Software

Four time-wasters you don't even know you're doing

I would venture to say that most people who waste time at work don't even realize they're doing it. Here are four things that can greatly contribute to time wasting.

I would venture to say that most people who waste time at work don't even realize they're doing it. Here are four things that can greatly contribute to time wasting.

Bad multitasking

Look, I love multitasking and I would hire in a minute a person who can do it well. But when multitasking is done poorly, it can really waste time and muddle up the works. Poor multitasking involves having many projects up in the air at one time and never really committing fully to any of them. It's sort of like my husband's approach to home projects: Start a bathroom remodel but leave it to go work on refurbishing one of his old cars. Not that I'm complaining. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm complaining.

Learn to prioritize tasks better. And I don't mean by the level of importance of the person requesting the task. Go first for the tasks that won't take too long. Look at your list of tasks and determine which ones you're going to need more information about. Ask for the information and then while you're waiting, look at some of the low-hanging fruit.

Depending too much on email

I have to fight the dependence on email all the time. I love email. I express myself better that way and I have a record of what was agreed upon. But I have to admit that there are times when a quick phone call is much more efficient. With email, you throw out a question and you have to wait until the person you're asking has time to respond. And I don't know about you guys, but I work in an environment where email is routinely ignored. Instead of sending subsequent email reminders, sometimes it's just faster to pick up the phone or go throw yourself in that person's office, brandishing a lighted torch if necessary.

Web-surfing

No one wants to be an Internet Nazi. Well, I guess some managers have no problem with that. But you shouldn't take advantage of an atmosphere that is laid back in terms of web surfing. You might think you're just going to pop in and read up on an interesting topic not related to work, but we all know how those pesky hyperlinks can lure you into more pages. Before you know it, you've fallen into the rabbit hole.

Meetings

I'm a big fan of communication in the corporate environment, but I have to admit that sometimes doing that communicating in a meeting can make me want to light my hair on fire just to fight the boredom. Here's the deal: You have to have an agenda and you need to have there someone with the cojones to make sure the agenda is followed. That person should feel no compunction about tabling unrelated topics and curtailing off any of those long soliloquies that intelligent people are prone to.

Also, if you're going to be using any kind of presentation in the meeting, or doing a conference call,  set all that up a few minutes before the start time. Nothing is more frustrating for busy staffers than to sit around and wait for the equipment to be set up.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

75 comments
wendygoerl
wendygoerl

Two things strike me about this blog: multi-tasking and phone vs. email. For one: it's been proven time and again that there's no such thing as a "good multitasker" Homo sapiens simply isn't designed for it. Now, if someone is good at organizing related tasks together and balancing "automatic" operations against "concious" actions, they may SEEM to be "multitasking," but are actually very efficiently organizing a series of single-task items, and probably getting their work done faster. Which brings us to the second point: phone calls. Phone calls force the receiver to multi-task. They must "change gears" from what they were doing to the subject you want to discuss, especially if they--say, have to drop everything in order to look something up--then take time to remember where they were once the call is over. Unless it's simple enough that you know they can answer it without seriously disrupting their rhythmn or so time-critical that you need ans answer NOW, they will be more efficient if they can finish their current task and get back to you when they move on to the track you email is covering, possibly even answering several related emails at the same time.

Creeping Critter
Creeping Critter

At my job we work with priority emails/calls etc. A person who has a system crash/failure has priority over someone who has a paper jam. Therefore youre not being ignored youre being prioritized and im working on the system crash and cannot come over to clear your printer.

john
john

I have the perfect solution. Turn your computer off when you do not want to receive any mails. Then deal with them all during your lunch break. You can then work without interuption. Or be like me and go off grid. Yehee! Logging in again in 24 hours..................

nagkumar
nagkumar

We as a Company believe in saying that there is as much as IT Waste and IT Rework is happening in engineering. If the companies understand services beyond bodies and hourly rates, they can save as much as 50% straight on cost and have results at 75% of the time frames. Pl. say no to IT Waste and IT Rework due to mad rush attitude to scale up the bodies :) Of-course this is the business flushing secret of services is push bodies.. However, TejaSoft has a different way to mean Services.. by being far from IT Waste and IT Rework. Regards, Raja Nagendra Kumar, C.T.O www.tejasoft.com Services 2.0 - No to IT Waste and IT Rework

rld
rld

Toni: This is your best work in months!... A very important topic, factually spot-on, not the least bit "preachy", and even a little funny. (That bit about your husband's "loss of focus" struck a nerve in me). Thanks for this useful, well-writen article!

