If you’re statistically average, you waste enough time per week that you could fill an entire part-time job.
That’s over twenty hours per week—hours that you’re ostensibly working on your business or spending productively—going down the drain. And given the old adage that “time is money,” you only have to multiply those hours by your hourly rate to get an idea of just how valuable this time is.
Don’t panic. Even the most ambitious of today’s entrepreneurs waste time. It’s an inevitability. Whether we simply don’t have the energy to accomplish “deep work”—more on that later—or we’re not prioritizing our time properly, some time is inevitably going to fall through the cracks.
Let’s look through some of the top ways entrepreneurs waste time at work. Then we’ll look at the statistics and find some ways to cut down on this wasted time through some simple, easy-to-implement steps:
Email: A Time-Waster That Feels Productive
Today, you’re going to spend about two and a half hours on email—at least if you’re statistically average. Is that time really well spent? Is it getting the job done?
It depends. According to Forbes, we write an average of 40 emails per day. It’s easy to see why this doesn’t alarm us. Email, after all, is a near-instant method of communication. We can write to someone in another time zone and the email will move there at the speed of light. So there isn’t much time wasted, right? After all, your emails are all about the projects you’re working on!
Not so fast.
Consider that in Forbes’ list, they noted that not all emails are made alike. Some 144 out of 200 emails an “office worker receives every day” are CCs and BCCs that have nothing to do with them. Even the act of deleting these emails can then be counted under the “wasted time” column.”
“Well,” you might think. “But I barely notice BCCs in my inbox. I must be productive with my emails, right?”
Again, not so fast. Here are some other email stats to keep in mind:
- The average employee will check their email 36 times an hour.
- It takes some 16 minutes to refocus after handling incoming email.
- It can take as much as 23 minutes to recover from any distraction at work, including email.
That means that even if you view yourself as highly productive in the inbox, you might not even be aware of just how much a side-tracking email is taking out of your day.
Yes, many emails you receive will be about work. And you figure that if your time is being spent on “work,” then it must be productive. But many entrepreneurs have learned to prioritize their time by focusing on the work that matters most to their business.
If you'd like more information on optimizing your email practices - we've got a guide to email automation, optimization, and delegation.
Internet and Social Media: Time Wasters Galore
A survey by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder found that 39% of people admitted to wasting time on the Internet at work and 38% admitted to wasting time on social media.
And that’s just the amount of people who would admit it.
The study found such flagrant examples of employee time-wasting that some people were covering up for checking online dating sites, while another was printing off a book from the Internet.
Admit it: it’s easy for entrepreneurs to make these same mistakes. We can click over to social media and tell ourselves that we’re investing in our social media presence. But how much of that time is spent simply scrolling through our feed and liking off-topic posts that have nothing to do with work?
This isn’t to say that your social media habits have to be all-business-all-the-time. But it’s important to eliminate these distractions if you’re going to prioritize more productive work.
Speaking of prioritization, this can be the method that has the biggest impact on the way you spend time on your business. Here’s the process:
- At the beginning of every day, review a to-do list of the important things you have to achieve today. (Later on, we’ll recommend some tools for making your to-do list easy to track).
- Rank the list from most important to least important. If you could pick just one task that you had to accomplish that day, what would it be? That’s your highest priority. Continue this process until you run out of tasks.
- Schedule the tasks one by one, starting with the highest priority first. Even if you don’t get through your entire list, you’ll have accomplished the most productive and important items on your list. This helps prevent procrastination and scrambling by the end of the day.
- Outsource your unfinished tasks to a virtual assistant! (More on this later).
Working “In the Business” Rather than “On the Business”
“Owners spend 32% of their time working ON the business but 73% prefer spending their time on these strategic types of activities,” according to AgilityPR.
Why is this a big deal?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you also double as a business owner. For many people, they first went into business for themselves because of a particular skill they provide as a service, or because they were able to produce a product that people wanted. Then, the business grew. In the meantime, the entrepreneur got used to the idea that it was their unique skill set that helped the business grow.
They get accustomed to working like an employee of their own business rather than the leader of that business.
This isn’t to say that productive work is “wasted time.”
What you define as “wasted time” depends on your goals. And if your goal is to stop working for your business and start working on your business, then getting yourself out of the usual in-business processes should be a priority.
You can make use of the list below to discover how to uncouple yourself from these core business processes. And it won’t be easy. You may emotionally have some trouble getting yourself out of a position that you’ve always been in. After all, you’ve come this far. What if things go awry?
