Who stole my time?

Picture of Matthew Stibbe
Posted by Matthew Stibbe

The day started out so well, yet here you are at the end of it with barely half of your to-do list complete. If productivity is the goal, time management is sometimes like a detective story. Where did the time go? Who stole it?

Here are some possible time-stealing culprits and some time management tips:

  • Social media You may enjoy it and some even argue that judicious use of social media can increase productivity. But it is still a major time thief, albeit one you can control with a little self-discipline. Switch off notifications and use a tool like Buffer to tee up your tweets at the start of the day.
  • Meetings: It’s not just the meeting itself – which may be genuinely useful — but the time it takes for everyone to convene, wander off-topic, get to the point then disperse. Conduct virtual meetings with a time limit or try the trick of busy execs who carry out standing meetings. Group all your meetings into one part of the week, e.g. 'meeting mondays' and get control over your time for the rest of the week. 
  • Email & IM: Still a major drain on time, especially if you get sucked into reacting to every message as it arrives. Switch it off and set aside a certain amount of time daily to respond to messages. Likewise, manage your IM status or people will assume you’re available all the time. You can save some time if if you put your inbox on a diet.
  • Your smartphone: Its constant dinging and ringing reminds everyone, including you, that you’re in demand. But it may be more productive to switch it off and swap busy-ness for boredom on occasion.
  • Admin: Often necessary no matter what position you hold in a business, admin often takes much longer than anticipated. Don’t put it off: little and often is a good rule with regular tasks, and automate what you can to avoid having random bits of paper cluttering your workspace.
  • Untidiness: A little creative disarray may work for you, but let it go to far and that chaotic workspace is just another distraction that can genuinely slow you down. Tidy up and try moving those Post-It notes and scraps of paper online where they won’t get lost.
  • Other people: Everyone loves office banter and the occasional interruption. But if faced with a ‘serial socializer’, you may have to get tough. If the usual hints  — ‘well, I must get on’ — don’t work, try standing up every time they come and talk to you. Or send a ‘do not disturb’ message by donning noise-cancelling headphones.
  • You: If the saying is true, it’s procrastination that stole your time. If you’re in the mood to be distracted, the flap of butterfly wings can be an annoyance. But what’s really making you dither? Are you under- (or over-) planning each day? Chasing too many ‘priorities’? Maybe you work better under pressure. Or is it a bigger question of ‘meaningful’ work? Give yourself a break. Don’t try and rule out interruptions altogether — as Mike Clayton points out, some distractions yield results.

Still no idea how you’re losing time? Track your online activity with Rescue Time or other time-tracking software. Xerox’s tool, Business of Your Brain, will analyse your Outlook activities.

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