wasting time

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?

26 Responses to Are You Wasting Hours of Your Work Day?

  1. Pingback: Are You Wasting Hours of Your Work Day? | Lumpuckeroo | Self Improvement - Overcoming Lumpuckeroo

  2. The Vizier says:

    Hi Ali,

    I think many people struggle with wasted time. I know I do. There are so many things we could do more efficiently to make more productive use of our time. I enjoyed reading through your suggestions and here are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind as I did.

    Keep a Time Log

    I personally apply this tip. Being aware of how I spend my time helps me to discern the pattern and to take steps in advance to correct the problems that arise. For example, I am usually lethargic after lunch so I try to schedule mundane tasks that do not require too much brainpower until I can work it off. That means I usually check my emails and stuff.

    Change Your Hours

    I personally find that the earlier I work, the more I can get done. It seems as if that my most productive hours are earlier in the day. As the day wears on, I am more prone to distractions around me.

    Thank you for sharing this article. It is important to know how we use our time. :)

    Irving the Vizier

  3. Nacho Jordi says:

    Your description of time wasters brought me bitter memories of my office days… the printer, the dirty consolation of the coffee machine… Besides, I was in a particularity dysfunctional office (2 hours and a half for dinner, go figure!).
    So to your list I would add a tragically common time waster: incompetent bosses.
    How could we solve the problem of incompetent bosses? :)

  4. M. A. Tohami says:

    I’ve personally tried the time log technique before, and it works! It is an eye-opener. You can’t imagine how much you’re going to learn about your habits and your autopilot way of living. I highly recommend it.

  5. Time allocation is such an important topic for getting the most out of your day.

    Last month I discussed this topic in detail. I really like how Jeffrey Gitomer put it. “It’s not about time management…it’s about time allocation. It’s how you choose to invest vs spend the 16 tro18 hours you have every day.


  6. Dan Leavitt says:

    The best lesson I ever learned on time was Parkinson’s Law. As soon as I began limiting the amount of time I had to complete projects I found my productivity went through the roof.

  7. I currently work from home now, but previous job gave a me a lot of flexibility, but also a lot of responsibility. I found I needed to batch tasks together, emails, phone calls, reports, strategy sessions, etc, to help me be more productive and get more done!
    Great list of tips!
    Eating for Balanced Living

  8. When I hired a business coach he had me note down everything that I did throughout one week and record how I spent my time. By simply recording everything it clearly revealed the areas that I could improve in ‘me’ management. I fixed what needed fixing.

    It’s not a bad to do this once or twice a year – just to give you a ‘you’ management check up – because we all have the capacity to let things slip.

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  10. Anass Farah says:

    I think that in an average day (no counting week-ends), I waste two to three hours. My main problem is the time I spend in front of computer, going from one article to another, trying to find the best book in self improvement to buy it, or just surfing in forums, trying to find the latest tips and free guides to bring more visitors to my blog.

    My second problem is this: I’m a theory addict, thought those last months I’m trying to fight this, I still read a lot, I know that the perfect knowledge and time didn’t exist but what makes me doing this Is my fear of the pain that I will feel in the journey of doing what I really want to do 😀

    I think that starting my day by doing the most uncomfortable things, that are usually the most important for me, will be the solution to my problem, but also reframing my mind so even if I’m failing I would say “That’s just more experience I’m gaining”.

    Ali, thank you for this really fantastic article 😀

    Anass Farah

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  12. Mazzastick says:

    Time management is a skill that can be learned like anything else.We have to prioritize what is most important first. This can be a challenge when you work for somebody else though. You can’t help meetings that tend to productivity wasters.

  13. Letitia says:

    Keeping a log is a time waster in itself, and you might be too lazy to do it. Instead, I suggest a beautiful (and free) product that worked perfectly for me: RESCUE TIME.

    It logs all your computer usage time and lets you categorize your activities, analyze spent time and compare to your goals and others.

    Hope this helps!

  14. Hi Ali, This post couldn’t have come at a better time!

    I’ve made it my new year’s resolution to work on my time management skills and improve my productivity during my work day. I’ve found that using a time log has made the biggest, most immediate difference. I not only log the time I spend on tasks in 15 minute increments, I also give myself an allotted time to complete a task. This one-two punch has worked wonders for me.

    I’m looking forward to trying some of your other suggestions listed here as well. Thanks!

  15. Mark Woods says:


    Great post, I agree with what you say and particularly like your suggestions around keeping a time log, seeking out the obvious problems and treating email as a visitor so we don’t get stuck in jail. Here are two thing I do. I schedule time to process email on my calendar, 10, 1, 3, and 5. When I am done processing and taking care of the RED’s I close it down and move on.

  16. I will definitely note all the points here and then have it on my FB status. LOL! Some people just don’t see life as a pursuit, and waste a lot of time FB’ing, huh? Well, there are some things we can only write about and hope would be taken very well. But personally, it takes discipline to unhook yourself off the net and really be productive. That discipline can come clearer if one knows what he or she wants out of life, especially if they have mapped out how to get to the goals they set. But yeah, there are still times when I really wanna just tell people straight out, “Have you counted your unproductive hours lately? You’re on FB a lot!” LOL. Of course, I wouldn’t do that. Mom would say, if there’s a better way to remind people, choose it over meanness. Your point will come across better.

    Oh, where was I? Aha! There’s my time-wasting habit. Talking too much. :)

  17. Mirey says:

    How much time do you spend a day at work doing nothing or doing your own stuff?? The best way to begin a successful business, you ask? Plan your business in 7 steps: http://www.taskwise.com/blog/2011/4/7-steps-to-planning-a-business

  18. Pingback: Quick Time Saving Tips for your Workday | HARVEST Time Tracking and Invoicing Blog

  19. Anon says:

    Does Minesweeper count?

  20. My answer actually YES, but that was before there was a time tracking tool. Now we do have tools to notify us on everything and to track all activities.

  21. Great post!
    We may not know it, but those checking of e-mails, social media accounts or watching short videos we do during work may be a complete time waster. Here’s an Infographic showing the most common time wasters at work.
    If I may add a small advice, sometimes we procrastinate because we’re overwhelmed with our work load. Dividing seemingly complex tasks into smaller parts is a big help, for me. It’s worth a try. :)

  22. How do I stop the incessant natter (both work and non-work related) from my colleagues – I have asked them to stop, I have told them how much time they waste, I have shouted at them, I have stopped them mid-sentence, I have deliberately made important phone calls while they are speaking to me, I have walked off, I have tried everything but they still seem to think it is OK to KEEP interrupting me all the time (and I cant tell the boss; I am the boss!)

  23. Thomas says:

    Really useful tips here. Tracking how you spent your time is really important. I’d recommend TimeSheet Reporter (Outlook Timesheet), which allows you to track time via your Outlook calendar appointments. Really user-friendly.


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  26. Randy Garcia says:

    Great topic Thomas and I have to just remind myself that I actually did try using time doctor’s tracking software like you suggested in this post and my site wallstreetgenerators dot com was having a minor glitch with the template being out of order so I have to now get an expert site developer to fix it. I heard it was good so once this is fixed i’ll keep you updated on the results. Thanks.

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