Few professionals can honestly say they work every minute of the workday. Whether it's the 15 minutes they spend drinking coffee while reading online news or the 10 minutes on Facebook after lunch each afternoon, the occasional break is inevitable. Some even say it's a good way to recharge the mind and prevent burnout.
But today's worker is tempted by a bevy of distractions. Rather than adapting to the electronics-heavy world we now live in, employees are actually being pulled away more than ever. In its annual Wasting Time at Work Survey, Salary.com reported that 89 percent of respondents admitted that they waste time at work each day. A small percentage even admitted they waste at least half of an eight-hour workday on nonwork-related tasks.
For the 61 percent who admit to wasting 30 minutes to an hour, the lost productivity may not seem like a big deal. But for a small-business owner, even 30 minutes each day adds up to 2.5 hours a week and 130 hours each year. Here are a few of the top time-wasters and how you can combat them to increase your (or your employees') daily productivity levels.
While Facebook was the top productivity-zapper in last year's survey, Google won the prize this year. Search-engine activity, of course, goes hand in hand with general Internet use, since most people are simply using Google to get to the information they want. In some cases, Google searches may be work-related, but in too many others, workers are simply searching for vacation deals or information on an upcoming episode of a favorite TV show.
While many businesses look at excessive online time as stealing from the company, policing such behavior is generally a bad idea. There's usually no way to lock down Internet access without inhibiting an employee's ability to do the job. Even if an employee can perform his or her duties without going online, blocking access is a waste of time in today's smartphone-equipped world. An employee who can't get to Google on a work PC will simply use a personal smartphone.
Instead of restricting employees' online activities, employers should focus on personal work outcomes. If employees are completing all of their work on schedule despite spending half their workday wasting time, it might be smart to add more duties to their job descriptions. If productivity levels are poor, the supervisor should focus on disciplining that rather than policing the minute-by-minute activities that are leading to these productivity lags.
2. Social Media
Corporate culture is a big concern for many professionals who want to ensure they have an open, positive workplace that honors the less-structured work styles of millennials. Modern corporate culture extends to social media and blogging activities, setting the tone for companies. A business's social media presence provides the perfect opportunity to reach out to its customers and employees, creating a connection it might not have otherwise been able to.
Instead of fighting employees' desire to be on Facebook and Twitter, some businesses are finding that embracing it is a better option. Loyal employees can be the best advocates for the brand they represent, monitoring the Web for mentions of a business and replying to those comments. These people could also be tasked with monitoring what other businesses are doing online and even keeping your social media presence up to date.
Managers often find it's important to maintain an environment of control, especially concerning social media use. Understanding the specialized work styles of different generations and personality types can help you learn how to cater to those needs. Millennials, for instance, have always had cell phones in their lives, and think of them as a tool to communicate with others. Baby boomers tend to be more likely to think of the water cooler as a communication hub. If you can set guidelines that work with these personality types rather than against them, you'll have a happier, more productive workplace.
From a work standpoint, meetings are often cited as a top time-waster in organizations. This is especially true in the many instances in which workers are asked to attend meetings that don't apply to them. For a Harvard Business Review study, three consultants examined the Outlook calendars of multiple workers at a large company and found that one weekly executive meeting consumed 300,000 hours each year. This included the meetings with unit managers to prepare and the meetings those unit managers had to have with their staff.
In all too many instances, meetings are called to discuss things that could be summed up with an email or quick phone call. A weekly status report from each department could provide the information necessary to keep company leaders aware of the activities throughout the organization without wasting thousands of work hours each year.
A 2012 study revealed that workers spend more than a quarter of the day reading and answering email. Mobile devices have provided a temptation to always be connected. Making matters worse, our colleagues and clients tend to expect an immediate response to every email, even if we're traveling or on vacation. But many professionals have found that if they don't respond immediately to every message, they can get much more done during the course of the day.
To increase productivity, turn off notifications for short periods of time during the day. It could be 20 minutes or an hour, but during that time, you'll find you're able to make a serious dent in your to-do list by minimizing distractions. In 9 Email Productivity Secrets That Will Get Your Life Back, I provided tips that will free up the time you need to focus on other tasks. In addition to limiting your email time, you can keep your inbox clear by setting up rules and unsubscribing from email lists and social media notifications. Inbox Pause for Gmail is one of my favorite apps, allowing me to "pause" my inbox so I can focus on other work. Here are some other useful articles on boosting productivity:
If you (or your employees) are wasting even an hour each day on unnecessary tasks, you can put that time to better use. Pay attention to how you spend each minute of your workday and look for areas where you can improve; I recommend installing a time-tracking app that will run in the background, gathering data on your activities each day and reporting it back to you. Add that to the amount of time you spend in unnecessary meetings and personal talk with co-workers, and you'll be able to better pinpoint activities you can reduce.