10 tips to stop time wasters at work

Time wasters at work

Stop time wasters

We all know a few time wasters. They’re the people who prevent you from getting your most important work done.

  • Members of the public who walk in unannounced for a long chat;
  • Colleagues who constantly interrupt your most important work;
  • Friends who think studying or working from home is your day off;
  • Co-workers who constantly interrupt you with phone calls or instant messages, as though everything is urgent.

The problem with time wasters

If you’re a nice person, you probably try to accommodate every request. If you have trouble saying no, pretty soon you will get a reputation as the person who will drop everything, help anyone and listen to anyone who wants to talk for hours.

Everything you do has an opportunity cost. Every time you say yes to someone’s request, you are saying no to something else. Imagine if you get to spend less time on your work, your goals, your health or with your family because your can’t say no to other people.

That’s exactly what is happening when you accommodate time wasters.

How can you stop time wasters?

So, how do you stop these time wasters from interrupting your most important work? We’ve put together 10 ideas, so you can politely refuse unwanted visitors:

  1. Close or lock your door: If you have the luxury of a private office or workplace that’s not open to the public, you might be able to close or lock the door.
  2. Remove your visitor’s chair: If you have a visitor’s chair in front of your desk, most people will take that as an invitation to come in and sit down. Move the chair out of site, so unwanted guests don’t get too comfortable.
  3. Put your big headphones on: Headphones are a great way for you to signal to people that you are busy or concentrating. This works well in a shared office or public space where you can’t shut the door.
  4. Change your status to do not disturb: Instant messaging, VoIP phones, shared calendars and other office applications often have a presence indicator. Mark yours as ‘do not disturb’ when you need to work on something important.
  5. Turn your phone ringer down or off: There are some circumstances where you will need to answer the phone, particularly if you are an office receptionist. Otherwise, consider making a roster with colleagues and diverting calls  to each other. Make sure each person gets one day free of incoming phone calls. You should each schedule your most important work for that day.
  6. Place a do not disturb sign on your desk or door (only while you’re working on something important): Not very subtle I know. At least people will know they’re genuinely interrupting your work. If they still feel like they should interrupt, make it clear you need to get on with work.
  7. Schedule time just for interruptions: Part of your job might be to deal with people by phone or handle walk in enquiries. Invite people to make appointments or tell them they are welcome to just drop in during the hours you specified. Incoming calls are the same. For example, you could tell people they can reach you by phone any morning between 9am and 11am. After that you’ll be away from your desk.
  8. Brainstorm a few polite ways to say no: Take some time to write down a few common requests you receive and how you might politely refuse them. For example, if you experience a lot of people just walking in and sitting down for a chat, you might delay or dismiss them by saying, “That sounds interesting. Will you be around for a little while? I’d love to come and talk to you about that when I haven’t got so much on my plate.”
  9. Stand immediately when someone enters your office space to interrupt you: Stand when someone enters your office space and walk around the front of your desk. Don’t let them walk in and feel comfortable. Cut them off at the door.
  10. Step out of the office: In case you honestly can’t avoid interruptions in your workplace, you might need to get out for a while. Work from another desk, at your home office, in a park or a cafe.

If you really want to get back in control, you need to stop time wasters from interrupting your work. When you learn to say no, you will find there’s more time in your day to get things done.

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