Are you wasting time? Do you feel you are working all day long and accomplishing nothing? Perhaps time thieves are getting the best of you.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

At the PDPW Business Conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, earlier this year, Dr. Becky Stewart-Gross, president of Building Bridges Seminars, identified the many ways people waste time in their personal and professional lives.

Stewart-Gross counted down the top 10 time thieves she’s found within corporations she’s worked with around the world and offered ways to take control of your time.

10. Technology

Technologies – from telephones and computers to television and social media – can be valuable tools, but also very time-consuming.

For outgoing calls, Stewart-Gross mentioned research has found stacking calls – making one after another – results in shorter calls.


Also, when calling someone, have the first question be “Is this a good time to talk?” If not, the call can be rescheduled for a time that works well for both parties.

For incoming calls, it is okay to screen the call, send it to voice mail or have a child respond that you are not available right now. If you answer, encourage the person to get to the subject of the call quickly. Be sure to keep a phone log nearby to take notes as sometimes the deal you arranged in the conversation will be revisited months later, and this way you’ll have a record of what was discussed.

Email comes in constantly, and the alerts on the computer can be a distraction. Research has found that every time you stop to check your email, you lose 10 minutes because it takes you that long to get back into the project, she said.

Paying bills electronically can save an enormous amount of time, but be sure to check things over to make sure the bill is accurate and to keep track of your accounts.

Television, talk radio and social media are not appealing to some, but to others they can be all-consuming. Be sure to use these as tools instead of thieves that are stealing time.

9. Paperwork

Have an inbox to collect incoming papers. When emptying the papers, utilize the FAT system to touch each piece as little as possible – either file the paperwork in a filing cabinet or tickler file, act on it right away or trash it.

Treat your email inbox the same way. “If you go into your inbox, you should not have to scroll down. If you have to scroll down, you have way too many emails in your inbox to be effective,” Stewart-Gross said.

8. Meetings

“I love to say meetings are where minutes are kept and hours are lost,” she said, but meetings do not have to be a waste of time.

At the end of every meeting, make sure all participants are on the same page by asking the following: What did we all agree upon? Who do we share this with? What’s confidential? What are the action items, and who is responsible?

Have an agenda, even if it is a one-on-one meeting to make sure people know the purpose of the meeting. She explained, “You want people to walk in thinking about what they need to contribute to that meeting, as opposed to people just showing up to be observers.”

7. People

People can wear us out, but we also need them to help us get work done. Here’s how Stewart-Gross recommended handling the various types of people who could stop by your work area.

For drop-in visitors, get right to the issue and feel free to set up another time to meet and discuss. Be sure to have a way to note the date and time of the scheduled meeting. If someone else needs to be involved, either send this individual to that person or invite the other person into the conversation so you don’t have to repeat yourself.

Don’t allow yourself to be the whining department. Make sure people come in with at least two solutions to any problem. She said if they only come with one, they’ll expect you to implement it, but two forces them to be more creative.

Keep things professional with difficult customers, and try not to take it personally.

The “Got a minute?” person never needs just a minute. If you don’t have more than a minute, stand up, walk towards them and say, “How can I help you?” Or, tell them you only have two minutes. When they realize it will take longer, you can schedule a time to go over it later.

“Drainers,” as Stewart-Gross called them, are those people who wipe us out. The late Zig Ziglar said, “We need to surround ourselves with positive people.” Be sure to have people in your life who don’t just take things from you.

For the people who are really important in your life – spouse, children, certain co-workers – make a date for one-on-one time. If you are too busy for that, they see that too – that you are too busy for them. “It may only be five minutes, but in that time you helped that person feel like they are the most important person in the world,” she said.

6. Waiting time

Whether you are waiting for animals, traffic, doctors or kids, you can either waste that time or plan for it. Grab a newsletter or publication to always have on hand, check emails with your phone or use audio books in the car or on the treadmill to hear the book you always wanted to read.

5. Not able to say ‘no’

“We can only spread ourselves out so far. ... At some point, you need to decide where you say no,” she said. It is better to say no than to not be able to follow through on a commitment.

Don’t make an excuse, because it is not really the explanation and the other party will likely break it down and try to solve your excuse.

Do buy yourself time in saying you need to talk it over with your spouse or check your calendar. That way you don’t need to make a decision on the spot.

You can also offer alternatives. For example, if you are asked to work at an event but are busy that day, offer to help by selling tickets in advance. Offer the option that works the best for you.

Some people find that a prepared line helps them say no. One of Stewart-Gross’ friends likes to say, “I need to say no to respect my yeses.”

4. Attempting too much

Go through a list of things you do with your spouse or your team, and ask if everything you are doing is worth it. Try to identify things you can delegate to someone else.

3. Self-care time

When you are busy taking care of your family, your business and your cows, you are not taking care of you. Stewart-Gross made this point in two ways.

First is the slingshot principle – at times we need to pull back in order to soar. She suggested taking a mental break or a vacation.

Second is the flight attendant principle – put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. “We are not going to be any good if we don’t take care of us first,” she said.

2. Personal disorganization

Make sure everything in your workspace has a purpose, from the posters on the wall to anything on your desk.

“I have nothing against children’s artwork, but it should be meaningful,” she said.

Can you find whatever you need in a moment’s touch? If not, you need to work on your office organization.

1. Focus on your priorities

Nothing mentioned above will be accomplished if you are not really focused on your priorities in life.

She said Stephen Covey wrote about the concept of what is important versus what is urgent. Put into a bull’s-eye format, on the outside is the busywork or the things that are not important or urgent. Heading inward are the things that are urgent, but not important, followed by the items that are really important and urgent, otherwise known as a crisis.

At the center are the items that are important, but not urgent. “If we focus on what is important and not urgent, you’re not going to end up with so many crises,” she said. “Because you are doing the maintenance. Because you are taking care of yourself.”

Stewart-Gross encouraged everyone to think about their purpose – first personally, then professionally. Take the rocking chair test by asking yourself what accomplishments do you want to be known for in life, whose respect for those accomplishments means the most to you and what accomplishment have you done in the past 10 to 15 years makes you the most proud.

Listing your goals in your personal life and career is another good exercise. Have these conversations with your spouse and co-workers.

She concluded by saying, “Remember there is always time to do what’s really important. The problem is knowing what really is important.” PD

GRAPHICS: Illustration by Kevin Brown.