Time, we’re told, is our most precious resource. It’s finite, it can’t be manufactured, and in the least morbid way possible, it’s constantly running out for all of us. So why do we find it so easy to let it go to waste?
According to a 2014 survey by Salary.com, 89% of workers admit that they waste time at work – an increase of 20% when compared to the previous year. For all but the most mechanical employees, checking your Facebook page or pondering life over a cup of coffee are just natural parts of a hard day’s work. But when you look at the data, there’s a lot of time wasted – and plenty of different ways of doing it.
Here are five of the biggest ways businesses are wasting their precious time, as well as a few figures that show just how much of a waste it is.
1. DIY admin
The average entrepreneur probably didn’t quit their job or forgo a traditional career just so they could balance books and fill out tax returns. But that’s exactly what many business owners are spending their time on. A study by Intuit, an accounting services firm for small businesses, found that the average small business owner in Australia spends a third of their time handling administrative tasks – when they probably should focus on the bigger picture. In particular, they cited “keeping a record of transactions” (57%) and “chasing up payments” (21%) as especially time-consuming tasks.
On the other side of the world, the tendency towards time-wasting DIY isn’t any better. In the UK, SMEs are wasting more than three weeks of every year trying to stay on top of their own IT. Almost half prefer to attempt their own fixes, rather than pay for professional support, and it’s costing them an average of four hours per week. Smart businesses, on the other hand, don’t waste valuable time to save a few dollars, which is why so many SMEs have made the switch to a serviced office that’s fully-equipped – freeing up more time to focus on the core of their business.
2. Unnecessary meetings
We’ve all been to one: the needless congregation of far too many people to discuss a matter that’s far too small to take seriously. But just how many pointless meetings are we attending? According to research, most employees attend more than 60 meetings every month, and 50% of them are considered a waste of time. Assuming a typical one hour time slot, that’s more than 30 hours – or almost a full working week – wasted every month. In the US, it’s estimated that as much as $37 billion of salary costs are wasted on meetings that just shouldn’t be happening.
Almost half of workers (47%) say that meetings are the biggest single waste of their time in the office, and their meeting habits tend to support that claim. Nearly two fifth (39%) admitted to sleeping during meetings, 73% were doing other work, and 91% spent their time daydreaming.
3. Dealing with e-mails
We’re all for digital communication. But when an endless influx of trivial messages starts to get in the way of your productivity, you have to know where to draw the line. According to Australian software company Atlassian, workers receive an average of more than 300 e-mails a week – and the average employee checks their inbox a staggering 36 times per hour.
Unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than just coping with sheer volume. Spam e-mails account for an annual productivity cost of AUS$1,250 per employee, and as much as AUS$4,100 is lost per worker due to “poorly-written communications”. To top it all off, it’s estimated that employees take as long as 16 minutes to regain their focus after handling incoming e-mails.
4. Internet play-time
You’d probably be lying if you said you’d never stopped working to check your social media pages. But between viral videos, memes, amusing GIFs and top-5 lists (we’re aware of the irony), there’s just too much enticing screen-candy for the average worker to resist.
Among the top offenders, Salary.com’s survey listed Google (24%), Facebook (23%) and LinkedIn (14%) as common deviations from a fully professional work ethic. Surprisingly, Pinterest and Twitter were at the lower end of the list, at just 1% each.
Of course, there’s a very simple method for reducing the number of digital thumb-twiddlers in your workplace. But it’s not always effective – and it’s rarely popular. While 27% of those surveyed said their employers had blocked non-work websites, 56% said they would switch to their personal devices to get their fix, 8% said they would consider leaving if such a policy was enforced, and 14% said site-blocking might make them turn down a job offer.
5. Being interrupted
The average employee has to put with 56 interruptions per day – and 80% of those interruptions are considered trivial. That’s a lot of unnecessary distraction.
To make matter worse: it’s said that any thoughtful work that leads to real progress requires a 30-minute time slot, and it takes as long as 15 minutes for a worker to get back into a productive state after being interrupted. According to the Harvard Business Review, “when meetings and other workplace realities (such as email, hallway conversations, phone calls, bathroom and coffee breaks, etc.) are taken into account, a two-hour time block realistically equates to one hour of productive work”.
It may be a bleak fact of life, but time is most definitely not on your side. So if you want your business to make the most of every day, you need to find ways to cut down the needless activities that are hurting your productivity.