How to address office time-wasters

5 Feb 2018 By Karen Meager and John McLachlan

Karen Meager and John McLachlan explain why our behavioural habits make it easy for us to waste time, and how to help your staff work smarter

Time-wasting is a buzzword that has a lot of negative connotations attached to it, such as laziness and poor work ethic, but this is rarely the real cause. The majority of time-wasting is down to behavioural habits, and the solution is often as simple as adjusting perspective of what goes on around us. Here are some resolutions for the most common time-wasting behaviours.

Having too many loops open at once

The ‘open loop’ concept is the human equivalent of an internet browser with too many tabs open at the same time. We all know that forcing a computer to do too much at once in this way will slow down processing times, overload the machine and often cause it to burn out.

In the workplace, the same thing can happen to people, but here, open loops constitute unfinished mental processes – from a letter you keep forgetting to post, to a creative idea you haven’t yet put into action. Having too many open loops cuts into the clarity and quality we give to tasks, stagnating our performance and damaging momentum.

Encourage your employees to work through these loops and close them one by one. If it helps, they can make a list of their open loops, and prioritise the bigger loops over the smaller ones.

Believing perfect exists

The pursuit of perfection can cause real damage to a person’s working life. It is easy to want to be the best in the business world, but the fact is that nothing and nobody is perfect, and those who constantly work to achieve perfection are fighting a constant uphill battle, and setting themselves up for disappointment and failure.

However, in the ambitious world of business, perfectionism is often treated as a positive trait, and is not remedied the way it should be. Helping perfectionists let go of their unrealistic goals is not easy, and should be approached with patience and understanding.

Start by delegating small tasks whose results are not integral, such as an internal newsletter or other informal document, to ease the perfectionist into approaching their work in a less frantic way. Allowing them the space to feel safe in not achieving perfection is essential. 

Don’t forget just how important the pursuit of perfection is to them, or undermine it in any way – this will only merit a defensive response and send them running back to the behaviours they know and are comfortable in.

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are authors and co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training

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