“Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.“—Sakya Pandita, 13th century Tibetan spiritual leader.
The gift of language is something like being your own boss, in that the good news and bad news are basically the same. In this case, the good news is, we humans have the capacity to communicate more effectively than any other species on Earth, and we can use it for great good. The bad news? We have the capacity to communicate more effectively than any other species on Earth, and we waste it on stupid things.
During a recent survey, I asked my readers about the things their coworkers do to waste their time. My goal was to raise awareness about unproductive behavior—to provide cautionary tales, thereby helping you realize the need to nip these tendencies in the bud when they occur. Minor timewasters can build up into a major time-loss surprisingly quickly. For instance, it’s all too easy for your coworkers to waste 30+ minutes a day of your time; this adds up to over 2.5 hours per week. It may not seem like much, but it’s enough for me to produce two articles the length of this one. How much can you get done if you shut down your coworkers’ timewasting behavior?
The human inclination to waste our gift of gab contributes to more than 95% of the timewasters the respondents complained about:
A beleaguered 38.5% of my respondents cite unscheduled interruptions as their coworkers’ worst timewasting tendency. At least you can plan for appointments, but drop-ins invariably throw off your schedule. Most drop-ins involve conversation about things other than work—i.e., things best left for coffee breaks or the lunchroom. Who cares who won last night’s game when you have a report due in an hour? Tell a drop-in exactly how much time you can spare when they arrive. If they can’t get the point (or get to the point), politely tell the person you need to get back to work now.
If you can’t communicate clearly or in a worthwhile fashion, why bother trying? As Abraham Lincoln once noted, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Another 38.5% of my respondents complained about poor communication practices, with a minority of that percentage irritated by garbled communications—verbal and written—they had to waste their time deciphering. The rest, about 60%, reported on mismanaged meetings where their coworkers played with smartphones or tablets instead of paying attention, or used the forum to complain rather than address problems. Other timewasting coworkers discussed irrelevant matters, including personal issues.
It isn’t hard to write a simple, straightforward email and then invite the recipient to ask questions as necessary. Nor is it difficult to set a meeting’s agenda and stick to it like glue. All it takes is people getting up and leaving the room at the meeting’s scheduled ending time to get the point across.
Lack of Preparation and Inflexibility
The last two categories each comprise 11.5% of the total responses. Lack of preparation includes issues like arriving late at meetings and providing incomplete information, resources, or instructions to those who need them. Inflexibility may consist of using and defending outdated processes that slow the workflow process, or, as one person put it, “not taking ownership of a problem or defaulting to ‘not my job.’”
The Upshot of It All
Three words and their combinations account for all of these timewasters: laziness, thoughtlessness, and rudeness (click to tweet). While I understand the reality of disengagement and why it occurs, in the end, only results matter. Sometimes I think we should all have that tattooed on our foreheads so we don’t forget it.
You and your teammates can take these problems in hand and cure them with a little motivational reinforcement. Until you do, they’ll jam up productivity and cause your team—and company—to bleed red ink.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.