There are thousands of books on time management, and thousands more on work/life balance, but almost all of them either nibble around the edge of the problems or pretend they don't exist. So, here's the straight skinny: The reason most people are stressed for time is that they are wasting more than half of each working day on time-wasting tasks.
Here are the culprits and some simple solutions to get recapture the time that you're otherwise destined to waste.
1. Unnecessary Commuting (13 percent)
As of 2018 (the last year measured), the average one-way commute to work is 27 minutes, nearly six minutes more than in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that's just the average, which means that some of us are spending a lot more than that. (I've known people with three-hour commutes--one way.)
Let's suppose that you have a commute that's only of average length. By the time you retire, you'll have spent approximately 5.6 years behind the wheel, which is roughly 13 percent of the time that you've committed to work.
While some jobs (like equipment maintenance) require an employee to be on site, almost all office jobs can be conducted from a home office. Therefore, in almost all cases, time spent commuting to an office job is wasted.
2. Unnecessary Meetings (16 percent)
According to a study at MIT that I described in a previous post, the average worker spends approximately 22 years of their 45-year career in meetings. An estimated third of that time is spent in meetings where there's no value added.
By the time the average worker retires, they'll have spent at least 7 years in useless meetings, which comes out to about 16 percent of the time you'll spend at work during your lifetime.
3. Unnecessary Emails (23 percent)
According to research cited in Forbes, the average office worker spends 2.5 hours a day reading and responding to an average of 200 emails, of which approximately 144 (mostly CCs and BCCs) aren't relevant to their job.
Since the average office worker spends 2.5 hours a day doing email, that's around 1.8 hours spent on those irrelevant emails, which comes out to a whopping 10 years spent on useless emails, which would be 23 percent of a 45-year career.
Add up those three huge time-wasters and it comes out to roughly 51 percent of your working life. Think about that for second. How much more could you accomplish if you were twice as productive? How much better your life would become if you always had plenty of time?
Fortunately, these three huge time-management challenges have some fairly straightforward solutions:
1. Implement company-wide work-from-home.
While some jobs (like equipment maintenance) must be performed on-site, most office jobs can be accomplished remotely. Indeed, several studies have shown that remote office workers are much productive than on-site workers, without even counting the time they waste commuting.
Of course, implementing company-wide work-from home would mean that management would need to be nimbler. It also means top management must admit to themselves that their brand-new open plan office was a dumb idea. However, smart bosses don't throw good money after bad, so it's time to bite the proverbial bullet on this one.
2. Create an efficient-meeting culture.
Some of this gets solved simply by implementing work-from-home because remote workers have fewer meetings. Beyond this, there are specific policies that reduce or eliminate unproductive meetings:
- No meeting without an agenda.
- No "status updates" during which you "go around the room."
- No meeting longer than 30 minutes.
- Leave a meeting the moment you realize you're not adding value.
- Replace PowerPoints with a group reading of a briefing document.
3. Throttle your email system.
Here's are some approaches I've seen over the years:
- Turn off email during peak working hours.
- Limit the number of emails an employee can send each day.
- Discourage CC, BCC, and Reply All emails.
- Discourage Sisyphus-like behaviors like trying to achieve "zero Inbox."
Here's an idea: Customize the company-wide email client so that it's impossible to close any internal email until you've rated its usefulness to you and your job.
Track those ratings and it will quickly become clear who's wasting everyone else's time with unnecessary email. Then adjust their compensation accordingly (all the way to $0 when appropriate).