One thing that all 5.5 million entrepreneurs in the UK have in common is the age-old adage that ‘time is money’. Time wasted is money wasted. The biggest way that business owners can waste money is by falling into common time-wasting traps. Throughout our workday, there are so many opportunities to get side-tracked by spending time on time-wasting tasks. Whether this is as a result of trying to wear too many hats within your business or because you haven’t refined your processes and systems, common time-wasting traps are everywhere.
The best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to identify the things that are wasting your time (and wasting your money) by becoming aware of what you spend unnecessary time on. Once you’ve realised what common time-wasting traps you might be falling into, you will be able to find ways to improve your productivity so that you can get more done, maximise resources and results and minimise stress.
Here are the top common time-wasting traps we’ve come across as well as some advice on how you can avoid them.
Not having a goal
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said, “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how’.” Without having clear goals (in other words, your ‘why’) in place, it is very difficult to stay disciplined and only focus your time on what matters most in your business. Not having a goal means you don’t have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
In a recent study, it was found that only 14 percent of participants had goals. It was also found that those who had goals were 10 times more successful than those without goals.
Our goals drive our decision-making
Our goals have a bigger impact on our decision-making than you think. If your goal is to land two new clients before the end of the month, you will find ways to spend time landing those clients and not on unnecessary tasks.
Set clearly defined goals
Take time to clearly define your goals and the ‘why’ behind them. Write them down. This is a proven way to avoid common time-wasting traps as you will be focused on what’s most important. Having intentional goals encourage productivity versus just being ‘busy’.
Not planning your days
Failure to plan is planning to fail. Perhaps the most common time-wasting trap is failure to plan. Without having a plan to stick to each day, how do you ensure that you tackle everything you’re supposed to?
Create structure in your day
Not having a structure to your day is the quickest way to fall into a time-wasting trap. It gives you time to get side-tracked in between (or even during) important tasks and you’ll find yourself wasting time trying to determine what to do next.
Plan the night before
Our best advice is to take time each night to plan the following day. You can do this by blocking out time in your calendar to handle each task on your to-do list or using free apps like Trello to plan and organise your day. Having a plan in place that you devise the night before leaves little room for you to go off track during the day.
If you’re not one of the lucky few who are natural organisers, staying organised won’t be second nature to you.
The Wall Street Journal has found that workers waste an average of 40% of their workday, not because they aren’t clever, but because they were never taught organisational skills to help them cope with increasing workloads and demands.
Organise your documents
Being organised doesn’t just mean colour coding your to-do list, it means filing documents in such a way that they are easy to find, all in one place. Spending time looking for missing documents sprawled all over your desk and office is a common time-wasting trap.
Organise your space
Research has found that two in five people feel that a messy desk directly affects their performance, while 40 percent of people have admitted that an untidy workspace makes them less productive. This is why it is important to have some semblance of organisation in your office, especially if you work in a home office.
According to a survey conducted by Udemy, nearly 70 percent of workers mentioned that they feel distracted while they’re working, with 16 percent stating that they are almost always distracted.
Cut out comms
If you really need to graft out some work, turn off distractions such as Microsoft Teams messages and put your phone on silent. Avoid reading and responding to any incoming communication until you have completed what you are working on. Once you’ve ticked a task off your to-do list, give yourself a few minutes to catch up on emails and any other communication.
Only check emails three times per day
The average person checks their emails 15 times or more per day, according to Forbes. Research by the University of Columbia also found that those who were limited to only checking their emails three times per day experienced a significant decrease in stress levels. If you’re trying to tackle an important task and you keep getting interrupted by emails, the chances are you’re going to get very little done. Close your email application to stay focused and only open it during set periods of time.
Not taking breaks
BBC Worklife has discovered that, generally, a person can’t concentrate for longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break. Entrepreneurs are notorious for working long hours without stopping to take a break.
Take them regularly
You can’t go on forever. To stay focused and productive, you need to take regular breaks. You will most likely find yourself feeling refreshed when you come back to work with renewed energy. Taking regular breaks can also protect you against burnout.
Use an app
Numerous free apps and browser extensions can help remind you to get up and walk around every 90 minutes. The break you take does not have to take long and it shouldn’t be spent catching up on emails. You’ll soon find that the more breaks you take, the more productive you are.
