16 Biggest Time Wasters That Are Draining Your Productivity

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Do you ever notice how you can fill an entire workday and still feel like you’ve accomplished nothing? You’re not alone. Millions of professionals around the globe share the same conundrum, falling victim to common time wasters and struggling to make the most of their work hours.

If you often find yourself wondering where the day went, it might be time to uncover the sneaky time-wasters lurking in your work routine.

Whether it’s engaging in endless unproductive meetings, getting lost in a labyrinth of emails, or losing extra hours perfecting work that is already decent, these distractions can add up and erode your productivity before you even realize it.

biggest time wasters at work

When you work alone from home, you have a slightly different set of tricky time-wasters than when you spend a day in the office with your colleagues.

In this list of 16 common time wasting activities, I describe all the typical time wasters based on research studies, employee surveys, and my own experience that can negatively influence your productive time. A couple of them only apply to home workers, and most of the others can be a problem for both remote employees and office-goers.

What are the biggest time wasters at work?

In our current era of unpredictability, when more companies allow flexible schedules and set up hybrid work environments, it’s essential to be aware of all these factors so you don’t waste time at work regardless of where work is.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to recognize and conquer your own time-wasters, ensuring a more productive and fulfilling workday.

Here are the 16 biggest time-wasting activities that are draining your productivity:

1. Repetitive tasks

Turns out, the biggest time wasters at work aren’t what you think.

While digital distractions, procrastination, and coworker interruptions are also on this list, the major time-wasting activities are not as obvious as they fall under the category of “work.”

Repetitive tasks at work, such as data entry, generating reports, or sending cold emails, are often time-consuming and result in a significant waste of time and resources. Surveys show that US businesses annually waste $1.8 trillion on repetitive tasks, spending too much time on manually doing things that can be automated.

You can spend hours performing these tasks manually, which can lead to burnout, low productivity, errors, and missed deadlines. Automating repetitive actions can significantly reduce the time and effort required to complete them, allowing you to focus on more complex and creative work that adds value and moves you further toward your goals.

Depending on your workflow, you can use one or more of these tools to automate processes and avoid wasting time: Make, n8n.io, Qntrl, or Coupler.

2. Unnecessary meetings

While meetings are technically “work,” having too many of them can bring more harm than good to your performance, especially if they aren’t managed well.

According to workplace distraction statistics, one in three meetings is considered redundant and only wastes your valuable time at work. Another survey showed an even more striking result, revealing that employees feel like 50% of meetings are time-wasters.

meeting are time wasters statistics

Since we are talking about all work time wasters and how to avoid them, here are some things you can do to minimize time wasted on organizing and conducting meetings:

  • Use a meeting scheduler like Doodle to book the time that suits everyone
  • Only invite people who are actually needed
  • Have a clear agenda beforehand to waste less time in meetings
  • Use a meeting assistant like Otter to record and summarize meetings
  • Use tools like Krisp for background noise cancelation with distributed teams
  • Track time to see how much precious time each team member sits in meetings every month
  • Or use an all-in-one solution for productive meetings like Fellow

3. Procrastination

Procrastination can come from various sources and result in a considerable chunk of the workday being completely wasted.

There is also so-called productive procrastination, which means procrastinating on important work by crossing unimportant tasks off your list. This makes you feel productive but, in reality, doesn’t bring you any closer to your bigger goals.

If you recognize procrastination as one of your personal time-wasters, these resources might help you overcome it:

4. Perfectionism

Striving to always do your best is commendable, but perfectionism can actually be a huge time-waster at work. Constantly seeking flawlessness can lead to analysis paralysis, where people get so caught up in the minutiae that they lose sight of the bigger picture and end up spending way more time than necessary on a task.

According to a career survey, only 8% of people don’t have perfectionist tendencies. Among those who do, every fifth person struggles with the workload, and 16% would rather spend more time on a task themselves than delegate it.

statistics on perfectionism in the workplace

Perfectionists dedicate extra time to each task that could have been used for other important assignments or even just taking a well-deserved break.

The key takeaway here is that while it’s important to do your best, striving for absolute perfection can destroy your overall productivity and leave you feeling burned out. So, next time you find yourself obsessing over every little detail, remind yourself that “done” is often better than “perfect.”

5. Making yourself busy

Believe it or not, keeping yourself constantly busy might be one of the biggest time wasters in life.

When you don’t take a moment to step back and evaluate your tasks, you can end up spending hours on things that don’t align with your goals.

To avoid falling into this trap, it’s essential to plan and prioritize tasks based on their importance and relevance. By doing this, you ensure that you’re investing your time and energy in activities that will bring you closer to your long-term goals rather than just making yourself appear busy.

Remember, productivity isn’t just about checking items off your to-do list; it’s about making meaningful progress toward the desired end results.

6. Digital self-distractions

Even if you are the most focused person in the world, technology can find sneaky ways to waste your time.

I’m pretty sure that you’d find phone addictions and other forms of online distractions on any list of top 10 time wasters at work.

