Photo: star5112 via Flickr
When I started my job as a content writer, there were so many new things to take in. Coming from the hectic world of broadcast journalism, I landed in a world powered by strict rules, established processes, and order.
It required some adjusting on my part — I went from running around with a camera crew to sitting in front of my laptop, sipping tea, and writing one sentence after another.
It also changed my perception of workplace interruptions. In the field, you expect distractions. In the office, the environment is tailored to make people as efficient and productive as possible: quiet and spacious rooms, an optimal temperature, and minimal external influences.
But it turns out that when you get the big distractions out of the way, the small things can turn into the biggest time wasters.
Here are a seven common office time-wasters and how you can avoid them to be more productive.
1. Unclearly defined tasks
When I first started my current job, I was given the assignment to write a blog post about teamwork. I was confident in my research abilities, so I refused to ask for help or guidance on form, style, length, and focus.
As it turns out, doing a post on “teamwork” is like doing a post on the “cosmos” — the topic is so vast that I didn’t know how to approach it. It took me three full days before I finally gave in and requested clarification.
If you ever find yourself in the similar predicament, the worst thing you can do is say nothing. Talk to your manager and go over your tasks until you have a firm grasp on what is expected of you.
2. Futile research
Each position has its white whale: something that is rather expected to be done but is never quite achievable. For a salesperson, that is the sale of the century; for a developer, it’s a string of code that works on the first try; and for a content writer, it’s the creation of original, relevant post without wasting countless hours on research.
During the first few weeks on the job, I realized that a lot of Internet content is recycled. Finding an original, relevant post about a certain topic can feel like nothing short of a miracle.
There are two ways to handle this: you can either continue to work as usual, or you can find an unusual solution. I turned to sources so that I could write posts that were 100% original.
3. Unorganized notes
There is nothing wrong with taking notes on pieces of paper (as long you don’t lose them), but relying solely on a notepad or countless sticky notes may not be the best approach.
Until recently, I carried a notebook and a pen with me at all times. Now, I rely on Evernote to make digital notes. Hundreds of pages take up a lot less space if they are comfortably snuggled in your phone.
This approach will help you keep your knowledge and thoughts at the tip of your fingers, organized and accessible at all times.
4. Overflowing inbox
I hadn’t heard of the term “Inbox zero” before I started working as a content writer. At that point, I found it odd that somebody would have trouble managing their inbox.
Was I naive! Now, I am swarmed with emails from relevant and irrelevant sources, and managing my inbox takes a bite out of my precious time.
To be more productive with emailing, I schedule a meeting with myself. Each morning, I spend about 30 minutes focused solely on sorting, answering, and archiving received emails — no distractions allowed. There are multiple tools that can help you organize your inbox, but I rely on Gmail and its multiple inbox feature.
5. Lengthy pointless meetings
Many of us require continuous periods of concentrated work to get anything done. Poorly-scheduled and unnecessary meetings can turn a four-hour assignment into a six-hour one.
If you want to maintain your productivity throughout the day, insist on short, well-planned, morning stand-up meetings. They are the least likely to waste your time and interfere with your work.
If, however, you need inspiration for your latest assignment, do not rush yourself. Take the time to sit down with your coworkers during a coffee break and discuss potential approaches. The occasional brainstorm is a perfect way to get those creative juices flowing.
6. Toxic workplace
Too much noise or an awkward silence can both be equally bad in the office. Negative energy can refocus your attention on the task at hand to trivial matters that happen around you. The situation can be especially difficult if one member of your team is a dreaded toxic co-worker.
If possible, ask to work remotely. If that is not an option and you are required to stay at the office, try to isolate yourself from the source of stress as much as possible. Either move to another room, or simply choose a comfy set of headphones, play some music, or block everything out with white noise. Personally, I found the sound of rain perfect for achieving full focus.
7. Unnecessary procedures
This is the ultimate time waster. Sometimes, unnecessary procedures can be minor, and sometimes they can be outright annoying. They are often caused by an incompetent manager or an attachment to the relic of when things were done differently.
If you notice procedures like this, alert the management and point out that a certain process is consuming time and effort for no justified reason. They will either recognize that there’s a problem and make adjustments, or they will dismiss your complaint and deem procedure necessary on account that “it has always been done that way.” If latter is the case, you may want to consider changing companies.
Even though each of these time wasters may not seem that serious, they still can be a serious drain on productivity, preventing you from focusing on real work, causing you stay over time, or making you take the stress of the unfinished business home to your family. You should look to eliminate them right away.