“It is impossible to progress without change, and those who do not change their minds cannot change anything.”
- George Bernard Shaw
Two of the most common reasons for business failure are mismanagement of time and resources. So if you are the owner, CEO, or senior manager of a company, an honest assessment of how YOU are working with those two assets could spell success or disaster.
That’s why today we’re going to look at the 7 insidious time wasters that may be leaching money from your business even while you’re reading this.
They are so common and destructive that I’ve dubbed them the 7 Deadly Time Thieves™.
And as we know, even the smallest leaks can sink a ship over time.
You and your company’s success depends on your ability to leverage the productivity of your team—including yourself.
Here are 7 ways you may be losing money in your business right now:
#1 ) INTERRUPTIONS
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds.
Their data confirmed what other studies have found: after each interruption, it takes an average of about 25 minutes to return to the task at hand.
Think about it—just two interruptions and recovery could be as much as an hour lost.
Over a week this adds up to HOURS of wasted time, lost momentum, and increased human error.
I’ll often hear from employees (and leaders, too) that they feel that their time is not their own—that their day “gets away from them.”
And while it certainly FEELS that way … feelings aren’t always facts and it could just be a lie that you’re telling yourself. It takes a bit of effort to stay focused regardless of what is happening around us because on average, we hear—and mostly tell ourselves—200 lies a day.
Your time—and your team’s time—IS their own. And there is only ONE way to totally ban interruptions without alienating your coworkers and loved ones ... and that is to shift the culture enough so that random interruptions are no longer tolerated and when they happen, the interruptor is easily redirected.
Beyond that, you can definitely MINIMIZE interruptions by setting boundaries, like:
- Shut off all unnecessary notifications—including work emails and messaging platforms. Almost everything can wait, truly. (I’ll take a deeper dive into email in just a moment).
- Block off quiet uninterrupted time to focus.
- Communicate this blocked time to your teammates. Set up auto responses, and block the time off on your calendar so you can’t be scheduled elsewhere. Let them know when they CAN expect a response from you.
#2 ) OVERCOMMITTING
Very often, if you see a “productivity” problem on your team, the bigger issue is an overcommitment problem.
And if anyone on your team is a people-pleaser—or someone that bullies people-pleasers into doing more than they can, have time to, or don’t want to—then this section will be very useful to your business.
The easiest impact to your bottom line is visible when people overcommit because they don’t get to everything—on time, or at all.
You’ll see deadlines and opportunities missed, profit margins narrow as it takes longer to get a thing done, and productivity decline as people feel overwhelmed and resentful. Not to mention the passive-aggressive ways people conveniently “forget” to do those tasks until the bottleneck that avoidance creates grinds operations to a standstill OR something breaks wide open.
Trust me—when people say yes to more than they can do, they may not complain out loud to YOU, but they are likely simmering in resentment and venting to other people about it.
The solution? Boundaries and better help prioritizing. Giving folks the tools they need to say NO—and your managers the opportunity to coach their team to say no when necessary—is essential. And if there IS too much to do, helping them to correctly assign value can relieve some immediate pressure.
Here are some tips on how to say no:
- No is a complete sentence. Really. Say it and stop talking—even if it makes you uncomfortable. Practic in the mirror if you need to but get comfortable with it fast.
- If you must, give a reason, not an excuse. Don’t apologize; time is finite for everyone.
- Suggest a trade-off. “I can get THIS done, but then THAT will wait,” or “I can do that now, what would you like me to do with this task I was already working on?”
- Don’t waffle or procrastinate in saying no to a task that you don’t have time for. The only better than good news is bad news fast. If the answer IS no, tell me now so I can go find a YES faster.
- Need more guidance? I dive deeper into overcommitting, here.
#3 ) MULTITASKING
Remember “task switching” from the University of California study I mentioned earlier?
Although it may make your team look like they’re keeping super busy, juggling multiple tasks simultaneously—they’re mostly spinning their wheels.
Task or “context” switching, a.k.a. multitasking is just how we interrupt ourselves. And it leads to the same negative consequences created by actual external interruptions.
The research shows that the brain was not designed for heavy-duty multitasking, and your productivity declines, especially when working on more than one complex task.
In addition, for you supposed tech warriors, a study at the University of London proved that multitasking with electronic devices reduces your IQ by as much as 15 points … the equivalent of being high on marijuana or not sleeping for 24 hours.
In other words, multitasking doesn’t help you get more done; it actually SLOWS you down—you get less done in the same amount of time, with poorer performance.
This translates to a LOT of money is lost, according to one global study: collectively, about $450 billion annually.
So, if you or anyone on your team thinks multitasking is their superpower, it’s time for an intervention:
- Use the same “no interruption” policy you created for others, on yourself.
- If it helps, give yourself a specific amount of time to get the task done, and set a timer. As long as the timer is ticking, NO multitasking.
If all else fails, remember that you can’t bake a cake and do open heart surgery at the exact same time.
#4 ) POOR PLANNING
Poor planning—or NO planning—will kill your success in an instant.
And hint: a to-do list is NOT a plan.