Things like reading a quick message or scrolling through social media while, say, you are waiting for a financial report to be generated, may seem like innocent breaks throughout the day, but in reality, they add up to be major time wasters. If you aren’t careful and don’t set time limits in one way or another, this can easily lead to you becoming less productive at work, or even undermine the quality of your work.

Every app on your phone uses alerts strategically to grab your attention and keep it for as long as it can. So each minute you spend on something other than applications you need for work, you actually generate money for those app owners instead of your company!

To avoid falling victim to aimless Internet browsing and frequent smartphone interactions, use focus apps and website-blocking software to stay focused on your work and keep your time in your own hands.

7. Socializing with colleagues

Going on a short coffee break once in a while can be harmless and even good for your sedentary spine. But the minute someone joins you at the coffee machine, run! Just kidding…

Having social connections is good, and you may even turn some of your colleagues into good friends eventually, thanks to those coffee breaks (happened to me!).

However, you need to stay in control of your time: a quick question about weekend plans could result in a full hour-long discussion, especially if there are more than two friendly people involved.

In fact, office gossip is often stated as one of the biggest distractions in the workplace.

In order to get things done and keep your performance high, be conscious of how much time during the day you spend chatting with coworkers instead of working on a task.

Look at it this way: if your coffee is cold, it’s time to get back to work.

To waste less time on coffee breaks while keeping your caffeine intake untouched, try to use this coffee time strategically. For example, instead of talking about personal stuff, discuss a difficult task or brainstorm together to solve some issue for an ongoing project.

Not only will it count as productive time, but it may also result in fewer meetings and lead to a faster or better solution for your current task!

8. Innocent interruptions

Think your friendly coworker interruptions are no big deal? You might be surprised to learn how much they are eating away at your work hours.

76% of employees mention coworker interruptions among their major distractions, resulting in a loss of focus and decreased productivity. Based on research, an average of 5 hours per week are lost to these seemingly harmless interactions.

statistics on coworker interruptions

The key to minimizing the “colleague impact” lies in effectively handling interruptions. By setting boundaries, communicating your need for focused time, and learning to protect your workflow, you can find a balance between maintaining valuable workplace relationships and staying on track with your tasks.

When you don’t manage your time wisely, those innocent interruptions may easily turn into major productivity roadblocks.

9. People pleasing

People-pleasing might feel like a helpful activity in the workplace, but it can quickly turn into a primary time-waster if not kept under control.

When you’re constantly trying to make people like you, it’s easy to find yourself taking on tasks that aren’t part of your core responsibilities, like doing your colleague’s work or agreeing to tasks you simply don’t have time for.

The inability to say “no” can not only lead to an overwhelming workload but also take away from your own priorities and goals. To combat this time-wasting habit, it’s vital to set clear boundaries and communicate them effectively with your coworkers.

10. Multitasking

Whether you are an entrepreneur wearing many hats or a manager with multiple projects and team members, multitasking often seems like a natural way to use time more efficiently. Sadly, it’s only an illusion.

When you multitask, you’re feeling like you’re doing so much – but usually, you just waste a lot of time and mental energy on task switching and don’t finish anything. Then you wonder why you’re struggling to meet deadlines.

If you were to use a time tracking tool, you’d see that you don’t really have a single hour of focused time during the day, which might be the reason you are not as productive as you’d like to be.

One way to avoid time wasters that come from multitasking is to dedicate specific time to each task and add every other task that comes your way to a prioritized schedule or a checklist for later.

Various digital tools can help you be more aware of this and multitask less. For example, Freedom app can block all distracting websites during a focus session, allowing you to focus on one task at a time – I even block the Gmail website with it to beat the urge to check and respond to emails more often than necessary.

Also, smart calendar apps like Motion can automatically schedule your tasks in order based on deadlines and priorities, letting you focus on a single task at any time.

11. Checking email randomly

Managing emails can seem like a part of your work routine, but if you aren’t careful, it may be harmful to your productivity levels. Spending excessive time on emails can quickly eat away at the hours you could be dedicating to more important tasks, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and unaccomplished.

Email communication is the daily time waster of almost every office worker. Research conducted by Atlassian found that an average employee checks their email 36 times per hour worked. This constant inbox monitoring can lead to a fragmented workflow, making it difficult to maintain focus and complete tasks efficiently.

The trickiest part here is that when you’re reading and answering emails it feels like you’re working. And since technically it is probably part of your job duties, you don’t always realize that it wastes a lot of time at work when you have more important things to do.

Many people recognize this and tend to check emails in their personal time, which is also not ideal – it may lead to ruining your work-life balance and result in burnout.

The best way to handle emails in 2023 is by using an AI email assistant like Sanebox, which can organize your email folders and filters, snooze or delete unimportant stuff, and keep you from getting distracted by junk mail.

Additionally, something that works well for me is batching email checking into two dedicated time blocks during a workday. This way, you aren’t constantly interrupted by instant email notifications, don’t shift your focus too often, and thus become more effective with your time management at work.

