America is a global economic superpower obsessed with competitiveness — but are we as productive as we could be? While American workers do put in long hours and have notoriously few vacation days, they only rank third on The Global Competitiveness Report of 2014-2015, according to the World Economic Forum. The precept of longer office hours being tantamount to greater productivity is a major misconception that actually undermines productivity by downplaying the health risks associated with longer working hours.
It’s not only the stress of long hours that eats into employee productivity — boredom, disconnect and disinterest with their work prompt workers to engage in activities that are not related to their jobs, such as web surfing and socializing with other employees. According to a survey from Salary.com, every day 64% of American employees spend time on the internet browsing, shopping, checking social media updates or otherwise managing their personal business while at work. Moreover, more than two-thirds of these employees spend anywhere between 2 and 10 hours online!
The list of potential time wasters is extensive and diverse; it includes anything from quite predictable “office politics” to rather surprising “being constantly interrupted by the boss” and more. The following is a condensed list of 10 common non-work-related activities and factors associated with inefficient use of office hours that collectively result in billions of dollars of unearned revenue every year:
- Socializing with other employees
- Texting and making personal calls
- Taking extensive lunch and coffee breaks
- Perusing the internet and social media
- Managing and fighting with technology
- Letting daily developments distract you
- Being overloaded with administrative tasks
Although the obstacles to productive work are numerous, the good news is that none of them are beyond employees’ and managers’ span of control. If something can be controlled or influenced, it can be changed; the only catalyst needed is motivation, a real driving force behind employee productivity.
What can you do?
- Get better at prioritizing tasks. Stop multitasking when it comes to tasks and assignments that are important! Start your mornings in the office by outlining your game plan and major goals for the day. Manage items with the greatest urgency first, and aim to check them off the list by the end of the first half of your workday; tend to less important tasks in the second half of the day when your energy and focus are not as strong.
- Minimize trivial distractions. Distractions keep you from accomplishing daily targets, because they divide your attention and weaken your concentration. When you have a critical assignment that you need to work on, you should distance yourself from your weakness (e.g., social media, electronics) and limit possible interruptions (wear headphones, close the door, put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign) in order to avoid sabotaging your efforts.
- Get better at managing email. Email overload is one of the major time wasters at work. Create an email filing system that has folders for your correspondence groups — Client A, Client B, Vendors. Delete or archive everything that you will have no use for in the future, such as emails from former suppliers, job applicants, and notifications regarding meetings that have already been held. It’s also a good idea to designate specific time slots for checking your inbox so that you don’t get distracted by constantly going back and force between surveying your email account and doing your job. Lastly, don’t put off until later email responses that take less than a minute to complete.
- Streamline routine tasks. Administrative, technical and other routine tasks are always going to be a part of your day, so it’s important to be smart when it comes to finding time for them. Create templates for responses to typical client inquiries, donation requests and sales pitches, as well as drafts for letters of introduction, feedback reports or meeting agenda emails– this will help you save valuable time by eliminating some of the repetitive “grind.”
- Do your own work first. Helping co-workers can be an important (and nice) thing to do, but not at the expense of your own priorities. As difficult as it may be, learning how and when to say “no” to a colleague’s request or offer is a key success skill.
This advice only works well when employees not only notice but also really strive to change those behaviors that are limiting them. In many instances, however, workers don’t have the drive to modify their time-wasting habits or don’t see any reason for working more diligently and that’s when the management has to step in. What can managers do to minimize the harmful effects of these time-wasters? Part 2 will give you ideas for helping employees eradicate major time wasters, as well as coaching and motivating them to work more efficiently.