I’m a big believer in recovering lost time by killing timewasting behaviors, jettisoning useless tasks, and tightening work processes. But no matter how well you’ve triaged your schedule, you can probably do even more. That’s because most of us engage in small, thoughtless actions or omissions that cost us time. Let’s look at the worse time-nibblers you may still engage in.
1. Randomly checking email. Even if you’ve made a commitment to spend less time on your email, it’s too easy to log on to see what’s come in just before you knock off for lunch or take that much-needed break. Before you know it, you’ve lost 15 minutes. Clamp down on this temptation, unless you’re expecting an important email that requires a prompt response. Spend time planning out a project instead.
2. Failing to carry “downtime” work. Now that we have Kindles and iPhones, there’s no reason you can’t take work with you everywhere you go. Many portable electronics have advanced editing and note-taking options. Rather than just play a game or read a novel when waiting in line or stuck in traffic, edit a report or get ahead on one of these important “someday” tasks.
3. Opening yourself to interruptions. As much as we all like to have a social life, we should work at work. Socializing is not a waste of time—but too much socializing is. When you chat with everyone you see on the way to the break room for coffee, you invite people to steal little bits of your time. The solution? Stop being an “interruption magnet.” If you know that’s your weakness, close your door, and use your own personal Keurig.
4. Repeating things you should systemize. Instead of grinding through your email and deleting spam every day, create rules, filters, and blacklists in your email client that limit your useless email. Similarly, have systems in place for everything you do more than once, from filing documents to responding to new demands on your time. Create new signatures in your email for brief reports, replies to certain types of emails, and FAQs for commonly asked questions.
They say a financial miser squeezes a quarter until Washington screams, getting every bit of use out of it before letting go. Do the same with your time. Even if you’ve honed your time use down to a keen edge, you may be able to do better. Look to these possibilities to sharpen your work/life balance even further, but realize these are just to get you started. When you’ve implemented them, get to work looking for even more ways to rescue your time.