Are You Wasting Hours of Your Work Day?

How much time do you waste, every day?

You probably don’t try to, or mean to. But if you work for a typical company, you’re probably losing hours of productive time every single day.

Maybe a typical day looks something like this:

  • You get into the office, make a coffee, chat to the person who sits next to you.
  • You check your emails, and end up getting distracted by a link to an interesting new piece of research in your field.
  • You get back on task for a bit, working on that important report.
  • Phone calls come in, and colleagues stop by to ask questions.
  • You make another coffee.
  • You need to print out some documents, but the printer’s acting up again. It takes you the best part of half an hour to sort it out.
  • During the afternoon, you’re in a two hour meeting. It starts late, then overruns. You don’t really have anything to contribute – you just nod along at the appropriate points.

That’s not an especially exaggerated or unrealistic day – but it involves a lot of wasted time. Interruptions, distractions, problems with computers and other hardware, meetings …  no wonder you sometimes get to five o’clock and wonder what you’ve actually done all day.

So, how can you minimise wasted time, and get more work done?

Look for Obvious Problems

Maybe there’s something clearly eating into your work time. It could be:

  • Traffic is always worse than you expect, so you’re usually late to work
  • A particular colleague constantly distracts or interrupts you when you’re trying to focus
  • Some regular tasks are taking up far more of your time than they should. Maybe they need to be delegated, or you need better equipment in order to cope with them.
  • You take part in meetings where your presence really isn’t necessary.

It’s easy to get used to these irritations in the working day – or to assume that they can’t ever be changed. But if there really is a problem, you need to tackle it. If you can’t do anything about it on your own, talk to your boss. It’s in their interests, too, to ensure that your time (that they’re paying you for) is well-used.

Keep a Time Log

Not all time-wasters are obvious. We’re not always great at estimating how much time we spend on a particular task – so you might think that emails are only taking you a few minutes here and there throughout the day, when you’re actually spending three hours every day in your inbox.

A time-log will let you see, in black and white, exactly where your time is going. Create a spreadsheet on your computer, or use a notebook. List the time in 15 minute intervals, from the start of the day. Mark what you do during each 15 minutes, using  “ditto” marks where necessary.

After a few days, you’ll be able to see where you’re wasting time. Perhaps interruptions are actually eating up a lot more work time than you realised, or maybe you struggle to stay on task and waste time on Facebook or Twitter.

Even if you don’t do any analysis, keeping a time log is useful – it helps you become more aware of what you’re doing (particularly if you’re going off-task!) and can keep you accountable.

Making Changes

So, how can you reclaim the time that you’re losing, and make the most of your work day?

Change Your Hours

By starting work earlier than your colleagues and clients, you can get a head-start on the day before calls start coming in. You’ll probably also avoid rush-hour traffic, making it less likely that you’ll waste time because you’re late.

Alternatively, you could start later and finish later – giving you some time at the end of the day to focus without interruptions.

Set a Time Limit on Emails

If you find that emails are taking up a lot of time, set yourself a time limit. That could mean:

  • Only checking emails after 11am
  • Setting a timer running whenever you open your inbox: allow yourself a set amount of time and stop when it’s over. (I use Tick Tock Timer.)
  • Giving yourself a certain amount of time per day for email, perhaps a total of an hour. Again, you can use a timer – set it running whenever you open your inbox, and stop it when you’re done.

If you’ve ever stormed through dozens of emails in an hour or two after a vacation, you’ll know how fast you can get your inbox cleared when you focus.


What big time-wasters crop up during your workweek? How can you start dealing with them?


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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