12. Self-doubt

Self-doubt, though a common human emotion, can be a significant time-waster and productivity killer if left unaddressed.

When you’re plagued by feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty, it becomes difficult to make decisions and take action, ultimately causing you to second-guess yourself and delaying progress on tasks.

This constant questioning and hesitation can lead to a vicious cycle, where the more you doubt yourself, the more you waste time trying to do things perfectly, and the less you accomplish, which only reinforces your lack of confidence.

To combat self-doubt, it’s crucial to recognize your strengths, set realistic expectations, and focus on building self-confidence. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to trust your instincts, make timely decisions, and stay on track with your goals.

13. Reading or watching the news

As physical newspapers become a thing of the past, more people start their workday by scrolling through the news feed of their favorite web portal. It may seem important to be aware of what happens in the world, but do you really need to waste your work time on those?

With the huge number of things that happen every day and all those catchy titles, you may easily get lost and overwhelmed. And suddenly, it’s lunchtime already, and you are yet to start working!

Also, for some reason, news feeds tend to focus on the negative a lot which might keep you in low spirits for the rest of the day. This alone can worsen your mood, which may lead to even more time-wasting (more on this in the last point).

Instead of wasting hours of your day watching or reading news, subscribe to one podcast or a relevant newsletter that gives you all the relevant pieces of information in a bite-sized format.

14. Entertaining attention seekers

If you work from home, depending on your life situation, you can be open to too many additional distractions. Whether it’s your spouse (the easiest to handle), children seeking attention (hard but possible to deal with), or a pet who is happy to see you home (can’t be convinced but can be distracted), it’s important to set some boundaries to minimize this kind of interruptions as much as possible.

Create some rules with your family to avoid letting them ruin your focus, and make sure you get as many uninterrupted hours as you need to get work done!

Useful tools to deal with attention seekers:

15. Smoking

Back when I was a full-time office goer, a good friend of mine, who is a fit person and a big believer in healthy habits, tracked the time some of our colleagues were spending on smoking breaks.

It led her to the conclusion that it would be only fair if we (non-smokers) started going on 1 to 2-hour-long walks outside in the middle of a workday. As that’s how much time smokers had to themselves daily while we were working!

According to a survey of 1000+ professionals, workers in the technology, retail, and finance industries waste the most time smoking, which adds up to more than 20 days a year.

smoking at work wasted time statistics

Add to this 20+ minutes that you need to get back into the flow after every smoking break, and you might have just lost a good chunk of your workday.

16. Negativity

This one probably goes the most unnoticed, but it may influence your whole day of work!

First of all, when you feel down and unmotivated, it’s hard to get into a productive mood and start working.

To prevent this, read some inspirational quotes in the morning or repeat productivity affirmations to make sure you always begin your workday on a good note.

Second, when you are angry or upset, it’s sometimes really hard to shift your focus to something else – in this case, work. That’s why I said that reading news in the morning is not a good idea if you want to have a productive day.

If you want to get more done, it’s important to stay positive and avoid negative attitudes or behaviors that might slow you down.

How to overcome common time wasters at work

Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, identifying your personal time-wasting activities is the key to getting better results.

Here are five proven ways to minimize time-wasters at work:

1. Set clear goals and priorities

Begin by setting your goals in a SMART way. Clearly defined goals will help you stay focused and ensure that your efforts are directed toward activities that align with your desired outcomes.

Choose a good productivity planner (or an online planning app) and organize your goals in a prioritized way, breaking them down into specific roadmaps for a year, quarter, month, week, and day so that you always have clarity on what you should do next.

2. Track and analyze your time

Utilize time-tracking software such as RescueTime to gain insights into how you are spending your work hours. By understanding where your time goes, you’ll be able to identify and eliminate any productivity-draining activities.

When you have found the culprits, consider using app blockers to minimize distractions from social media or other time-wasting websites.

3. Pick up new productive habits

Replace unproductive habits like procrastination with more effective ones, like working in undistracted focused sessions, taking regular breaks, and establishing a morning routine that sets you up for a successful day.

4. Implement time management techniques

Use proven methods like the Pomodoro Technique, time blocking, or the time management matrix to organize your day and ensure that you are focusing on the right tasks at the right time.

5. Optimize your workflow with productivity tools

Embrace technology to enhance your efficiency by utilizing tools like project management software, note-taking apps, and collaboration platforms. These tools can help streamline your work processes, reduce time spent on repetitive tasks, and improve communication with your team.

Final thoughts on time-wasters in life

As we wrap up this list of the 16 biggest time wasters that are sabotaging your workplace productivity, remember that awareness is the first step toward improvement.

By recognizing these productivity traps and applying the practical strategies shared throughout this article, you can reclaim control of your workday and maximize your performance.

Managing time wasters is not that difficult when you know what they are. Keep refining your habits and techniques, and you’ll soon find yourself on the path to greater efficiency, focus, and success in your professional life!

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