hauskins
hauskins

Well for me email is the main method of communications but it depends on who you are talking about as the recipient: co-worker or client. Clients tend to be responsive when they are wanting an answer for an urgent to pressing issue. Multitasking is difficult if you don't have good organization skills and memory. Yes, memory. I can multitask, i.e. time slice my attention between tasks. The first trick is having a good memory to restore yourself quickly to a given task. The other thing about multitasking is that you should lump tasks together that have similar needs, not identical but have components for solutions that are common. I web surf for information that helps me with the multiple tasks I need to perform Meetings need to be controlled and that takes a certain talent. We have been using ReadyTalk and one thing I like about it- I can get mad and stomp around and the other people in the meeting don't know I am. It is a great way to relieve stress when you feel meetings are going off track or you are hitting all types of roadblocks.

Awahili Guni
Awahili Guni

Let us not forget the email scanners! They can pick up valid emails and chalk them up in error as "spam" and send them to the "can" even if you have such said party and/or business in your contact list. The other problematic issue is; those who are not "Static" on their DNS/IP which email Scanners tens not to recognize the sender and as implied above, off to the "spam can" (if not then trash). It can be even more frustrating when one relocates, changes DNS/IP or if the business who changes their Protocols, it can wreck havoc on an individuals customized emails. --------------------------------------------- While some do, some don't - there are those who flat-out have their emails configured (even if you configured for read receipt) to reject read receipts. So it can leave one wondering if they had been read or not. Some emails allows you the ability to read emails without even opening them after being read, they delete them ... I've done it multiple times. ======================================== Then there is another issue which is none of your fault but rather the DNS/IP Provider's or Server end's fault - which would result a soft bounce or hard bounce; only you don't receive the email back like you are supposed to (long time ago, you used to, but today, it's a rarity) ... we know this as a "Mailer Daemon". BTW - Great Topic here!

kmshyamsunder
kmshyamsunder

Of the 4 1,4,3 in that order are the worst things and that meetings just after you enter the office or just after the lunch are the killers, I try to find a ruse to skip these meetings. You have cleint hopping mad for not replrying the mail he sent udirng th emeeting or an important client grinding his teeth for no reply form his call or email.

mtg42
mtg42

Am I twice as wasteful or twice as productive?

ahussein
ahussein

in my organization the manager told me to communicate every thing by email Why? to protect your self and and document every communication with clients to avoid Denial from client , so in future if we face any problem with client we refer to these emails

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I have noticed that many in my organization will email me with URGENT messages. If I am in the middle of a project, I don't look at email even if there is a pop-up that I notice. If I keep checking emails I am less effective. If the message is urgent, pick up the phone.

eridonis
eridonis

"You might think you???re just going to pop in and read up on an interesting topic not related to work, but we all know how those pesky hyperlinks can lure you into more pages. Before you know it, you???ve fallen into the rabbit hole." Haha! That is how I read this article--it wasn't, strictly speaking, part of my task list today. But it does enrich my intellectual environment to read information that isn't directly applicable to the task at hand. So yes, work on your project *only* if that is what time demands right now, but understand that if there is never time for enrichment there is never any enrichment done. And remember that we have the word "serendipity" in our language because sometimes you find just what you need when you didn't know you were looking for that. That being said, not all rabbit holes are equal, I know. TR is one rabbit hole I do indulge in and it usually pays off for me. But I sometimes have to mark several articles to read later in the week, if I have hot work to do. Last point: Great article and comments today! I agree with many points being raised in the comments and have gotten something form the discussion. Happy enrichment, everybody. :)

drbayer
drbayer

There's a problem with this philosophy. Yes, it is good at keeping the task list under control. Unfortunately it also tends to continuously bump larger, more involved tasks to the end of the list while the "it will only take a minute" tasks get addressed. Sometimes you just have to let the smaller tasks pile up while taking care of something more time consuming. Finding the balance between the two is the real challenge.

