Time is money, right?
There’s a reason we use the word “spend” when referring to both time and money. It’s a common saying. But you’d be surprised at how few businesses actually take it to heart. And when you’re paying for the time and effort of your employees, it only makes sense to optimize how your company spends that time.
The problem? Time management can be a little tricky. For many people, we spend 20% of our average workday doing the most crucial and important things, while 80% is either spent on little-value tasks, or even no-value tasks.
If you want to reverse the trend, the best way is to identify your biggest time wasters, and then set about reducing them. That’s why we’ve compiled a few active strategies you can start implementing today:
Step One: Have a Look at Some Common Business Time Wasters
Before you get started, there may be some obvious time wasters you have in your business. Identify them by looking at some of the most common ones. Then ask yourself a simple question: do we do this?
Internal email. Email can be a major time-waster, for sure. But for many salespeople, sending emails is an essential part of doing business. They may be talking to prospects and arranging major business revenue. There’s nothing wasteful about that. However, consider one study, which found that out of 95,000 email sent, all but 20,000 were internal. If it’s internal email, it may be a time waster. It may be about personal business, it may be about setting up pointless meetings—the list goes on and on.
Micromanaging employees. Let’s say you’ve hired an employee to take on a completely new style of marketing strategy. They have a fresh approach, and you’re excited about it. But when they present the plan to you, you start to have qualms about the approach. What if you tweaked an ad here? Changed a bit of headline copy there? Soon, you find yourself micromanaging everything about what they’re doing.
The result? As many as 69 percent of employees have reported thinking about changing jobs due to micromanagement. If that’s how many are thinking about it, is it fair to declare it a time waster?
Spending too much time on the phone or social media. When you hire an employee to work a salary job, it’s tempting for them to think that they don’t have to be “100% on” throughout the day. And this is reasonable. After all, who can? Yet employees who spend too much time on social media. One study found that the 631 billion hours wasted every year in the United States are due to television, games, and social media.
True: there’s an old saying that “time you enjoy wasting was not wasted.” But when it comes to the office? It’s a different story. It may not be socially acceptable to spend much time on TV and video games at work, but for some reason, empty social media use—unrelated to work—gets a pass. And for that reason, it’s one of the more common business time wasters.
Step Two: Identify the Less-Popular Time Wasters
Maybe it’s obvious that sending too many emails back and forth between offices is a waste of time, especially when those emails are counterproductive. Maybe it’s obvious that you shouldn’t be on Twitter. But what about some of the less intuitive time wasters? It won’t hurt to identify these, either.
- Multitasking. People believe that multitasking is usually a move towards better efficiency. But what if multitasking means that you don’t do either of the tasks as well? It becomes an issue of wasted time. Some studies estimate that only 2.5% of us can actually multitask effectively. The rest of us? Not so much. What you should be pursuing is “deep work,” wherein you spend time on your highest-priority tasks. Quality time is time you spend concentrated on one thing. That’s when the most critical work tends to get done.
- An open, loud office. Sure, it makes sense if you want your company culture to be open and inviting. Who doesn’t? But you do have to keep tabs on how wasteful this can be if it’s not controlled. According to RescueTime, researchers suggest that your office shouldn’t be over about 55-60 decibels overall. This means that you can have a talkative office—but once it gets distractingly so, that culture can be a little worrisome. This is especially a point in favor of remote work, where decibel levels are only an issue during meetings.
- Breaks. About 53% of people believe that breaks aid productivity—and there may be something to that. After all, who wants to experience burnout and fatigue? But breaks can also lead to derailing. If you get away from deep, focused work, you may simply be making things more difficult for yourself. And if you run an office that encourages frequent breaks with team-building activities that interrupt the usual work flow, it can end up being more distracting than you’d imagine.
- Decision fatigue. Believe it or not, the time you spend on meaningless decisions will impact your ability to make impactful decisions. This is known as “decision” fatigue. For example, comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that he favors wearing the same color of underwear every day. Why? Because it’s too much work to be deciding things that have minimal impact on your day. He seems to be aware of decision fatigue and how it makes you much more productive when you spend your energy on the decisions that do matter.
