for filing electronic and paper files. Clean your desk.  In the event that you call-in sick, someone else should be able to locate things for you so they can assist or office-life can continue without a hitch.

2. Solving other people’s problems.

Have you inadvertently become the office shrink?  It can seem like you are helping your co-workers or employees by helping them through troubled times/issues.  Mentoring and coaching are specific skills all people should develop.  Take care not to let coaching turn in to counseling—and make sure you are budgeting in specific “mentoring time” if your job calls for it.

1. E-mail

Do you feel compelled to answer that e-mail as soon as it pops up? Do you check to see if you have new mail every 10 minutes?  Break the chains that bind you to your inbox! Schedule times to check and turn off the automated pop-ups or sound notifications.  Three times a day, in most cases, should be plenty of time to read and respond to e-mails.  Allow people to learn not to expect instant response from you.


Any of these ring true for you?  Be honest.  Start with one of these and implement it today.  Give it a week or two to become habit and see how it frees up some time.  Time vortexes, like the ones listed above, have a way of sneaking up on you and stealing any joy you might find in your job. Don’t let them!

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