Wasting time can be a great thing. Taking breaks and indulging in distractions gives your body and brain a chance to refresh and actually increases your output over the long haul. Study after study proves this.
The problem isn't when you decide to kick back. The problem is when you waste time without even realizing that's what you're doing. Spinning your wheels--engaging in pointless activities that don't help you move your company or your life forward--eats through your mental resources, frustrates your need for accomplishment, and is generally a short and sure route to burnout.
So what are these insidious activities that feel potentially important but are actually pretty worthless? The Web offers plenty of thoughtful suggestions, from the false productivity hack (that actually costs you time) to various forms of vanity and emotional drama that simply sap your energy. Here's a roundup.
1. Constant email checking.
Sure, you can answer that new message superquick, but each time you do, you're costing yourself the time it'll take to refocus on what you were doing before. Quit this habit and set specific times for processing email each day.
2. Not just talking to them.
Does it take you a 20-minute game of email Ping-Pong to settle on a day for lunch or a meeting time? Consider whether your reluctance to simply pick up the phone (or even walk across the office) is costing you time.
3. Always using tech.
Each new gadget and app promises to make your life easier, but sometimes the bigger waste of time is sorting through and testing out these solutions instead of opting for good old pen and paper.
If you do it again and again and again, you really don't want to be starting from scratch each time. Invest the energy to make yourself templates (or techies, find more advanced solutions) to avoid this popular time suck.
5. Being too available.
An open-door policy is great. So is being the friendliest guy in the office, but are you sure that the fact that people interrupt you every two seconds isn't a form of hidden procrastination. Should you be setting slightly firmer boundaries? (Doors close for a reason and phones don't explode if you put them on silent.)
6. No system for capturing ideas.
Where is your last good idea located? If the answer is maybe a scrap of paper somewhere on your desk, you can bet you're wasting time by not having a system to capture your moments of inspiration and locate them again when you need them.
7. Having the same fights over and over again.
Sometimes you really, really need to just agree to disagree and move on.
8. Eating junk food.
What comes up must come down, and the sugar rush you get now will cost you more than it's worth in productivity lost to sluggishness (or indigestion) later.
9. Never refusing a meeting.
Maybe your office culture makes this difficult but, if at all possible, consider whether you're really going to add value to the gathering. Just because you get an invite, doesn't mean you have to go (and having a lot of meetings doesn't make you productive or important).
OK, again this one is sometimes unavoidable, but do you really, really have no alternative to all the time you spend getting to work? How about a 4-day workweek? Shifting hours to avoid rush hour? Don't just accept your horrendous commute if you have the slightest chance of improving the situation.
11. Always trying to impress people.
Managing others' impressions is a huge part of business success, but do you really need to put on a full face of makeup for spin class, and does it really matter that you get the font just right on the memo about the new recycling policy?
12. Applying Band-Aids.
You're not saving time with that temporary solution that's just going to break down in a week. Put in the time to fix it
13. Waiting for "the right time."
Whether you're holding off on tackling that to-do item until the mood strikes you or kicking a more important can down the road in hopes of the "perfect time" appearing on the horizon, think long and hard if you actually need the stars to align or are just giving yourself an excuse not to take potentially scary action.
14. Making piles.
Either file it properly or chuck it. Piling it up just means rifling through a whole lot of accumulated stuff to take on of those actions later on anyway.
15. Your smartphone addiction
You probably admit this one is a time waster in the abstract, but when the mood strikes to photograph your appetizer, refresh Facebook just one more time, or tweet that brilliant witticism, chances are you tend to forget the time it's taking. Tame your tech addiction and see how much time magically appears in your day. (Also, funny how this one can totally coexist with #2).
What other activities would you nominate for this list?