We should all know about the big time-wasters, there are scores of systems and ideas for dealing with them. It is the little ones that erode our efficiency and collectively eat away at our productivity. Just as one or two termites have little effect on a wooden house, a swarm of them will destroy it in no time.
This morning provided me with an exquisite example of how I and many others waste time and get off track during the day by spending time on things we should not – or do not even need to, do.
It was only a few minutes and it was caused by a combination of not following my plan for the day, not paying sufficient attention to detail and acting on assumptions.
In many ways it was a mini-version of more serious situations that can waste hours of productive time. It is worth analysing how this one came about.
In my daily plan, I allow 10 minutes every morning to scan my various email in boxes, delete the obvious junk and deal only with the most critical emails that need to be attended to right away – generally no more than two each morning. Ignoring emails altogether until later in the day is a better system but with family spread through various time zones around the world, some in dangerous environments, I prefer to check that there is nothing requiring action before it is too late in the day to do anything about it.
Yesterday morning, I did the usual scan, noticed just one email that I decided should get a quick reply. A fellow blogger and good twitter friend asked for advice to deal with a problem. She could not access the email service she uses to send her blog posts to subscribers. She was concerned because she was about to publish a blog post which would be emailed to her subscribers.
I knew that I could compose an email with some suggestions within a couple of minutes, keeping within my 10 minute schedule. The first point I made was that the service provider may have been experiencing a malicious attack. But I did not check that myself. Something that later took me less than a minute!
Perhaps I spent another 5 minutes making some other suggestions, then checking the service providers site myself – it appeared to be normal.
Then I remembered that the best source of information on service problems for almost anything related to the Internet is twitter. I did a search using a relevant hashtag and sure enough, the company was using one of its twitter accounts to advise that it had been the subject of an attack.
That was all the information I needed to know to give my friend a helpful response. If I had done that first, I need not have thought about, and written another 4 suggestions.
But the real lesson came after I hit send, quietly congratulating myself on my quick response to a call for help.
I went back to scanning my in box and found her latest blog post had been emailed to me. When I checked the time that the email was received, it became obvious that the problem had already been solved and that the email service levels were back to normal.
My email had been totally unnecessary.
What had I forgotten?
- Ascertain the facts – the second email was proof that the problem had been fixed.
- Do things in the correct order – I should have checked twitter and later emails, first.
- Don’t take unnecessary action – I did not need to write that email.
In the overall scheme of things, this was a very small and insignificant deviation from my planned activities for the day, but string several of these little time-wasters together and we have lost an hour or more. If we aim to put in 10 hours of productive activity a day, that would be 10% of our time wasted. Repeat that every day and it’s more than a month in a year. Just think what we could do with an extra month every year.
Just as one termite will not do much damage in its short lifetime, put enough of them together and they will eat a house.
From another perspective, a book can be written in an hour a day over enough days, a new skill can be learned, a new business started. It is enough time each day for a good exercise programme, enough to lose a huge amount of weight and keep fit, train for a marathon.
How well do you control these little time-wasters?
Do you sacrifice a month in a year on things that don’t need doing?
Leave a comment with your thoughts.
Do you check your assumptions in a logical sequence before taking action?
Small steps in the right order can save hours of wasted effort and lost time.