How much time is wasted at work? According to workers, it’s a lot.
Recent research indicates that 89 percent of people waste time at work every day, with the top 10 percent wasting over three hours. Think of that lost productivity and potential.
Some of that time can definitely be attributed to checking social media, texting friends about plans, and the occasional daydream about a white sand beach in the Caribbean. After all, we’re not machines.
But a lot of time wastage can also be attributed to colleagues and bosses: calling meetings that aren’t helpful, not meeting the deadlines that ensure others can do their own work, and failing to offer sufficient resources to maximize productivity.
Over a decade after founding JotForm, a company with over 130 employees and millions of users, I’ve learned quite a few lessons on the value of respecting other people’s time at work.
It helps to foster an environment of respect and consideration, where all employees feel like part of a team and think about the impact of their actions on others. It can also boost overall efficiency and help launch a growing company to the next level.
So what can we do to ensure that we’re respecting other people’s time at work? Here are some general rules to keep in mind:
1. Meetings are more than just meetings.
It’s become a common workplace trope: time-wasting meetings where team members end up staring at clocks or into the bottoms of empty coffee mugs, waiting to get back to their “real” work.
Meetings can be an important way to get a whole team on the same page, but you should think twice before you schedule one. Even though this might be the default method for discussing a project, is it really the most effective?
Would an email thread be more beneficial than a weekly meeting?
Does every team member need to be there, or would some colleagues benefit more from an itemized summary of the items discussed?
What kind of paper trail or actionable items are you going to use the meeting to discuss in order to ensure that this time is being used positively?
If you are going to schedule a meeting, make sure you’re prepared. Have a clear agenda and be sure to stick to it. At JotForm, we’ve tried a number of different approaches to more meaningful meetings, including team offices, where groups work together every day, and one-on-one walking meetings.
Just remember: You can and should be thoughtful with your meetings. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, time is zero-sum — meaning that every minute you spend stuck in a pointless meeting is a minute lost to making a real difference.
2. Create clear benchmarks for success.
According to McKinsey, effective goal-setting motivates employees, helping to improve employee engagement and clarifying individual roles. Or, in the words of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Help people set productivity goals and then reward them when they meet them. Make sure that goals are both clear and accomplishable. After all, unachievable or overly stringent benchmarks won’t motivate anyone. People have to believe they can do it in order to want to do it.
Show each individual how, by meeting their goals, they’re contributing to a bigger picture. This is another really big part of employee engagement — making sure that there’s a purpose to work, and providing the sense of pride that comes with taking responsibility and having an impact.
If you’re stuck on how to get started, consider drawing inspiration from management consultant George T. Doran’s SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
3. Listen actively.
A lot of time at work is wasted spinning wheels — being unsure of where and how to start something. So pay attention to some of the speed bumps your colleagues might be hitting.
If a member of your team tells you that he or she needs something, listen to them closely.
Do they have a clear understanding of the brief? Are they dragging their feet on moving forward because they’re not sure where to start? Do they need a little extra help to get things moving? Could they benefit from a one-on-one meeting rather than a group dynamic?
It’s essential to make sure that everyone’s on track before moving forward, and you can do that by paying close attention to every member of the team.
As management consultant Peter Drucker once said:
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
4. Help people work more effectively.
It can be hard to concentrate in a busy workplace, with people coming and going, phones ringing, and myriad other distractions.
Add to that the constant pinging of email messages, begging to interrupt an otherwise decent workflow.
Your team members probably won’t come to you for help, even if they know they’re not being productive. They won’t want you to think that they can’t handle their job. So pre-empt any concerns they might have by offering them better tools.
Maybe they might benefit from the Pomodoro Method, a technique that helps people work in 30-minute sessions.
Maybe they need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time. Or maybe they need to be able to slip away from their desk for a couple of hours, taking their laptop and headphones to a coffee shop.
Sometimes they need to take a break — which can be a great way to stimulate productivity.
Most importantly, make it clear that this is a workplace where people can ask for help in rising to their potential.
5. Consider more flexible policies.
Think about your end goal in the workplace: Do you want a bunch of bodies just hanging out at their desks regardless of whether they’re being productive? Or do you want to motivate them to move full steam ahead?
Consider a system where people who meet clear goals on schedule are permitted to leave work early to hit the gym, pick up kids from school, or learn a new language. It makes them more inclined to hit any targets and less likely to hang around and distract other colleagues who might have more pressing matters to attend to.
And here’s another thing to consider: People have different internal clocks. Some people work exceedingly well at 6am, while others only really kick into gear at 3pm. Consider implementing some flexibility when it comes to scheduling to ensure that you’re always getting the best out of everyone.
Standards are important, but workplaces should understand that everyone is different. Taking a risk and offering people the chance to excel can really pay off.
6. Create opportunities for learning.
Every day, in every workplace, should be an opportunity to learn something new.
People thrive in environments where they’re permitted to be curious and creative, and where they’re introduced to novel ideas. Don’t waste other people’s time by neglecting these opportunities, by failing to offer enrichment or by turning them into drones.
Consider how you can offer access to relevant courses, chances to discover different aspects of the business, or encouraging team building through volunteer activities.
Make work a place where they can become not just better employees, but better people — what’s a better use of time than that?
You’re part of a team that can only function at maximum capacity when everyone can excel in their individual roles. Don’t contribute to the sidetracking, distracting, time wasting and sense of futility that happens every day in the workplace.
The sum can be greater than it’s individual parts — but only if every part of the machine is well oiled.