7 time-wasting habits to kick in 2020

What's your calendar enemy? Try these practical strategies to reclaim more time in your work day and increase productivity
436 readers like this.
COBOL application modernization

Are you already tiring of your new year’s resolutions? Maybe. Dr. John Norcross, Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, has found over time that around 40 percent of people have successfully kept their new year’s resolutions six months later.

“The next 168 hours will be filled with something, but what they are filled with is largely up to you.”

The key to changing habits for good, many experts say, is setting attainable goals. Several weeks into 2020 – now that the resolution pressure is off – is a great time for overscheduled IT leaders to identify and break some of their time-wasting habits. “Time is a blank slate,” writes Laura Vanderkam, author Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

“The next 168 hours will be filled with something, but what they are filled with is largely up to you,” she notes.

Hack your productivity in 2020: 7 habits to break

The good news: Leaders can make some relatively simple (though not always easy) changes that can have an outsized impact on overall productivity and availability. Consider breaking some of these seven time-wasting habits:

1. Giving yourself too much time

Even if you haven’t heard of Parkinson’s Law, you’ve certainly lived it: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. It’s time to break the law, says Paul Rulkens, president of Agrippa Consulting International and author of The Power of Preeminence: High Performance Principles to Accelerate Your Business and Career. “Set aside half the usual time for your tasks and your results will be the same or even better,” advises Rulkens, whose clients include McKinsey, Uber, and ExxonMobil.

2. Attending pointless meetings

Breaking Parkinson’s Law with meetings you set – scheduling them for half the time – is another great way to free up time. However, you’re not always the meeting planner. There are other meetings you regularly attend that eat away at your time. Try pushing back more. “The first question to ask in scheduling a meeting should not be ‘Am I available?’, it’s ‘Why does this meeting need to happen?’” says Vanderkam. “If nothing will change in the world as a result of the meeting, it will likely be a waste of time.”

While you’re at it, start asking those same questions before calling a meeting for your team – they’ll appreciate the time back as well.

[ Does this need to be a meeting or an email? Read also: 10 tips to run more effective meetings in 2020. ]

3. Letting the digital tail wag the dog

“Never use an inbox for action reminders.”

“Your inbox is not your action list,” Rulkens points out. Neither is every notification on your phone. “Create a separate action list. Use your email as input for this action list,” Rulkens says. “Never use an inbox for action reminders.”

4. Answering email instantly

Speaking of email, the impulse to check for and reply to incoming messages frequently throughout the day is understandable for leaders – after all, there may be a crisis or other urgent matter lurking in that inbox. However, email can be one of the biggest time-wasters for a CIO. Leaders can reclaim some of that time by checking email less frequently and fighting the urge to reply to each one.

“Chances are, the reason people are emailing you is that they want your thoughts on things. But being constantly on email crowds out space for dreaming up the ideas that make you worth emailing in the first place,” says Vanderkam. “Inbox Zero is vastly overrated.”

You might want to steal an idea from productivity expert and author Chris Bailey – who sends an auto-reply to all emails noting that he typically checks email once a day, at 3 p.m, offers a list of other email outlets for specific requests, and kindly lets the emailer know that he will reply soon. (For more on conquering the email time suck, take a peek at When work expects you to be available 24/7: How to push back and Productivity hacks: how to take control of your inbox.)

5. Unnecessary travel

Modern video conferencing lets you truly read cues.

Sure, it makes sense to travel to meet an important supplier or customer, or deal with a disaster. For many other things, consider staying put. “Modern video-conferencing software is getting good enough that you can truly read cues and feel like you’re in the same room,” Vanderkam says. Given current events, many people are rethinking their criteria for travel and choosing more virtual meetings. 

[ Read also: Online meeting tips: 6 ways to present yourself better. ]

6. Not creating clear boundaries

Does it seem that the big problems in IT always find their way to your desk? The CIO’s role is strategy and leadership, not firefighting. It’s time to make that clear to those in your organization. Rulkens calls this “switching off the monkey magnet.” “Don’t allow any problem (or ‘monkey’) to jump from anyone in your staff to you,” Rulkens says. “Only get involved to review possible solutions developed by your staff.”

7. Being unintentional with your time

“The first step to using your time better is knowing how you’re spending it now,” Vanderkam writes. “For a few days, or ideally a week, write down what you’re doing, as often as you remember. Think of yourself as a lawyer billing your time to different projects.” That’s the raw data; start analyzing and categorizing time spent. “How does this feel to you? What do you over- or underinvest in? What do you like most about your schedule? What would you like to change?”

[ How strong is your EQ? See our related article: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ] 

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.