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15 Ways to Work Less and Accomplish More

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Where does the time go? If you’re at work, a great deal of it has probably been robbed by interruptions, meetings, unnecessary training, and poor planning and organization.

According to research reported by, leaders are working longer hours than ever—mostly by taking responsibility for tasks that they could easily delegate. A whopping 6.8 hours every week go into these activities, with an additional 5 hours wasted with low-level emails, interruptions, and requests. They even spend more time than their staff on escapist activities like surfing the internet—employees spend only 1 hour a week while their bosses spend close to 4 hours a week, a sure indication that they need relief from the stress of long hours and continual demands.

Which is ironic because employees want more stimulating work and a larger decision making role. A survey by revealed that most employees waste their time on non-work related items because they are bored, the work is not challenging, or they are exhausted from long hours at those boring, unchallenging tasks. Only 18% of employees waste time because they are underpaid.

The two take-aways for a leader are:

  • Employees will waste less time and experience less stress if you give them work that excites them and is reasonable—more of the same boring work, longer hours, and more monitoring will only increase their incentive to waste time.
  • Your own top wastes of time will rapidly plummet, your own stress will decrease, and you will leave your desk earlier if you give your team and your employees what they are begging for: more of a chance to help and participate; stretch their knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs); and make a difference.

Here are 15 SMaRT strategies for locking up the time bandits and have the pleasure of working less and accomplishing more.

The Interruptions Bandit

Open door policies are great, and so are fast responses to emails and requests, but not if they cause you to lose focus and concentration. If you want to work less and accomplish more, set up a regular time when your door is closed, the phone is shut off, and your computer alerts are ignored. If necessary, come in early or stay later—but only if you have your other interruption bandit under control first.

  • Say no—and delegate. Even leaders have a right to say, “I can’t do that [because], but perhaps [this person] could help you.” Delegation not only frees up your time but allows your team to flex their KSAs.
  • Do not multitask. Multitasking breaks your focus, leads to bad decisions, and is a primary cause of disorganization.
  • Prioritize. If every interruption is a crisis, you have a problem with anticipating and handling crises, not with interruptions.

TIP: Interrupting yourself when your energy or concentration fails is a good thing—move around in the office building or at your desk to restore your energy. Do not simply change one tedious task for another.


The Meetings Bandit

Meetings serve many useful purposes in group communications, group decision making, and group problem-solving. To prevent them from becoming time bandits:

  • Know the reason and goal for the meeting. Read the agenda (there is an agenda, right?) and make sure this is a meeting you need to attend or hold. Would an email or phone call suffice and be quicker?
  • Insist that everyone arrives on time, pays attention, and has a chance to participate. Meetings where everyone strolls in when they want, where people concentrate on their phones instead of the meeting, and which are hijacked by one talker or bully are a monumental waste of time. You need rules, and everyone must agree to the rules.
  • Meet in smaller groups. Large group meetings are inefficient and less likely to achieve their goal. Most experts agree that somewhere around 5 to 9 is optimum.


The Training Bandit

One of the big drains on a leader’s time is arranging for training which then becomes a big drain on the employees’ time. The 70-20-10 rule states that 70% of workplace learning comes to experience, 20% from a boss or mentor, and only 10% from formal training. Your whole team will work less and accomplish more if you provide them with opportunities to broaden their experience and give them access to mentoring.

Before you begin formal training, make sure that it:

  • Has a clear and measurable goal. Let’s say you decide to install a new software system to cut 24 hours from the time it takes to log in, file, and distribute documentation using your old system. Are you sure that goal is attainable with the number of people you have and the hours they work regardless of the system they use?
  • Has correctly identified the problem and is the best solution., Talk to the people using and maintaining the current system. Maybe the inefficiency comes from your neglecting to update the current system—which everyone knows and likes. Or maybe hiring one extra employee would be less disruptive and less costly (training costs time and money) in the long run.
  • Advances the KSAs of everyone involved, and they have the resources they will need. Let’s say you purchase expensive training on the new system for everyone in the department before finding out that (a) the new system operates almost identically to the old one; and (b) all they really needed was a single tip sheet on short cuts.
  • Trains the right people. Documents come to the documentation department from other employees. If those employees aren’t trained in the protocols of the new system, documents that previously flew through the documentation department will be held up or misfiled, turning a successful change into a failure.

TIP: Ask people about their training needs and tell them how the training will advance their KSAs for their current or future careers.


The Poor Planning and Organization Bandit

As the Cheshire Cat told Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter what path you take.” You wander aimlessly—in your thoughts, your organization, and your leadership.

Poor planning and organization lead you to waste time on meetings that resolve nothing, solutions that miss the problem, and the hunt for people and papers that magically disappear. To work less and accomplish more:

  • Know your personal, team, and company goals. This is the place where you “want to go”—if you know your goals, you can figure out a way to meet them.
  • Clear your workspace and update your to-do list at the end of every day. Start the new day knowing your priorities and where you can find what you need to meet them.
  • Avoid the trap of perfectionism and perfect control. If you wait until the moment is perfect, the moment never arrives—ditto with resources and ideas. Delegate, play to your own strengths (analysis, creativity, mentoring), and allow others to play to theirs.
  • Set a specific time to deal with emails and voice messages; otherwise, you will interrupt your progress and change direction multiple times each day. Prioritize; do not respond to emails and messages unless you are the primary recipient and there is something you need to respond to.
  • Seek professional help to deal with your organizational and planning problems. Poor planning, procrastination, and confused organization escalate stress throughout your team and organization. You may feel comfortable with chaos, but you will see the ill effects in everyone else as they struggle to figure out what you want them to do, when, and why.

TIP: Goals should be specific, achievable, relevant, and rewarding to those trying to meet them. An individual, company, or team without goals never knows when their work is done.

Key Takeaways

Concentrating SMaRT strategies on the four biggest time bandits—constant minor interruptions, random meetings, useless training, and poor planning and organization—will allow you to work less and accomplish more. Your team will also thank you because your wasted time and stress become everyone’s wasted time and stress

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