6 Steps To Eliminate External Time Wasters

When you’re constantly being interrupted by people, phone calls, emails and other external time wasters, you do not have the opportunity to give your full and undivided attention to a task. Just as you get going, you get interrupted again. When you have dealt with the time waster, you have to refocus again on the task at hand which takes a few minutes. You do not just lose the time that the external time waster took; you also lose the time that it takes to refocus and get back on track with the task you were working on. This is why the promotion of multi-tasking is one of the biggest problems in time management i.e. you consistently lose time switching between tasks and trying to refocus.

The more external time wasters that you can eliminate from your day; the more time you will have to work effectively on your tasks and projects. You will get your work done quicker and to a higher standard.

Some things you may want to try to help you manage these external time wasters are:

1. One task at a time

Trying to work on more than one task at a time is ineffective. As stated earlier, you actually lose time trying to multi task and nothing gets your full and undivided attention. Also, as the number of tasks you try to work on increases, so does the number of people you interact with and the number of potential external time wasters e.g. you are focusing on task A, a colleague rings you to talk about task B meaning that you have to put down what you are working on and reacquaint yourself with the other task.

Instead, pick your most important task and work on that. When that is completed, move onto the next task. If somebody interrupts you to talk about a different task, take a note and tell them you will call them back when you are working on that task.

2. Learn to say ‘No’

When I call someone or, interrupt them, I always try to remember to ask them if they have the time to talk. Sometimes I forget. However, I don’t assume that somebody is going to have the time to talk there and then. Nobody should make this assumption.

Rather than just allowing someone to interrupt you and start talking; you should feel free to tell them that you do not have the time at present. You can then schedule a time. Even better, if they are just informing you about something; ask them to put it in an email which you can then read at your own convenience.

3. Conversations are for getting things done

To follow on from the previous point; if there is no action required or a decision does not need to be made there and then; there is no need for a two way conversation. Communications which do not need immediate action are more suited to email. That way the other person can read the email in their own time and determine the appropriate way to proceed.

You should never interrupt someone or, allow yourself to be interrupted for something which does not need to dealt with at that point in time.

4. No agenda, no meeting

Meetings are the biggest external time wasters in business. It’s not that meetings are a bad idea; it’s because meetings are not used properly. If you want to improve the quality of your meetings, you need to halve the attendees, halve the time and double the decisions. And that is the ultimate purpose of meetings i.e. to make decisions.

The number one reason that meetings fail is that there is no clear agenda for what needs to be decided. If you focus your meetings on making decisions and have a clear agenda, you will no longer invite people who do not need to be there and you will cut out the needless discussion. This will halve the time that each meeting takes and double the decisions that you make.

If you receive an invite to a meeting that does not have a clear agenda, make an excuse and ask for a copy of the minutes to be sent to you. It will be one of the best time saving, sanity protecting decisions that you will make.


5. Block out time

You do not need to be available 24 hours a day. One of the easiest things you can do to improve your time management and productivity is to block time out of your calendar and make yourself unavailable to anybody – no phone, email or face to face communication.

During this time you can give your full and undivided attention to your most important tasks. You can get these tasks done in significantly less time than it would take otherwise.

If you communicate to those who need to know that you will not be available during these times, they get used to it very quickly. In fact, some of these people will see the benefit of what you are doing and copy it.

6. Use your voicemail

You don’t have to answer every phone call. You don’t have to have your phone switched on at all times. There is a wonderful thing called voicemail and you need to learn to use it effectively. If you are busy, eliminate the possibility for a call to interrupt you by directing your phone to voicemail. Set designated times for checking and responding to your voicemail. If you respond to everybody as and when they contact you; you are actually allowing others to manage your time. Using your voicemail effectively allows you to deal with things on your schedule. You can still give outstanding service but you get to do it in a way that allows you to manage your time effectively and be productive.

External time wasters occur when you allow others the opportunity to take your time when you know that you should be working on more important things. Many people take the easy way out and lay the blame at the feet of those who do the interrupting but others have the right to ask for your time. It is up to you to protect your time like the precious resource that it is. With a little planning, organisation and assertiveness, you can eliminate most of the external time wasters which may plague you on a daily basis. The strategies outlined above will help you to do this.