Dknopp
Dknopp

I have been working from home for the last 11 years. I routinely have four or more ( usually more ) different projects open on my four monitors. One monitor is used for e-mail and chats only. I respond to chat windows when I see them pop, even when I am working on something else. It may be a "I'm busy just type away and I will read it and respond with one liners" or I respond right away and give it more attention if it is a higher priority from my other projects. I use the phone only when the chat windows is not working with getting the point across or when it is a conference call - which there are a lot of. I keep ALL of my chats and e-mails stored away in archive folders, ( five years worth so far in this job, and I have a backup e-mail file from my other years with other companies ). One of the keys to working remote is to be accessible to people - they cannot just walk over to your cube.

mrbonuchi
mrbonuchi

Several years ago I set up a web-based work request ticketing system for my database team. It worked very well keeping requesters in line, organizing, and staging work requests. The DBAs got their work assigned to them and we were able to track new project development as well as change requests very easily. The system sent status and confirmation emails and kept an historical record of the closed tickets. We could also measure the work the DBA group was doing in real numbers.

helpdeskloser
helpdeskloser

When dealing with service requests anyway, all work and communication should be done through your ticketing systems. Most ticketing systems are equiped with the ability to email from them so the email is logged within the ticket. You should also understand how to properly assign and escalate tickets. This way an accurate log is kept of everything going on and it delegates responsibility. If you are assigned a ticket, as long as that ticket is owned by you then you are responsible for it.

siteunseen
siteunseen

Reading Tech-Republic...no I kid :)

sdaugherty
sdaugherty

When a face to face meeting has to happen, consider taking out the chairs. Standing up has two goals - keep attention focused, and keep the meeting short and to the point, and it works.

cquirke
cquirke

I respond to Skype and chat first, email next, and voice messages last. Voice messages that say "call me" without any details on what the problem is, are ignored. Voice messages that don't include a legible phone number are ignored. There is no cell phone. I prefer to spend my working time working, not explaining to real-time interrupters why their jobs are not done yet. If I'm at the phone, and not talking to a live human who's made the effort to come in person, and I can get to the hand set in 4 rings, I'll take the call. Else it falls through to the answering machine, and I play back messages once every 1-2 weeks unless a power glitch has cleared them first. I make these terms very clear to clients and contacts. There is no point in me stopping what I'm doing to take a call just so I can say "I have no idea, I'll have to look that up, check stocks and prices, etc. and get back to you". Folks who leverage rea-time nags like voice calls don't get to jump the queue here, they get knocked clear off the table.

shash_m
shash_m

Excessive coffee breaks

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Ok, today I had this happen: I get contacted with a freelance work offer, in the middle of a big project. So I say "Only as last resort", and they say "You're it, it's a rush job, we can't get anyone else. - We'll get back to you once the files are in place". I return to my project. Then three hours later I get an email saying "It's overdue already, can you send it ASAP?". I go and check, and sure enough, they had sent an email that the files were ready, a quarter of an hour after that previous mail. Now, the case is this: Who was in a hurry to get this done? Who knew I was in the middle of something? Who didn't call or text me that the files were ready? Who didn't ask for confirmation of receipt... They even have a system where they can see when I flag a job as "In progress"... which I hadn't. Don't rely on non-reciprocal communications for vital messages! Know whether your message was received or not! Don't assume the person in the middle of a project will remember to check email... sometimes they have to stop working and go eat, for instance. Srsly. I think there should be a universal conscription to "get your act together"-camp. I could use it too.

slingzenarrowzuvowtrayjissforchin
slingzenarrowzuvowtrayjissforchin

You don't use a hammer to tune a piano. If you're using email and expecting instant responses, you're simply not using the right tool for the job. For me, email is one of my principal modes of communication. As the article states, it provides a written record of the communication, and it's particularly effective if you need to think carefully about how you structure your messages, rather than shooting from the hip in real-time discussions. Nevertheless, it's inconceivable that I would send an email message and then sit around just wasting time waiting for an answer. I have too much to do. If I need an answer on something so doggone urgent that I can't do ANYTHING else until I get the answer, email is the wrong tool for that job. I pick up the phone.