19th-century humourist Josh Billings was right when he said, “The greatest thief this world has ever produced is procrastination.” Procrastination is by far the biggest time-suck and can quickly become a vicious cycle that leaves you demotivated and unproductive.
One way to avoid procrastination is to break your day up into manageable chunks. If you’re prone to procrastinating in the mornings before you get started, try ‘swallow the frog’: getting your least favourite, most unenjoyable task completed first thing in the morning.
Worrying about things you can’t control
There are things that you can control and things that you can’t control. While it is human nature to worry, worrying about the things you can’t control is a significant way to waste time.
Although it takes some serious self-awareness to differentiate between the two, it is important to your productivity to only worry about what you can control. Try to identify the areas where you are making a mountain out of a molehill and reign yourself in when you find the things you can’t control are stressing you out and causing your anxiety. Worrying is the quickest way to make an entire day pass without getting much done.
Meetings that could be emails
Do you ever get off a Zoom call and think to yourself, that it really could’ve all been said in an email? Meetings that could be emails are not only a common time-wasting trap, they’re a massive interruption in your day.
What to do if the meeting is a must
If you truly can’t avoid a meeting, compile an agenda and be strict about sticking to it. Also, give the meeting a time limit and be clear with other attendees that you will not be exceeding the set time. Also, take minutes in the meeting that can be sent out to anyone who missed the session so that you don’t have to waste time re-iterating anything that was covered in the meeting.
Don’t schedule your own meetings
If you have the resources to hire a virtual assistant, have them schedule your meetings for you as this is something that can waste your time.
Most importantly, if it can be said in an email, a meeting is not necessary. Ask yourself this before sending out a meeting invite. Meetings don’t just waste your time; they waste your employees’ time.
Something that many entrepreneurs struggle with is letting go of certain tasks and responsibilities. You may be afraid that it won’t be done right if you don’t do it yourself. As a business owner, your time is precious. And if there is someone else who can tackle certain tasks for you, delegate to them wherever possible.
Don’t neglect the rest of your business
Taking everything on yourself is the quickest way to find yourself spending time on things you really don’t have time for. Not delegating work can lead to some areas of your business being neglected. Allow skilled assistants to tackle the tasks that take up too much of your time, allowing you to work on your business and not in it.
Not making room for error
Mistakes happen, it’s part and parcel of running a business. Not allowing room for error can set you back in productivity and efficiently handle one task after the next.
Instead of spending too much time focusing on a mistake that has already been made, rather see what can be learned from the error and apply the learning to your business. Aiming for nothing but perfection will hinder your learning and growth.
Instead of focusing on errors, spend time focusing on how you can improve your business so that these mistakes don’t happen again.
Being influenced by others
Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of being an entrepreneur is that your business is your business. You get to decide what is urgent and what isn’t a priority. Letting someone else’s depiction of urgency influence yours is one of the quickest ways to go off track.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t measure your success against someone else’s achievements, everyone has their own journey at their own pace. Staying focused on your own progress and achieving your own dream will lead to higher levels of productivity.
Not reviewing your progress
Have you ever looked back at an old to-do list and felt really accomplished? Doing this on a larger scale is just as effective.
Find ways to track progress
Choose a system or metric to measure your business’s performance and use this information to relish your achievements. This is will motivate you to do more and keep going. Tracking your progress against certain goals will also help you to identify areas where you need to spend your time more wisely and areas where you can afford to relinquish some control by delegating to others.
Not taking time off
Over 55% of business owners do not take a single day off. Not only is avoiding taking time off the quickest way to burn out, but it also has a massive impact on energy levels and your immune system. You might find yourself getting sick more regularly and even struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety.
Strike a work-life balance
You might not have the opportunity to take chunks of time off, particularly if your business is still new. But one way you can avoid burnout and boost your productivity is to take time each day to spend time with the people you love most. Commit to logging off an hour early each day to be with your family, engaging in physical activity or even just enjoying a good book. Even if you can’t take time off, having a work-life balance will do wonders for your productivity and help you avoid the common time-wasting traps mentioned above.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably realised that time is your most valuable resource. After all, it is what you charge your clients for. Time is an asset to your business and when it is wasted, both you and your company will suffer. Take back control of your time by avoiding these common time-wasting traps and get your productivity and creativity levels back on track.