8 Time Wasters at Work (and How to Nip Them in the Bud) (2024)

Wasted time at work might not seem like a big deal. In some situations, it’s a minor problem at best. But think of it this way:

Imagine you’ve been told you need to stand on one foot for eight hours.

That sounds like an impossibly long time, doesn’t it? Eight hours might as well be an eternity.

But what about in the context of your typical workday? Well, suddenly, eight hours doesn’t seem quite so lengthy. In fact, it whizzes right by.

You and your team end the day with a good chunk of your untouched to-dos. You haven’t made any progress on your most important goals. You’re missing deadlines, and you feel like you’re spinning your wheels.

What gives? Eight hours should be enough time to gain meaningful momentum, so why are you stuck in neutral?

If you often find your team in this situation, wasted time at work might be a bigger problem than you realize.

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Time gets away from us

As much as you and your team like to fancy yourselves productivity powerhouses, chances are good that you fall victim to some time-wasting activities in the workplace.

You aren’t alone. Most of us struggle to maximize our work hours, as evidenced by wasting time at work statistics like these:

  • The average employee wastes about 8 hours weekly on personal tasks and mobile devices.
  • 60% or less of work time is actually spent productively.
  • Work time lost to frequent distractions costs U.S. businesses an estimated $650 billion per year.

Those statistics are alarming, but here’s the good news:

Whether you’re trying to boost efficiency for your team or want to find ways to work more efficiently yourself, you can nip time wasters in the bud and make the most of your work time.

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8 common time wasters at work

From the co-worker who constantly stops by to chat to the relentless pings of incoming emails, there are always plenty of distractions. Interruptions sabotage your focus and productivity.

Identifying your time wasters is your first step in minimizing them.

Let’s break down some of the biggest time wasters so you can identify the traps you and your team might fall into.

Work-related time wasters

Pointing the finger at personal chats or social media scrolling is tempting, which cuts into productive time.

But you might be surprised by the work-related tasks and distractions that throw your team off track. If things aren’t getting done, it’s probably not because your team spends all day on Facebook.

Look for these less obvious productivity killers in your company:

1. Overwhelming emails

The average person sends and receives an estimated 121 business emails every day.

Reading and responding to emails can quickly eat up a whopping 28% of the workweek.

Plus, think of how long it takes to dig through old messages looking for that one important thread where someone shared a document.

If your company tends to be email-heavy, you’re wasting hours of productive time.

2. Instant message notifications

Chat programs like Slack have replaced emails with quick and casual conversations.

Both remote and co-located teams use instant-message-style tools for work-related communications. They’re great for group conversations and team building, too.

Those persistent pings can rip attention away from the task at hand, though.

Refocusing after a distraction takes over 23 minutes, which explains why 34% of employees say they’d get more work done if they uninstalled their work chat platform.

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3. Unnecessary meetings

Cue the collective groan. You’ve probably heard employees complain about meetings as colossal wastes of time.

These gripes are justified.

Your team isn’t whining because they don’t want to see their co-workers. Meetings pull entire groups of people away from productive work for extended chunks of time.

Every single week, people spend a little over five hours in meetings. Even worse — 67% of employees report that excessive meetings keep them from doing their best work.

4. Multitasking

Doing two things at once doesn’t mean accomplishing two things at once.

Most of us are physically incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. Yes, even moms. The stereotype that women are great multitaskers is just a productivity-draining myth.

Multitasking can decrease productivity by as much as 40%.

People try to multitask at work for many reasons, from approaching deadlines to repeated interruptions.

You might feel like you’re getting more done, but you’re just making the same tasks take longer and probably delivering worse results.

5. Mundane and repetitive tasks

You hired your team for their skills and expertise. Don’t you want them to focus their time and energy on the valuable work you’re paying them for?

Often, employees spend hours every week doing tedious, low-value tasks. This might include things like:

  • Filling out manual timesheets
  • Reporting on what was completed that day
  • Creating fancy slide decks for team updates
  • Formatting spreadsheets

The average worker spends at least one workday each week on repetitive tasks that could be automated.

That’s not just a massive waste of time. It’s also a waste of money.

Stop wasting time

Use Hubstaff to identify time-wasting activities and improve your team’s productivity.

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Personal time wasters

You know it’s unreasonable to expect your team to be focused on work 100% of the time. They’re humans, after all.

However, personal distractions are another big culprit when it comes to time wasters in the workplace.

Here are some time wasters to watch for:

1. Social media

An innocent peek at Instagram during a coffee break is fine. The problem is that those short peeks quickly add up when you check your feed 5 or 6 times daily.

Research shows that employees spend at least an hour and a half daily scrolling through their social media accounts during work.

Over a week, that’s 7.5 hours of scrolling.

You can lose almost an entire workday to social media every week!

2. Online shopping

It’s hard to resist taking care of some personal tasks during work hours. A little internet shopping is a common way to take a quick mental break.

