How to Stop Wasting Time – External Factors

There are many behaviours and practices that get in the way of our productivity. These time-wasters fall into two types: internal, those things we generate and external, those things that come at us from outside. Both types can be controlled.

There are four external factors that can waste our time:

  • Unwanted Visitors – Controlling drop-in visitors who interrupt your workflow requires both tact and judgement. The office culture where you work can have considerable influence on this practice. If yours is an organization that encourages less-formal communication, you may find people dropping by to discuss anything from last night’s big game to next week’s big presentation.
  • Incoming communication – You should work to manage of your incoming data with the fewest possible moves; including e-mail, voice mail, real-time phone calls and regular mail. It’s doesn’t take long for incoming data to constantly demand your attention and drain your day. Good workplace habits come from working smart and with control.
  • Unproductive meetings – Peter Drucker said, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.” Many would think the concept of a useful or productive meeting to be something of an oxymoron. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for an organization to function without having meetings.
  • Waiting – As much as you would like to avoid it, there’s no getting away from having to wait. You wait on hold on the telephone, wait for meetings and appointments, wait for hockey practice to end, a spouse to finish work, and wait and wait and wait. Waiting can eat up a fair portion of your time.

So, how do we control factors that seem out of our control?

Unwanted Visitors

  • Be the visitor. If you have to speak with someone, go to their office. That way, you can control the length of the visit. When your done, excuse yourself and leave.
  • Turn away from the door. If your work space is arranged so that you sit with your back to the door, visitors can see that you are working and they might be less likely to disturb you.
  • Close the door. If you have a door. This isn’t workable in a cube farm. In that case, you might have to resort to the Les Nessman solution.
  • Stand up for visitors. If a visitor comes into your office, stand up to greet them and don’t invite them to sit down. This will often shorten the length of their visit.
  • Tell them politely. If you’re busy at the moment, ask them to come back. Set a specific appointment time if necessary.

Incoming Communication

  • E-mail
    • Use the two-minute rule to process your e-mail. If it takes less than two minutes to answer a message, do it then file or delete the message.
    • Use folders to organize messages.
    • IMMEDIATELY delete any messages you do not need to keep.
    • Use follow-up flags or dated calendar alarms to bring forward e-mail when it needs attention.
  • Voice Mail
    • Review your voice messages, take notes and delete them.
    • Respond to those that fit the two-minute rule.
    • Schedule the others for follow-up, as appropriate.
  • Postal mail
    • Open your post once a day.
    • Toss the junk or the unneeded paper into the bin.
    • Use the two-minute rule.
    • File those that are just for information. Delegate what you can. Place in rest in a follow-up system so that it comes to your attention when you need it and not before.

Unproductive Meetings

Five ways to optimize meetings:

  1. Make sure the meeting is necessary.
  2. Make sure you need to attend.
  3. Work from an agenda.
  4. Stick to the start time.
  5. Have measurable outcomes.


Good time management puts waiting time to use. Whether at the office, out and about, or at home, here are seven ways to make use of waiting time:

  1. Work your lists: Check your to-do lists, your shopping lists or other reminders; add, subtract or rearrange, as necessary.
  2. Work your calendar: If you’re not on the phone, set-up, confirm or reschedule items on your calendar.
  3. Sort mail: E-mail, paper mail —whether at work or at home— can be organized while on the phone or watching T.V.
  4. Personal/professional development: Read an industry journal or a school assignment. Carry a media player and listen to speakers, trainers or podcasts.
  5. Use the phone: If you’re not waiting on the phone, use the time to make or return calls.
  6. Work on hobbies: Carry needlework with you. If you draw, carry a sketch book. Carry a digital camera and snap off a few pictures.
  7. Structured relaxing: It doesn’t have to be all about efficiency; read a book, solve a crossword puzzle, or play a game on your PDA.

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