6 Ways To Stop Wasting Time So You Can Be More Productive

Even the hardest-working among us can get distracted now and then. Get back to your productive self with these 6 tips for fighting the time-wasters in your day.
Writer and Public Speaker, Freelance
October 17, 2013

A study conducted by Salary.com and AOL found that the average worker admitted to wasting just over two hours of each eight-hour workday on non-job-related activities. This amount of unproductive time means one quarter of all salaries—an average of $39,795 per employee per year—is wasted.

If you could only eliminate the activities that cause you to fritter the day away, you know you'd be productive. The trouble with eliminating the time-wasting activities is that the activities are rarely the real problem. They're just a symptom of something deeper that's preventing you from getting to work.

Each of these six tips begin with discovering what's really in the way of your productivity.

Are you:

1. Interrupted too frequently? This one's most common among executives, managers and people who work from home. Every time you're about to get started, somebody knocks on your door/calls with an emergency/asks for help with the kids. The solution is to schedule work time where your productivity is sacrosanct. Fix it by:

  • Announcing "do not disturb" hours to people in your environment
  • Closing your door, or sliding a chair into your cubicle entrance
  • Leaving a voice mail greeting announcing your unavailability, then turning off your phone
  • Committing to avoiding email or social media until you've made real progress on your critical tasks

2. Unsure how to start? A lot of tasks get done surprisingly quickly once you take the first step, but sometimes that first step is hard to take because you don't really know what it is. The best way to get past this roadblock is to identify that first step, even if you have to make it up. These tips can help:

  • Review your pending project, and break it down until the first step becomes clear.
  • Make a to-do list of tasks that make up the total project, then do one at random.
  • Write a series of "To accomplish X, I must first Y" statements until you find one you can accomplish without prerequisites.

3. Nervous about the outcome? This can be a big one. After all, if you don't finish the project, your client can never complain about how bad it was. Unlike other reasons on this list, the solution isn't much of a trick. You just have to bite the bullet, do the job and pass it on to the customer. If your fears are valid, your customer's feedback will help you improve. And remember, most of the time, you're worrying unnecessarily and your work will be just what the customer wanted.

4. Distracted by other activities? Some work is no fun—or, more importantly, just much less fun than other things you want to do. Author Ray Bradbury once told a story about having to write Farenheit 451 at the library because his daughters kept wanting him to come out of his study and play. Netflix, social media and flash games make fun distractions far too available. If this is your issue, try some of these tricks to get yourself on track:

  • Set a timer, and promise yourself you'll work without a break for 20 minutes, then play for 20, then work for 20. Repeat until done.
  • Disable the distracting apps and programs from your workspace by deleting them or by using productivity apps that temporarily turn them off.
  • Subdivide an onerous job into small, under 10-minute tasks, then distribute them among other activities throughout the day.

5. Genuinely (and generally) unmotivated? "Just not feeling it" is a legitimate reason to not want to get something done, but it doesn't fly as a reason for not actually doing the work. After all, you're the boss and need to get the work done. Another symptom with only one real cure, the fix here is to find a way to motivate yourself. Try promising yourself a reward—a break from work, a food treat or some other work you like better—for every unit of accomplishment you make toward finishing the task.

6. Daunted by the job? This one is also known as the "garage syndrome," the feeling you get when you first walk into your garage intent on cleaning it, only to see the whole room at once and lose your motivation. Some jobs are simply too big to think about or work on all at once. Fix this with one of several techniques for dividing the work into smaller chunks. Review the project and divide it into:

  • Time-based chunks by estimating the total time for completion and cutting it into 15-, 20- or 30-minute sessions.
  • Task-based chunks by dividing the work into individual tasks, all of which add up to a finished product.
  • Location-based chunks by promising yourself to work on one small area until it's finished before moving to the next.

Non-work distractions will always claim a little bit of your time, but it's a lot like being afraid. Even brave people get scared—they just know to recognize that fear as a warning sign to analyze and greet with a positive response. Treat those time-wasters the same way to improve your productivity.

Jason Brick has contributed more than 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications and speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at www.brickcommajason.com.

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