Are You Wasting Time at Work? Find Out What Activities To Stop Doing
One perk of writing multiple blogs (or annoyance, depending on your point of view) is that I get pitched with trends, ideas, and reports on a variety of subjects looking for coverage. I recently wrote a Forbes post on the four-day workweeks, inspired by a survey of 3,000 employees around the world that revealed almost half could get their jobs done in far less time (actually less time than a four-day workweek.)
One of the culprits for why employees work longer than they need to is wasting time on non-essential activities – e.g., meetings, fixing a colleague's work, social media. I don’t think anyone sets out to waste time and work longer for no reason. But it's easy to see how you can fritter away time unwittingly. To prevent this, practice being more deliberate with your time. If you have been managing your schedule on autopilot, use this 10-point checklist to see what activities to stop doing:
Do your activities matter to others?
1. Will this appear on your performance review?
Ideally, you can trace every activity you do to a result or factor that impacts your performance review (which in turn impacts your raise, bonus, and advancement opportunities). This is an offensive strategy for managing your career and deciding what activities to stop doing—you proactively choose the highest value activities.
2. Is this a priority for your boss?
That said, some activities aren't a direct line to your bottom line but might help people who you need to keep happy—one of those key people being your boss. Don’t drop any activities that are a priority for your boss—even those reports that you think are a waste of time but that s/he loves to have. First of all, you may not know the full extent of why s/he needs them (perhaps the report is a priority for their boss). Secondly, this is a good defensive strategy to protect your relationships and engender good will.
3. Does this make your company money?
If you don't have a clear performance review structure to guide you, one shortcut to use is to prioritize any activity that makes your company money (i.e., non-revenue generators are what activities to stop doing). It's part of helping yourself by helping others. Making money for your company will frame you in a good light.
4. Does this save your company money?
Similarly, if an activity saves your company money, continue to prioritize this. You can impact the bottom line on both the revenue and cost side, so look at your activities and prioritize the ones with a clear impact.
5. Is this aligned with company strategy?
If you have been at your workplace for a while, you may do a lot of things by autopilot. You may have proactively selected the high impact activities when you started, but things can easily have changed. Things change year-to-year and even more quickly than that, so it’s good practice, regardless of how long you have been with your company, to review your projects and ongoing activities to make sure you’re still working on things the company, your department, and your boss value. Activities to stop doing may include some you have done in the past.
6. Does this make your boss look good?
Similar to doing activities that your boss prioritizes, in order to strengthen your relationship with them, you also can look at activities that they may not explicitly ask for but that you know will put them or your group as a whole in a good light. For example, if you have a new business idea, it could be worthwhile to dedicate some time exploring it. Even if it’s something your boss has to greenlight and ultimately gets credit for (you should too but you’ll likely share), it’s still helpful to you to make your boss or your group look good.
Do your activities matter to you?
7. Will this make you more productive?
If you get the same questions over and over again, spending time to design template responses may mean you take longer to craft the initial responses but you save time later. If you have a report that needs to be generated or data that needs to be collected regularly, taking time to tighten that process would also likely take longer initially but save time later. Activities that make you more productive should stay on your list. Activities to stop doing include repetitive activities that should be automated or streamlined.
8. Will this contribute to your professional development?
Beyond your day-to-day job, good career management is also about keeping your skills and expertise updated. Reading industry news, keeping up with your company announcements, and taking part in office learning and development opportunities are easy to push aside for the more immediate work. But these contribute to your professional development and should stay on your list.
9. Can you delegate this to someone else?
If an activity makes the cut for any of the above reasons, you might still drop it if you can delegate it to someone else, allowing you to do something of even more value. Delegating to someone else practices your management skills. It shares opportunity (and that person might rocket through their career and return the favor).
10. Do you enjoy what you are doing?
Another perk of delegating is that you may not like an activity, even when it’s necessary. Work isn’t always going to be 100% enjoyable, but if you enjoy an activity and it’s not taking you away from more important work or extending your day, this may be reason enough to keep it.
Whatever decision criteria you use to decide what activities to keep and what activities to stop doing, the decision to be deliberate about choosing your activities will make you more efficient and more effective. You will get your work done more quickly because you will drop the extraneous, and you will be more effective because you will prioritize the important. Here’s to a shorter, more enjoyable workweek!
Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC, a member of the Columbia Career Coaches Network, specializes in career change as a coach, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching and CostaRicaFIRE.com, a real estate and early retirement blog. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and Tesla. Ceniza-Levine spent 15 years in strategy consulting, executive search, and HR. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and wrote for Money.com, Time.com, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books. She teaches professional development and negotiation courses at Columbia. A classically-trained pianist at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, Ceniza-Levine stays active in the arts, performing stand-up comedy. Learn more about Ceniza-Levine and other members of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.