57% of U.S. employees confess to online shopping while on the clock.

Most likely, this isn’t a daily thing for most of your employees. After all, who can afford to go shopping every day?

When you’re struggling with team productivity, though, these little time wasters can make a lot of difference.

3. Personal conversations

Chatty co-workers, text messages, and even personal phone calls can take a bite out of your day without realizing it. Have you ever gotten talking and realized that an hour slid by before you noticed?

As counterintuitive as it sounds, you should encourage personal conversations between co-workers.

Sure, it takes some time away from your to-do lists, but it’s also essential for your team to build friendships and trust. Remote teams are wise to set aside time specifically for chats between co-workers.

Texting and talking to people outside of work is slightly different, though.

It’s best to watch how much time you and your team spend chatting and texting with non-coworker friends.

Workers spend an average of 56 minutes daily using their phones for non-work-related activities. That doesn’t mean you should ban cell phone use, but keeping an eye on it is wise.

How to encourage your team to stop wasting time at work

Add all those time-wasters together. It’s amazing that you manage to get anything done!

With a solid understanding of where all your work time goes, you’re ready to empower your team to be more efficient and productive without making them feel like they’re being punished. After all, you waste time, too.

Rest assured, it’s doable.

By being supportive instead of critical, you’ll find it easier to get your team on board. They probably want to get more done, too!

Here are a few ways to stop employees from wasting time at work.

1. Get actionable workforce insights

With workforce management software, you can gain insights into how your team works so you can better manage employee time and engagement.

At Hubstaff, we know how important it is to get detailed insights into how your team works, so we created our Insights add-on. With Insights, you can measure your workforce productivity with performance management features and compare it with industry benchmarks.

With workforce analytics, it’s easy to delegate tasks and ensure your team doesn’t lose focus. Integrate your favorite project management system and assign tasks to your team so they can track time to them. Or, use Hubstaff’s built-in tool, Hubstaff Tasks, for free.

2. Encourage time tracking

It’s hard to use your time more efficiently if you don’t know how to use it now.

That’s why time tracking and productivity software is so helpful. With app and URL tracking, apps like Hubstaff will give you and your team a detailed picture of where your time is going.

Often, there’s a big difference between what you remember doing during the day and what the recorded time tracking data shows. You might think you only spent 20 minutes browsing social media yesterday, but the report indicates that it was more like 95 minutes.

Like every 12-step program says, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Worried that your team will buck against this type of monitoring? That’s a valid concern. And 79% of employees say it’s okay for their employers to monitor their work-related tasks.

It’s also a good idea to consider how you implement employee monitoring for the best possible results.

3. Schedule time for deep work

You know firsthand that getting into a flow state is challenging when interrupted.

Do your team a favor by leaving enough time for focused, deep work.

You can schedule a team-wide, meeting-free block of time or designate a specific day with no meetings allowed. Encourage people to block off time on their calendars for uninterrupted work.

If you work in an office, you and your team might want to decide on a signal (like wearing headphones) that lets other people know you’re zoned in and shouldn’t be interrupted. For remote teams, do-not-disturb mode is your friend.

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4. Make meeting agendas mandatory

Say so long to the meetings that should’ve been emails.

Require every meeting to have an agenda, so your team needs to think clearly about what they want to cover. You’ll use the time more wisely and cut down on unnecessary attendance.

With a roadmap for every meeting, you have productive conversations rather than bull sessions. Have a goal in mind, and handle all your brainstorming and ideation beforehand.

This will remove a lot of unproductive meetings from your calendar. You’ll identify topics that can easily be covered in an email and cancel anything that isn’t ready for a group discussion yet.

Say “so long” to the meetings that should’ve been emails.

5. Offer the right tools

Don’t waste your team’s brilliance on easily automated tasks. Provide tools that can automatically handle some of their most time-consuming to-dos.

Zapier and IFTTT are popular solutions that link apps and automate basic tasks. Agile project management software can easily automate workflows and move work forward with a single click.

Even something as simple as creating templates for standard documents can help you get things done much faster.

These small changes mean you and your team have more time and brainpower for your most important work.

Wasted time at work? Nip it in the bud

It’s discouraging to realize that you and your team are falling victim to typical time wasters at work. The good news is that you can fix it and learn to stay focused.

The first step is learning how many hours are wasted using workforce management and time tracking software like Hubstaff.

Then, use this as your guide for identifying employees wasting time sabotaging your team, and take steps to make the most of your time on the clock. Plus, ensure your team is taking proper breaks and compliant with overtime policies.

Before long, you’ll end your workday feeling accomplished—rather than discouraged. And that’s time well spent.

Here’s one last productivity tip for you:

Get the best productivity advice sent right to your inbox

The Hubstaff Blog is an excellent resource for productivity and management tips.

8 Time Wasters at Work (and How to Nip Them in the Bud) (2024)
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