Be more productive: find, then eliminate, “time sinks”

If statistics about 80 percent of people reading a headline and only 20 percent (or less) reading the body are true, I’m already ahead of the game on this post — because I feel like the headline is pretty logical, no? ( ** Pats self on back ** ).

Here’s the deal: a “time sink” isn’t something you wash dishes across the space continuum in; rather, it’s something that takes time away from your core tasks and responsibilities and purpose and business value and however else you want to define what’s actually important at your job.

So, from a strictly logical standpoint, it would follow that ….

  • You want to be more productive?
  • You need to eliminate time sinks.

Let’s hash this out. 

OK, so start with this: attention spans are declining and it’s hard to get people to listen to you. I think we all somewhat know this, even if we see it and/or appreciate it in different forms.

For most people in a 9-5 office environment, you’d assume some of the biggest “time sinks” are these old enemies:

These things are really hard to get around, and people have struggled for years (decades at this point) to do so. There are answers, though. Here’s just a few.

  • Check your e-mail less: Fun personal fact about my own life? I was going through a job search in early 2014 and it was frustrating as all shit. Because I was in an active job search, I was checking my e-mail like 50 times a day. After about a month of this, I realized this was a pointless activity that only made me feel more depressed about how things were going. I started checking it twice a day, or 10 times during the week (once morning, once early evening). You know what? I actually managed the job stuff and interview requests better. We all have this belief that e-mail absolutely must be responded to immediately, but what the hell is your boss or a vendor/client going to say if you say, “Hey, instead of e-mailing you back, I was working on your project directly and incorporating all your suggestions?” They’re going to say, “Oh. Well, that’s great!”
  • Contextualize your e-mail:Tell people “This is relevant” and “This is less so.” It helps people parse out what they need to do.
  • Change the approach to meetings: Such as how often, who gets invited, what’s the actual purpose, etc.
  • Define the agenda and the context of a meeting upfront:Phrased another way, “Who the hell is Dave?”
  • Check your phone once an hour: That should cover you on potential family or domestic situations. It requires discipline, yes, but doesn’t everything worth doing?
  • Walk around, exercise, move your legs and body: This works well if you’re a manager or rank-and-file.
  • Think about flow: This basically means “how your activities work together.” Another way to think of it is “batching tasks.”
  • Stop and think once in a while: When there’s silence in American business, we often rush to fill the void; rather, what if we stopped and thought about our actions, our plans, our strategy, our operations, etc. What if we made that mandatory? It seems like new-age phooey bullshit probably, but it could provide an actual competitive advantage.

Ted Bauer