But if you want to stop spending your productive time on tasks that now produce you lower returns than your business is capable of providing, then you might have to consider switching from productive work to more productive work.
That’s right: sometimes, even when you aren’t wasting time, you might be wasting time relative to what you could otherwise accomplish. Do this situation, you should ask yourself, Do I need a virtual assistant?
Meetings: The Bane of Every Entrepreneur’s Existence
Many entrepreneurs who used to work in the corporate world did so to avoid one thing: meetings.
Then, when they run their own business, guess what? More meetings.
Statistically, millions of dollars are wasted every day on meetings. But that doesn’t mean that cutting away all meetings will necessarily improve your business. You have to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Meetings do accomplish an important task: they keep the lines of communication open. Anyone who’s at the meeting can voice an opinion or ask a question. While the meeting is going, people can talk.
But that doesn’t mean every meeting accomplishes something invaluable to the company. It may just be getting in the way of otherwise productive work. In the digital age of remote working, web conferencing software, and email, some meetings simply spin the wheels of the entire team.
How to Incorporate Changes Into Your Routine that Help Prevent Time Wasting
Now that you know some of the areas in which entrepreneurs waste the most time, let’s shift focus. What are the specific steps to incorporating these changes?
Step #1: Start Monitoring Your Time Spent
There’s an old saying in business—what gets measured gets managed. You’re not going to know how to reduce your time-wasting habits if you don’t first identify those habits. That’s why we’d like to start with an interesting step: don’t change anything for a week.
Instead, set up an app like RescueTime and let it run while you go about your usual business. Approach the week like you would any other week. Don’t try to be any more or any less productive; just hold on to your usual habits.
The goal here is to find those habits that are eating up most of your time. RescueTime does a good job of sorting tasks into slightly unproductive and very unproductive. For the next steps, you’re going to concentrate on expanding those you rate as “very productive” and cutting down those that are on the “very unproductive” side of the spectrum.
Step #2: Create Simple Habits for Eliminating Distractions
One of the biggest time wasters for any entrepreneur is the possibility of succumbing to distractions. Since we’ve already gone over just how much time is spent recovering for every distraction, the goal is clear: rather than spend all of that time recovering from distractions, it will be worth your time to prevent such distractions from occurring in the first place.
You can accomplish this with what Cal Newport dubs Deep Work. “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” according to Newport—and it’s a type of work that so many of us in the digital age forgo thanks to the distractions of email and social media.
But that doesn’t mean you should promise to yourself that you’ll spend three hours per task on Monday morning. Such massive behavioral changes aren’t likely to last. Instead, look at the low-cost, high-reward habits that help eliminate distractions, including:
- Turning off your phone at a set time every day. Let’s say you embraced our prioritization strategy and started attacking the most important task in the morning. The simple act of turning off your phone in the morning to coincide with this stage is a great way to eliminate distractions—even if you can’t resist turning it back on later.
- Spend five minutes at the end of the day scheduling the next day’s tasks. Ever notice that when you have a full plate, it seems to wear away at your willpower? That’s because you’re already spending energy making decisions throughout the day. Instead, use the end of the day to schedule the next day’s tasks so you’re able to take on distraction-free work right away.
Step #3: Utilize Tools that Automatically Cut Out Time-Wasters
It never hurts to have help from digital tools these days. Here are a few that can help you incorporate the tips you’ve read here:
- Prioritizing your time. Remember when we promised we’d help you with creating a daily to-do list? We’d like to point you in the direction of Todoist, a great way of keeping tabs on all of your must-do activities and then prioritizing them as easily as possible.
- Reducing meeting time. Tools like Slack will help you reach out to a team without getting everyone on the same page for a meeting that could otherwise take place online.
- Eliminating distractions. Want one more way to keep distractions to a minimum? Incorporate an add-on like StayFocusd to make it much harder to skip away from your work.
Step #4: Outsource Low-Priority Tasks to a Virtual Assistant
Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day no matter what you do. If you utilize the tips here, you’ll have a good blueprint for using your time more productively. But there still might be hours at the end of the day you wish you had.
That’s where a virtual assistant can come in. They can take on your low-priority tasks, allowing you to clock out at the end of the day with the knowledge that you did everything you did to seize the day. You’ve eliminated distractions, you’ve prioritized your work, and you’ve still found a way to get the other tasks done.