9 ways to gain back 40% of your workday

Tomas Paulik — №29 with Simon Grabowski

What if I told you that reading this article can add about 40% more time into your workday? Would you spare a minute?

But first, let’s talk a bit about who steals more than one third of your workday.

The busiest people like managers and top businessmen know all too well those bad days at work when interruption after interruption comes, leaving them with nothing accomplished at the end of their day.

Interruptions are those inconspicuous evils − the real time-wasters consuming your most brilliant thoughts, your alertness and energy, and cutting down the time that should have been spent on important and urgent tasks.

Meetings, phone calls, emails, notifications, small chats, and many other distractions are constantly splitting your attention. You not only lose time on solving these issues, but also on getting back into the same level of focus you had before the interruption happened.

In fact, interruptions at work can take up as much as 40% of your productive time. But don’t panic, the following nine tips will help you build lines of defense and win the battle for your precious time:

1: Track your activities (including interruptions)

Track your daily activities for some time to clearly see where your time is being spent. You can try Clevork for this; it has simple buttons to add an activity immediately even on the go. But there are many apps out there − just find the one that suits you best.

Whether you bill someone for your services or not, try to distinguish between “billable” activities (all those which return some results) and “non-billable” activities (with no results).

Also track all of your interruptions with recordings of why they happen, how long they last, and what type the interruption was (and it is was useful).

I know how difficult it can be tracking activities, so I have written this article to give you some easy advice on how to create a habit of tracking (or any other habit) in accordance with your natural behavioral patterns. You can also check out this article in Productive! Magazine.

2: Always make sure that you know your high-priority tasks

According to the well-known Pareto principle, roughly 80% of an event’s effects come from 20% of the causes. This means that 20% of your effort creates 80% of your results. Sort your tasks by relevance and give most of your time to the most important missions.

3: Identify and eliminate self-distractions

In which cases do your thoughts start jumping from one unrelated matter to the next like runaway horses? In which cases do you have the tendency to solve unimportant things? Become aware of all situations where you are not able to fully concentrate and then (if possible) eliminate them.

4: Analyze the causes of interruptions

After each week of tracking interruptions, analyze the data you’ve collected. What are your biggest time wasters? You should allow only about 5 to 10% of all interruptions and only those which are useful and necessary.

5: Reduce time spent on useless discussions

Regular communication with your colleagues is important not just for work but also for keeping good relationships. But it should be controlled and not disturb you while working on high-priority tasks.

6: Learn to say “no”

Learn to reject the requests that take up your time. If you are overstressed and overloaded with work, barely able to reach your deadlines, this step should be your number one priority. It requires no time and can be done immediately. Just say, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this right now.”

7: Set strict rules for meetings

Clarify rules with your co-workers on what occasions they can contact you. Nine times out of ten the meeting is not necessary and you can solve the problem via email without the need to actually meet. Ask everyone to send you an email with the agenda of the meeting first to see if you can solve the problems and answer questions directly instead of meeting personally.

8: Talk to your boss

Your boss can be the biggest time waster sometimes. It is necessary to discuss the whole thing with him. Propose small and inconspicuous improvements that would systematically turn into a new routine you would like to establish.

For example, try excusing yourself from unnecessary meetings because of being overwhelmed, for example, and promise instead that you will review the meeting with a colleague later. If you repeat this a few more times and ensure that you achieve more outside of the meeting, this will slowly become a permanent change.

9: Do not be a servant of your subordinates

Employees often come when they need to get something small approved in order to continue with their work. This is often only about getting rid of responsibility and transferring the problem to you.

To limit the amount of interruptions from your employees, give them as much information and independent decision-making ability as possible.

Give them a chance to prove themselves. With clear responsibilities, they would learn how to solve small things without the need to contact you.

Final thoughts

Interruptions are so common in our lives that we do not realize how much of our time they are taking up. Sometimes they come masked as important and urgent work or as small and innocent tasks that finally turn into a detour.

Implementing these nine rules step by step will help you to easily handle interruptions − to identify them, to analyze them and to eliminate them. Sure, it takes some time and effort, but is certainly less uncomfortable than missed deadlines and a growing to-do list.

Time is your most valuable resource. Like money, save it and spend it wisely.

If you’ve found this article or a particular tip helpful, please take a moment to share it. Thanks!

Photo: Flickr / De Vetpan Archive - siebewarmoeskerken.nl CC BY 2.0

Tomas paulik

Tomas Paulik

Tomas is a copywriter and marketing guy in Clevork. He has three big passions: reading books on various issues from various authors (from quantum physics to neuromarketing; from Richard Dawkins to David Allen), thinking about everything (e.g., human behavior and psychology, purpose of existence, the best ways of living life), and finally, experimenting with the results of the first two and testing them in real life. These passions naturally result in doing the job he loves — writing articles with a marketing and business focus, particularly in the field of productivity, sales, and business behavior.

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