DaPearls
DaPearls

There might be a difference between checking the NYTimes or TechRepublic and playing Halo. As long as you are getting your job done and you are not visiting questionable sites, take a break and catch up with the rest of the world. As far as email, yes, it might be ignored. However, you now have an electronic record of your attempt to communicate whereas a voicemail (assuming the same people don't answer their phones) can be erased without proof that it was ever sent. An agenda is great. Keeping the meeting on track is always a challenge. Some people hijack meetings with their own agenda because it is the only time they get to speak AND they have a captive audience. Stick to the agenda.

deb
deb

Having spent many of my early years serving on the city council and other government committees and commissions, where it's against the law to discuss anything that isn't on the agenda, I am driven crazy by the kind of open-ended, informal, meandering meetings that seem to be so common in the corporate environment. Not only do I want an agenda, I also want background documentation for every agenda item BEFORE the meeting so I can study and research it. Oh, and please conduct the meeting in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order. :)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

No, they don't. If you're deep into a problem or project, just let the sucker ring. Isn't that what voice mail is for? The phone (pager, cell, e-mail, etc.) works for me; I don't work for it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Are you surfing for work-related content? Does the meeting wander down the garden path? Maybe you're just breaking even...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I remove the 'Importance' column. Tag it as 'Urgent' if you wish; I won't see it. Like you said, if it's really urgent, pick up the phone.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

@drbayer, I'm realistic and I try to get one big task finished a day. The rest of the time I try to knock off the pesky little jobs. Like if you see it's 20 minutes to lunch you hit the next small item on the list. And so on and so on.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

when custom-programmed to suit the need of the organization. Unfortunately, with growth, most companies elect to go with a modular system with time. That's when the nightmare really starts. Of course, by that time so much investment has been made in the "system" that it must be seen to its completion. Curious, what did you use to code such with?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you are just talking software application, then you've missed the key component of an effective system, the people who use it.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

the ticketing system covers the respective @ss of the tech using it in the proper fashion. One further note: I contemplate your chosen nickname here and submit -cognizant of your own awareness of same- that nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone should be required to get a small taste of the "front-line trenches" that is "helpesk". It is a thankless and invariably under-compensated job, yet so fundamentally critical to an organizations structure.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

More often than not it's a dubious log of failure. Assignment becomes priority, and escalation becomes wasted time assigning it to the wrong person. Ps wasn't me who voted you down... Couldn't vote you up though, too much should if and could in there.

jck
jck

It is a "waste of time" professionally, but I'm not a robot. Besides I have spent weeks sitting doing nothing and approaching my supervisor daily for work. It's better that I read tech-related materials rather than parusing something like rock music blogs or coffee reviews. :^0

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

@sdaughherty YES YES YES! For my "SLAP" meetings I have max 5 participants including myself. Everyone stands, everyone gets 3 minutes to talk, then I as the facilitator sum up and call for agreement on the course of action. Because of the short duration you can call these meetings at short notice to address an "ad hoc" problem. SLAP by the way stands for Service Levels Action Project, the methodology I use in companies I'm helping to turn around.

ericob
ericob

The fact that, with email, the other person isn't "there, on the line with you" is something that I have found few people compensate for. For important messages, the sender needs to know that their message was received and the recipient needs to know that their *acknowledgement* was received. Person A: "Want to meet at my place for lunch at 1:00?" Person B: "Sure!" ... can be good enough for a real time telephone conversation, but doesn't complete things in an email "conversation." There, to be sure of things you have to do two more steps: Person A: "Great! See you at 1:00 at my place then." [This message lets person B know that their message "Sure!" was received.] Person B: "Check. See ya at 1:00" [This message lets person A know that their *acknowledgement* of "Sure!" was received.] Yes, this seems tedious. But too often I have been caught out thinking something like "Well, since I never heard back, I suppose it's one of those busy weeks for them."

