By virtue of technology, we are increasingly becoming a more efficient society and civilization. In our hands, we carry tools that can book our travel, look up a restaurant, review conference agendas, and a bazillion other functions.
Sure, it has helped us be more efficient in a lot of different ways, but with the increased demands that many companies are putting on their employees, it is becoming even more imperative to work smarter and faster.
The whole LEAN concept has taken root not just in manufacturing sectors, but many other businesses are adopting this model for increasing efficiency.
Not everyone has access to training in this area, but here are some ways to boost your own on-the-job productivity by eliminating these time vampires:
1) Being at the beck and call of IMs, emails, and texts. Social media is a very demanding mistress once you fall under its spell. Scientists have found that similar to the Pavlovian reflex where dogs begin salivating at the sound of a bell, smart phone users react the same way to the buzzes, dings, and notification alarms coming out of these devices. A short adrenaline hit follows which is a positive reinforcement to the behavior. Each message can detour your day and suck minutes way from other more pressing work.
2) Retyping same information over and over. Got templates? If you don’t, you should. If you have standard boilerplate information that is frequently used, create a template that you can quickly tap into and copy to customize it per recipient.
3) Where’s Waldo? Structure, structure, structure. Create quick access folders to often-used documents, and organize your files in a way that makes sense to you (and anyone else who might be using them). That way, you won’t end up wandering through files wondering exactly where you filed that one contract… you’ll instead be able to zing right in on it within seconds. Additionally, each day should be structured to have specific tasks prioritized so you can keep your eye on the prize at all times.
4) Miscommunications. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Recently, I had a situation where a client was joking about something in an email, but it totally came across as something completely different and utterly offensive. Fortunately, after a short call, everything was quickly cleared up. But one of the biggest time “vampires” is when bad communication causes misunderstandings… time is then spent venting or griping, or in a series of long-winded emails when in fact, a short conversation can clear matters up readily. The rule of thumb is that if you have a complicated or sensitive topic, the best rule of thumb is to call the person first, then follow up with a recap email. You could save hours of time including personal angst!
5) Getting lost in space. How many times have you gone out to the Internet for one, specific purpose, only to be distracted by one thing after another, only to realize that it’s been a half hour or more since you first opened the browser? If your attention is easily grabbed, then create a sticky note on your computer to keep you focused. This can help train you to get in, get what you need, then get out. This is especially important because many employers have added spyware to watch over employee Internet usage. They are examining this information against actual production numbers and making decisions about employee viability.
6) Meeting Agendas. Cue the collective groan…! Not many people are fond of meetings which are a necessary workplace evil. Meandering agendas not only cause attendees to check out but are a complete waste of time. If you are calling the meeting, have a focused agenda with specific timelines. While you want to grant participants enough time to be engaged, it is up to you to keep the topics on task and be brave enough to jump into keep things on track. If someone else is running the meeting and the discussion ends up all over the place, initiate a conversation with them before the next one and offer to help them facilitate if that is possible. Not everyone is a great meeting leader!
7) Interruptions. Office banter and building a strong rapport with colleagues is important to facilitate good working relationships, but if you find yourself wandering on a regular basis on social rounds, having a lot of “water cooler” chats, or are constantly interrupted by a co-worker who just wants to “visit”, you need to reassert yourself and your time. Being social yet focused on your work as the top priority is the best bet.
8) Fixing other people’s mistakes. If you find yourself dealing with this chronic problem, it’s time to ante up. Your time spent on other people’s issues is taking away from the work that you are ultimately accountable for, so you need to determine the best course of action on how to deal with this. If the person is a subordinate, then this is the perfect mentoring/coaching opportunity on performance improvement. If it is a colleague, have a frank, tactful sit-down with the approach that you want them to succeed and don’t want them to get into trouble. If the boss is the one who is making the mistakes, offer to take them to coffee. Don’t make it confrontational; instead, act as a problem solver. Maybe the boss is too embarrassed that they don’t know how to do it right. Suggest ideas to fix the problem without making it personal.
9) Taking on too much. Fear of losing a job can cause workers to not say “no” to bosses who keep piling on the work. The end result? Workers end up getting pulled in too many directions and aren’t able to concentrate on what needs to be done to complete a task. They are spread too far and too wide, and end up spending most of their time simply trying to catch up. If this sounds like you, it is time to have a conversation with your supervisor to figure out a solution.
Time vampires lurk around every corner, but if you can use these tactics as the proverbial garlic as a way to ward them off, you’ll realize a definite spike in your overall productivity!
Photo 1 by ALT1040 from Blogosfera (Cropped by uploader from This is madness! (pt. 2)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2 by Shoplet Office Supplies [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons