A recent article published on Sky News Australia, releases the findings of a report by Ernst & Young Australia that time wasting at work costs Australian businesses $87bn per year. The findings suggest that “Unnecessary meetings, unimportant emails and the use of social media at work were the biggest time-killers, costing businesses big dollars in lost wages.”
While unnecessary meetings and unimportant emails can be huge problems within the workplace, and social media can lead to mass procrastination, there are more important things to look at when it comes to helping employees to “not waste time.” However, there are a few tips that can help with even these things…
The Unnecessary Meeting
Unnecessary meetings are the bane of my existence. Back in the days when I used to work in a large corporation, I was told within my first month that the best way to skive was to “just book a meeting with someone”. If you find yourself falling into this trap, there’s a simple way to get rid of the unnecessary meeting issue… Avoid them. If anyone invites you to or suggests a meeting that you feel isn’t worth having, or could be achieved in another way, then ask if a call or email conversation could fix it. More helpful, instead of sitting down for an hour to talk through options, suggest a solution to the problem instead. You’d be surprised at how much being ‘a little bit forward’ can cut out unnecessary face to face meetings.
However, sometimes you just can’t avoid meetings, especially within agency life. Another way to cut down how much they affect your work is to set aside one day of the week/fortnight to have as many of the meetings as possible in a week. This basically means that you have a day that is written off, and you know you’re not going to get much actual work done that day. It not only frees up your days, but also frees up your mind for your ‘meetings day’, allowing you to focus entirely on what’s being discussed, instead of thinking of that important deadline that you have to meet that afternoon.
The Unimportant Email
This one gets cited a lot as a massive time waster. There is definitely truth that you can end up spending a ridiculous amount of time in dealing with email in one day, but there is a balance to be struck. Again, there are a few easy tips that can help unclog your inbox… First, learn how to use Rules. Spend a few hours of analysing your inbox for the worst offenders, then set a rule for those emails to skip your inbox and be placed into a folder in the future. Then you can check those at your own leisure, instead of having your ‘new email’ constantly flash up. Another quick rules, courtesy of Drew, is to set up a rule for any email containing the word ‘Unsubscribe’. This automatically cuts down spam.
However, there is something to be said for the odd unimportant email floating around the office. Proscribing to every employee what is important and what isn’t is a sure fire way to achieve unhappy employees. At 33, we have a LOL alias set up, which everyone can choose to be on. This is where we share everything from interesting articles that we’ve found to LOLcat and animated gif extravaganzas. Instead of keeping it ‘underground’ and private between a few people, it makes for a much more open, trusting environment to encourage this behaviour instead of prohibiting it. It’s not like happy employees are less productive… in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The Dreaded Social Media
Back in the days when I worked in-house, I almost got fired for appearing on the MD’s hit-list of ‘people wasting time at work on non-work websites.’ The culprit? Twitter. It turns out that back in 2008, having Tweetdeck open all day meant approximately 6,000 hits to the Twitter website within the average workday. The MD saw this and just about signed my execution order. However, what he failed to ask was what I was actually doing with Twitter in the background. Between 2007 and 2009, I worked as a designer, developer, web admin and digital marketing manager at this company. Twitter and forums were my lifeline to a vast sea of knowledge, just about teaching me everything I did for their company. It provided quick answers to problems, peer review on ideas and work and kept me up to speed with the industry.
One of the worst things we can do as employers is to sever this completely. Sure, social media is used to procrastinate. However, if someone really wants to procrastinate, they’re going to find a way to do it regardless of what you have banned. Again, training staff on social media, making it part of their job and encouraging it can lead to much happier, productive workers. Also, there is something to be said about forbidden fruit being much more appealing than something that is de rigeur.
The future of work
One of the things that we’ve been looking at quite a bit at 33 is ways of working, and what this will look like in the future. Pre-internet ways of working are no longer productive, especially when taking into account the general feeling of GenY towards work. What is generally lacking in old ways of working is an element of trust. If you trust your employees and let them figure out the ways they want to work, as well as the ways they want to productively procrastinate, it leads to much higher rates of productivity, a happier workplace and greater employee loyalty.
If you would like more tips on being efficient at work, I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’ blog (and book), or keep an eye on the relatively new WorkHacks blog. You might also want to check out Anywhere Working, a 33 client blog that focuses on the future of working.