What’s Your Biggest Time Waster at Work (and what to do about it)

In a recent survey of 353 business owners in the United States, my company Maui Mastermind asked them, “What is your single biggest time waster and interrupter in your business life?

The results were clear, email came out the single biggest time waster and interruption by a factor of three to one. 57 percent of respondents cited it as their single biggest time waste. Phone calls and staff interruptions both came in tied for the number two spot at 17 percent each. And meetings brought up the rear at 9 percent.

How does this match up with your own experience of productivity? Is email your number one time drain? Or do you find yourself pulled away from important work more by phone calls and staff interruptions?

Regardless of your answer, here is a simple suggestion to dramatically reduce these costly interruptions and keep your productivity on your most valuable activities.

Create a Focus Day
A “Focus Day” is a specific day of the week where you carve out a 3-4 hour block of time in which to work on your highest value activities without productivity interruptions.

This could be sitting down to write up that key proposal you’ve been procrastinating on; or scheduling a top customer visit; or meeting with your leadership team to create your coming quarter’s 90-day action plan.

The key is that during your Focus Day you schedule out, far in advance, a definite appointment with yourself, blocked out on your calendar, and that you don’t stand yourself up.

For example, one of my business coaching clients Brian sets aside Tuesday’s as his Focus Day, blocking out 8-11am for his high value producing work.

I personally set aside Tuesdays and Thursdays as my Focus Days (yes I feel taking a minimum of two Focus Days each week best serves my company and helps me create the most value I can for my organization.) If you were to look at my Outlook calendar you’d see a recurring appointment I’ve set up called “Focus Day” from 8-12 on each of these days through the year 2020.

When you have a Focus Day, every non-Focus Day becomes a “Push Day”. Your Push Days are all the other days of the week that you use to just “push” your normal projects another step forward. Focus Days help you create long-term impact on your business; Push Days help you keep your day-to-day operations rolling forward.

Your Focus Day gives you a large block of time that you can rely on to be interruption free.

Here are a few more suggestions to make this technique work for you learned by watching several hundred business coaching clients over the past decade apply this strategy in their business lives:

Avoid the first or last day of your workweek for your Focus Day. Too many urgencies need your attention on those days. So if you work Monday through Friday, avoid using Monday or Friday’s as your Focus Day. As a general rule you’ll find it easier to honor your Focus Day commitment if it comes midweek.

Enlist your team’s help. Communicate your need for help to your staff so they understand both what you are doing and how it will help the business succeed. When your team understands how important Focus Days are to the company’s ability to achieve its goals, they will rally to support that effort.

Consider suggesting your key team members to take their own Focus Day too. You’ll quickly see the positive increase in production this will bring.

Control your environment. Get out of your office and away from distractions. Interestingly enough, productivity expert Gloria Marks, a professor at the University of Irvine, California, shared in an interview with Fast Company that one of her keys to getting focus time was to stay out of the office. “I stay home,” she shared, explaining that it is the best way for her to avoid a steady stream of interruptions. Maybe you can’t stay home, but during your focus time could you work from a quiet conference room? How about a local café? I often head to the lobby of a nice hotel here where I live in Jackson Hole Wyoming.

Bring only the key project(s) you want to work on for your Focus Day. One component of willpower is controlling your environment to best support you. Leave the other work and distractions behind. That way, you couldn’t work on them even if you wanted to.

Focus on creating value. Remember that Focus Days aren’t about being off by yourself—they are about focusing on your top value producing activities that truly create results for your company. For many people this can mean meetings, phone calls, or critical e-mail. It’s not time off or time away from the hard work; the key distinction is that on your Focus Day you are primarily doing your value producing activities.