I’m all for spontaneity but poor planning is a bit like speeding down the highway with a blindfold on, praying you’ll hit the right exit—and nothing else!
In that context it sounds ridiculous and terrifying, but many business owners do just this with their companies, including myself when I first got started.
I hustled for clients, did the work, then: rinse and repeat. That is not scalable.
Planning boils down to understanding that we all have the same 168 hours each week—no more, no less.
And unless we are intentional about how we spend that time, there is no way to succeed or get beyond this “rinse and repeat” cycle.
The only way to GET intentional, is to measure and track how time and resources are used now, in the same way you budget your money.
What most businesses find is that they spend 20% of their time on 80% of their results—otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule.
You can’t know what opportunities you’re missing out on until you determine WHICH are your most profitable activities and which are costing you money.
THEN, prioritize the former and eliminate the latter—resulting in more money in with less money out.
In my business, that 20% consists of speaking at events and networking—those 2 activities drive 80% of our revenue. Everything else is a nice to have but nothing converts at the same rate. So the more time we invest in me speaking and networking, the better our returns are on my time.
Writing articles like this one, appearing on TV or in magazines all helps, but nothing compares to the first two activities.
#5 ) EMAIL
You don’t need me to tell you that email and other messaging platforms like Slack can be a tremendous time suck. According to a recent survey, people believe they spend 3 hours on email or in Slack every day, or over a third of a normal 8-hour workday.
Some days, it feels like more, doesn’t it?
While no communication at all would be counter-productive (if a welcome break for introverts like me), there are ways to make sure that your team’s time spent messaging is optimized, by implementing these guidelines:
- Stop trying for Inbox Zero. Presort using filters, but don’t prioritize “no email.” You have better things to do with your time.
- Check email only when you have the time to review and reply to it. Don’t read and answer constantly throughout the day.
- I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Disable email notifications. YOU choose when you check email.
- Don’t check email at your most productive time of day.
- Reduce your use of email as much as possible.
- Automate responses to FAQs and email filing by setting up your app’s rules or filters.
For more email hacks, check out this article.
#6 ) MEETINGS
Meetings can be soul-sucking wastes of time (and money)… OR productive collaborative gatherings.
YOU get to decide for your business.
As far as I’m concerned, with 20+ years attending meetings and coaching clients on running meetings, there are only 6 good reasons to call a meeting:
- You need collective wisdom.
- You need to make a decision.
- You’re launching a project.
- You’ve got big news.
- You’re at a project milestone.
- It’s an actual emergency.
Everything else can be communicated OUTSIDE a meeting. Imagine the time restored to you and your team by saying no to one more unnecessary meeting.
Here are my best practices for running effective, efficient meetings.
- Call standing meetings. No, not the kind that recur—the kind where everyone stands. No danish, no coffee and they’ll be in and out of the room asap.
- Handouts and agenda get distributed no less than 24 hours before—and if you’re on the receiving end, if there’s no clear agenda, decline that meeting.
- Set time limits for every agenda item.
- Never schedule back-to-back meetings. Ever.
- Only invite people who need to be there.
- Debrief yourself after the meeting. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to file your notes, create any action items or deliverables, or share information as needed after; that is why you NEVER schedule meetings back-to-back.
For more best practices, check out how to transform your meetings.
#7 ) PROCRASTINATION
Procrastination is another time theft we do to ourselves, stealing time from one activity and giving it to another, without acknowledging the consequences.
The problem is, that any task delayed ends up costing MORE than if you had just planned for it and taken the steps necessary to rearrange your start and end times.
Delays can impact client deliverables and satisfaction (internal and external), can slow down a revenue-generating project, and otherwise impact your bottom line.
The thing is, there will always be things that people don’t want to do. And if it’s something that they took on that they should have said no to… refer them to #2) Overcommitting, above.
So, if they can live with the consequences of saying no, that may be the key to ending some types of procrastination.
But if they can’t… Say a team member who values her or his pay and continued employment over the time they “buy” procrastinating, it’s time to suck it up and just DO the thing.
So how can you help your team fight off this last and final time thief? Here are some guiding principles:
- There’s really only now or later. Do it NOW.
- Eat the frog: Do the thing you dread the most FIRST.
- Get support: Is there some part of the project you’re delaying that you can delegate? Collaboration not only helps to get stuff done, but adds a layer of accountability to keep you moving toward your goal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Every one of these time thieves are simply unproductive habits.
The great thing about habits is that they can be changed.
The first step: awareness, which you accomplished reading this article.
Now it’s time to DO: Share this article with your team. And begin by looking at these seven areas, particularly any you haven’t focused on in a while, as a company.
And commit together to AVOID these 7 Deadly Time Thieves™.
A company-wide effort to improve time management reduces money leaks, accelerates productivity, and re-engages your team—because NO ONE feels good at the end of a day that’s “gotten away from them.”
If it’s time to bring in an outside expert to recommend and help implement targeted ways to eliminate time wasters, boost productivity, and streamline workflow—so your business not only operates more profitably but also with more ease—let’s talk. Schedule a quick and free strategy call with our COO, Kevin Smith.