8 Ways You May Be Wasting Time At Work And Not Realizing It

Wasting Time At WorkOur world is becoming busier by the day, and we most often feel a mad rush to get more things done. Take up more projects, more responsibilities, and more of everything.

This attitude can be argued to be both good as well as bad. But without getting into that argument, let us look at few ways we can use our time better and achieve more than what we are currently doing.

These are 8 ways we may be wasting time at work and not realizing it –

1. Not prioritizing our work

More often than not we tend to ‘go with the flow’ at work. This is the default state if we do not plan specific tasks to work upon. Prioritization of tasks gives us focus and helps us get most ‘value’ out of our time and effort.

Time management skill can be an art and is extremely important for a project manager. We already realize that time is a currency that is always in short supply.

The Eisenhower Method of time management matrix (used in Stephen Covey’s book published in 1994 titled “First Things First“), is a great tool to get our myriad of tasks segregated. This matrix helps us identify the truly prioritized tasks.

time management matrix
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Note that quadrant 2 is important to be addressed because this contains important tasks, but since they are not urgent, they tend to be missed.

While there are apps available, you simply create a MS Excel spreadsheet with four cells for this. Just keep adding tasks in specific quadrant at the beginning of the day, and delete the ones completed at the end of the day.

This personally is a great tool I use for managing my tasks.

This is a nice pdf of time management matrix you may want to download.

2. Doing same task(s) over and again

Do you find yourself doing some of the tasks over and over again, every day?

It could be simple one, like moving certain types of emails as they arrive (forum notifications, for instance) out into a specific sub-folder. Even if we don’t have time to read, we don’t want to clutter them sitting in Inbox, so we move it to a nice little sub-folder created for them.

Sounds familiar?

Such tasks nay seem trivial but they not only take up your time, but they break momentum of important work task could be doing. Who knows the importance of momentum better than one preparing for PMP? ๐Ÿ™‚

The solution?


In the example above, setup an inbound email rule to move such emails directly into the specified sub-folder.

3. Doing someone else’s work

Well, there is this famous saying that we all know – “Don’t fish for others, teach them how to fish”.
We tend to, especially with junior members on the team, spend lot of time teaching how to do certain tasks. And many a time – it could be the inability of member to understand and follow through, or our own inability to explain in a way that they understand clearly – we end up doing the work ourselves.

Most of the times, the reason is ‘it saves time’.

The truth is while this saves time in the short run, it creates damage in the long run because we have not solved the problem.



If you don’t have time to teach how to fish, find another fisherman who can teach.

4. Starting your day with emails

Emails are most common time-killer.

It is difficult to really be mindful of which email is important and which is not (worse, which has only entertainment value).

Way out?

Keep fixed time for emails during the time of the day you are least productive.

  • 15mins before lunch.
  • 30mins before you leave for the day.

What if we miss some important mails needed to take care of the day in the morning?
Good way is to check emails 10minutes before you leave home in the morning.

This gives you enough time during commute to think of responses, and create a mental plan of action to tackle any issues BEFORE you reach office.

Also, it helps to an inbound email rule for mails of ‘entertainment value’ to get moved to a specific folder. Take time over weekend to go through them. Or may be before retiring to bed every night.

5. Trying to reinvent the wheel

Unless you are trying to create a square wheel, chances are someone else has already invented wheel. Especially if your work involves programming. ๐Ÿ™‚

Google for it, ask experts, refer forums, or just delegate if it is ‘delegatable’.

6. Calling for/attending unnecessary meetings

Most of the meetings are not necessary. Really.

Click to know the 10 effective ways to have productive project meetings.

If you are using Agile development practice there are few meetings you will conduct. These are short, smart, and to the point. Daily Stand-ups, Planning meetings, Review and Retrospective meetings, Weekly product calls with customers – for instance. These are valuable, and time-bound.

The meetings that tend to lose focus and get dragged on are – review meetings, performance discussions, all-hands, open-house meetings/town-hall meetings. These are necessary based on the situation, and when they are necessary they need to be controlled, moderated and time-bound. This increases effectiveness as well as attendance. ๐Ÿ™‚

The book Death by Meeting is a must-read if you want to excel at meetings.

7. Not resisting the urge to check social networks for ‘a 5 minute break’

Before long this 5 minutes break turns into 30, 40, or 50 minutes (unless you are called for a meeting ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

It is our common tendency to work in bursts. Which is a great practice, as it helps us focus and get things done, one at a time. The problem crops up if we decide to take a break between these short bursts.


There are many. What works for me is to keep a ‘reward’ break at a fixed time and tying that break to tasks at hand.

For instance, when I start work after lunch, if I have a 4.30pm coffee break, I can mentally put up x number of prioritized tasks to be completed by that time. If there is a tendency to take a break in between, think of rewarding yourself a cookie during coffee break, and get back to work. ๐Ÿ™‚

8. Trying to micro-manage people

This is a bad practice and must be avoided.

1. makes people uncomfortable, and make them feel manager doesn’t trust them
2. can get people to depend on managers (“he’ll tell me how to do this when he comes to check upon me”)
3. wastes your time, and keeps you away from your priorities

If someone really needs help with their work and need constant oversight, first of all, make a case for it. Second, get him/her a mentor on the team. Third, carve out time in mentor’s schedule for mentoring.

That’s it. These are the 8 time-wasters I try to stay away from.
What are some of time wasting activities you would advice avoiding?

Image courtesy: smemon

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Sudhir July 10, 2014, 10:18 am

    Very useful post Shiv. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shivshanker Shenoy July 12, 2014, 2:49 am

      I’m glad you liked this, Sudhir ๐Ÿ™‚