With decision fatigue, one thing becomes obvious: not everything you do is a time-waster in itself. But it may be something that wastes time and energy in other areas, making it more difficult to diagnose. If you can eliminate the time-wasters above, you’ll already have a leg up on the entire process.
Step Three: Get Data on Your Time Wasters
Now comes a tricky part. How do you know what’s wasting time in your office, and what’s not? How do you even go about tracking something like that?
There will be some obvious limitations. For example, you won’t be able to track everything that happens within your office, so ditch the idea that you’ll ever be able to get 100% consistent.
That said, there are some ways you can get a better handle on how the time is being spent in your office. Here are a few key tips:
- Install time-tracking software. A tool like RescueTime is a great way for you to get new insights into how you’re spending your time at the office. It even allows you to sort specific tasks by their importance. For example, if you spend a lot of time on a specific platform that you would consider productive work, you can recategorize it accordingly. At the end of every week, RescueTime will then send you a report on your efficiency.
- Use project management software to stay focused. Toggl is software you can install that helps you keep track of the time you spend on individual projects. With a team dashboard, for example, you would be able to look at the time logged towards a project and get a better handle on who’s able to devote more time to the work.
- Conduct an employee survey to see what time wasters people are finding most impactful. Using an anonymous survey is a great way to get genuine, honest feedback from the people in your business. They’ll not only be able to share their true feelings with you, but you’ll find that the feedback will tend to be more accurate when people aren’t under pressure—say, in a business meeting where everyone’s face-to-face. In some cases open transparent conversations, or one-on-one conversations can help suss these issues out as well, whether in weekly or bi-weekly employee-manager meetings, or general productivity meetings.
Step Four: Mitigating Time Wasters with Replacements
In “Getting Things Done,” author David Allen recommends dividing certain tasks into categories, and assigning them priorities based on those categories.
The first thing you’ll want to do is consolidate a list of your top time wasters. Hopefully you’ve used something like RescueTime to get insights as to which are weighted towards wasting more time, but it’s not absolutely necessary. What’s important is that you get your list in one place.
Once you have a list of these time wasters, it’s time to run them through a basic decision-making process. When you look at an individual time waster, ask yourself the following:
- Is it possible to get rid of this waste? For example, can you install a website blocker on your own computer, or will that website blocker get in the way of what it sometimes pertinent, productive work?
- Is it possible to re-schedule this waste? If a time-waster is only partially wasteful—for example, a social media manager might find it difficult to cut out extraneous social media use—then ask yourself if there are ways to re-schedule or defer the least-effective activities.
- Is it really that wasteful? In some cases, you may examine tasks that don’t directly help you, but may be best for your long-term future. And if these tasks get in the way of accomplishing short-term goals, it may be time to consider delegating them.
- Is it possible to delegate this task? If you find that it’s not always easy to take out a time waster from your daily schedule, there’s always the possibility that you can delegate the task.
If you’re a freelancer, self-employed, or simply a contractor who wants to be more productive, then you might wonder how you can delegate tasks that you should otherwise handle yourself.
One potential answer is to hire a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant with a background in the task you’re assigning is always great to have, even if you’re not looking to be more efficient—you may simply not have enough hours in the day.
At Delegated, we encourage people to try out with a virtual assistant for the first time, even if you’re simply hiring them for a minimal amount of work. There’s no reason you have to dive into the deep end of the pool right away.
Once you’ve completed the steps above, you might start with a virtual assistant by browsing through their previous experience. Signing up with Delegated, for example, will let you choose virtual assistants based on their particular expertise. When you match this up with your specific needs, you can then delegate these tasks right away.
Reducing Time Wasters and Getting More Done
Sometimes, there’s too much for you to do in a day. By the time you hit lunch, you feel like you’ve already hit a full day’s work. Delegating many of your tasks can help you focus on what you need to focus on without the stressors that make it more tempting to avoid working.
A virtual assistant can help out by providing some additional work with those tasks that you find to be close to time-wasters for you personally, but still need to get done. But you don’t have to cut out everything that isn’t 100% work. You can delegate and you can work with virtual assistants who can plug in the gaps while you focus on your most essential work.