brad
brad

I agree that e-mail isn't the best communication method for high-priority, one-off, conversations consisting of nothing more than a question-answer session that require near immediate responses. Alexander Graham Bell invented this really cool device that lets a person communicate nearly instantaneously with another person in a nearby room, or across town. It's called a telephone. If you need to grill the "perp" Sergeant Friday style, then use the phone to get those answers. Oh, and grab a notepad and pencil to take notes during the conversation. IN most cases, phone calls meander off subject and take more time than firing off an e-mail. But, in my experience I generally get all of the information in one call versus a barrage of e-mail back-and-forth. E-mail is handy if the conversation is lengthy, technical in nature, or includes a lot of function points that do not require immediate response. It is also handy to have a written record that is spell checked and grammatically correct, with pictures included and links or attachments to provide additional information before being sent.

MrBeck
MrBeck

A litle metal thing to strike the strings and of course the piano is full of hammers for the same purpose.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't need that record for 'CYA' purposes. I need it to remind me I have an open issue, something voice mail doesn't provide. Once that issue is cleared up, I usually delete the related e-mails.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have a several co-workers who intentionally allowed their voice mailbox to fill to capacity years ago. You CAN'T leave them a voice mail.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Who knows them, outside those who were in student government? Do you want to discuss the topic of the moment, or sidebar over protocol?

santeewelding
santeewelding

We have a special place in Hell reserved for you.

dhohls
dhohls

I regularly do not finish my coffee before it gets cold... so I need another trip to get more. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I should downsize, er, rightsize my current mug.

Craig Dedo
Craig Dedo

I strongly disagree with this sentiment. E-mails are written records that should be KEPT. There are many reasons. Here are a a few. Legal. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I am not licensed to practice law in any state or country. Following is only based on my own experience. In many situations, any e-mails that are business related are business records and therefore are subject to various business records retention laws and open records laws. This is especially true if you are a public office holder, government employee, or even a contractor working on a government project. In my home state, the Wisconsin Open Records Law (Wisconsin Statutes ss. 19.31-19.39) is very strict and has only a very few narrowly defined exceptions. This law applies equally to any work at all for the Wisconsin State Government or any local government in Wisconsin. The law is also strictly enforced. We have had quite a few public officials and employees get into serious legal trouble because they did not retain e-mail messages as they are required to do by law. I believe that similar laws apply to US government projects and to government work in other states. I have no idea what laws apply in countries outside of the US. Businesses of all kinds and sizes are also subject to various kinds of business records retention laws. This is especially true if the work is covered by various kinds of regulatory agencies, e.g., the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Documentation. In many cases, for business reasons it is necessary or desirable to keep records on a long-term basis, such as in a project history file, even if there are no laws requiring long-term retention of records. This is especially true for long-term efforts such as most software development projects. Tracking and Follow-up. As others have mentioned, retaining e-mail messages is very useful for tracking the development of issues and following up on them. It is also a wonderful tool for holding people accountable and correcting faulty memories, whether intentional or unintentional.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The conference Room. Reality doesn't allow for preprinted minutes. Of course, there are those who will hold meetings just to hear themselves talk. They have another place.

ericob
ericob

It's difficult to imagine a corporation relying on the behavior of users to guarantee Corporate compliance with the law. In situations where there is a legal requirement that a company retain business records, I expect that all email is "kept" regardless of the actions of users. Mail to your corporate address almost certainly passes through a local email server before you see it in your desktop application. It is entirely possible that when you "delete" a message, it might disappear from your view but not be deleted from the server. Maybe it's marked deleted internally (so that you won't see it any longer), but it certainly could still be (probably is) there. In a corporate environment, even if you use an external mail application (say... GMail), it's entirely possible that text streams that you send or receive could be captured and archived.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The only e-mails I regularly keep are those documenting authorization to network resources; those requests are saved by department policy. I'm not in public service or governmental, medical, or legal employment. I'm not a contractor and neither negotiate or approve them. Yes, e-mail is useful for tracking and following up; I believe that's what I said above. In short, I have no professional reason to retain e-mails once I've closed an issue. It's irrelevant what I decide to keep anyway; that's what regularly scheduled e-mail server back-ups are for. Should there be a legal reason to dig up what I sent or received, it's available with a quick request to the off-site storage.