Watch out for Time Bandits

“Don’t squander time for that is the stuff life is life is made of” – Benjamin Franklin

Yes, time is important. We all have each day 24 hours at our disposal. Some of which we need to sleep, eat and care for ourselves in other ways. What do you do with the remaining hours? For some many hours are wasted beyond what would be needed for essential recreation.

However even at work there are times when we can waste an inordinate amount of time on non essential matters. I call these distractions Time Bandits and here are just some of them: email, non business phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, text messages and more. With so many distractions there is always the temptation to be sidetracked from the task in hand.

You may well have your computer set to notify you when a new email arrives or a new tweet is for you. Do you immediately stop what you are doing to check it? Although this may only take a moment one thing is sure and that is that all those moments add up. The best way to avoid this is to switch off notifiers and have set times each day when you check your email or tweets. Email could be checked just 2 or 3 times a day depending how you use email. If you get orders by email you may choose to have more frequent checks.

Here are some other ways to save time. It is good to set up a task / to do list each day and make sure that you stick to that list except for real emergencies that require your attention. Use a diary to plan appointments and avoid excessive travel. Where possible delegate tasks to others so that you can free your time for the more important things.

If you work from home set up an area of your home as an office and avoid TV and other distractions. Have a separate business phone line and don’t give it out to your friends. Some friends seem to think that because you work from home  you are available to talk to during working hours and if you are self employed that you can take time off whenever you wish. Oh – if only that were true! Make it clear that you are working and to ask them to call you outside working hours (politely of course!).

There are many time bandits that will steal our time and it does take self discipline and a good routine to avoid them. Please share your experiences on managing your time by commenting in the box below.

Roland Millward
The Entrepreneur Club


14 thoughts on “Watch out for Time Bandits

  1. How right you are Roland. I know that I am considered to be Victorian in my attitude, however you come to work to do just that.
    A lot of time is squandered by people kidding themselves that they are working. Many a time a business call could have been made instead of some vaguely social pretext.
    OK I am writing this but it is 7.45am and the real working day is just beginning.

  2. Thanks for your comment Ian. Not all activities are productive for our employment and many people can find plenty to do that is not productive but keeps them looking busy! It is not uncommon for people to walk from office to office with file in their hands or in a factory with a toolbox and no questions what are they actually achieving!

  3. Happy New Year Roland. Great article and a topic that I am always trying to perfect.

    I like to plan and schedule the whole week using a written timetable. A bit like a school lesson timetable or the ones you had when revising for exams.
    I find if things are written down and stuck on the wall you are more likely to stick to it. Things are going to crop up or have to moved around but you can soon get back on track.

  4. Time management is certainly an area for constant review and improvement. For me it’s about striking a balance between ‘Project’ and ‘Process’. Project work for me is the ad-hoc, one-off, creative, bespoke side, which can be fairly unstructured activities. Process is about the regular daily, weekly, monthly schedule of fairly stuructured ‘production’ activities. Repetition, while dull, does improve results and reduce time taken. Good habits and routines help, as you outline re email, social media, to-do-lists etc. Filing information and being able to retrieve it helps too.

  5. The comments seem to relate to organised persons who are undertaking the tasks for themselves.
    If you have staff working for you how do you ensure that they are as efficient as you and not just social networking?

  6. Good point Ian. I would suggest a number of ways. Firstly the manager should know how long tasks should take and should set daily tasks to be done in an allotted time. This won’t always work in every type of business but will keep staff on their toes. Secondly install software on computers that monitors actions and alerts managers to misuse of the computers. Third ban personal phones! All of this will lead though to staff resentment. The alternative is to go the Google way. Make work fun and give staff the means to have some fun time. Most will only use it a little and will work longer to make up for it and get their assigned tasks done.

  7. Managing staff is a tricky one. People resent being micro-managed or draconian policies. However a team or peer group approach and ethos can work well, backed by staff policies ie. re personal calls, texts, social media etc. Whether you believe staff are naturally motivated or lazy (McGregor Theory x or y) will influence how much carrot and praise you use, or how much stick and discipline. And lead by example; if the boss has vision, personal discipline re interruptions and non-work activity and work ethic that achieves lots that will set the direction for the team.

  8. Regardless of McGregors (somewhat outdated) theory people do not fall neatly into X and Y categories and some will enjoy being micro managed while others will not tolerate it.
    There is nothing draconian in laying down firm rules, yes work should be fun, however a lot of people get most enjoyment out of achievement.
    If, as I heard said people will stay on and achieve targets if they are allowed to play while they are being paid, why do they just not stay after working hours and play?
    Come on lets get a bit of controversy going, I can’t be the only employer who resents paying for wasted time.
    If people work the rewards will be good and all sorts of fringe benefits and opportunities for social rewards exist. Why should those who work without playing during the day lose the opportunity to gain.
    Believe me this does cause resentment.

  9. Ian,
    In the spirit of controversy and debate we could add in work:life balance here too (and a bit of Maslow for good measure :)). Also mindful that some people work to live, others live to work, etc. But anyway…

    High performance people and teams score highly in fun and achievement. In which case a few social calls/tweets during the day won’t really matter. Working early/late to hit deadlines individually or as a team can have its own rewards. Company organised or informal after-work social time creates a good environment, especially for younger people without family commitments. Lose the fun or achievement or both and the resentment might well kick in, making it harder for management/owner.

    Not sure of your last point though. There are many ways people gain; for some it’s social rewards, other it’s financial, others it’s status, maybe promotion. What’s probably important is a sense of fairness and how things are perceived. If a person or people feel that there is a good balance of give and take between staff and between themselves and the firm then that’s healthy. If something is unfair (or perceived to be so) then resent will start.

  10. I like it Mark.
    Of course all industries are different. The resentment that I refer to is when one employee is going the extra mile and looks over to see his opposite number waffling on a social site or shopping on line.
    The employee who is going the extra mile then complains to me that they are supporting others and watching their bonus being frittered away.
    Short of contacting our customers and telling them that prices will rise and then telling all the staff to relax I find it easier to say ‘no private calls,
    restrict internet access to business calls and do anything else in your own time’
    Miserable old gits of the world unite!


  11. Not miserable at all. Your good employees want your business and their jobs to still exist at the end of 2011. It only takes one ‘bad’ customer contact to negate all the good work put in. A big jump there from social media to customer service, BUT, the receptionist filing her nails, the background banter picked up by a customer while on the phone, and careless company traceable comments on Social Media are little things that say a lot about your approach to business and could impact an important customer relationship. If I can help then do drop me a line. Otherwise have a successful year.

  12. Wow, a very healthy debate.

    As someone who has managed people but not employed them I can kind of understand it. You have to balance the lines between different people.

    I remember one of ‘my’ staff who was constantly using facebook, msn messenger and hotmail. We decided to block those services on the network so that we were not seen to be singling the person out. This affected me personally as I could not then check my own personal emails but I had to make the decision (my boss didn’t have a clue about any of those sites so he didn’t care!)

    Employment Law has a massive impact on these type of issues!

  13. “Some friends seem to think that because you work from home you are available to talk to during working hours and if you are self employed that you can take time off whenever you wish. ” – I’ve kept aware of this from the start and, while I’ll take some time at lunch for personal emails, have managed to nip this in the bud at home and with friends. Good post and replies though!

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