How to stop others from wasting your time at work

February 22, 2015

Photo by Jlhopgood used with creative commons license

A couple of weeks ago I signed onto a Harvard Business Review webinar with Dorie Clark on how to stop people from wasting your time. Dorie was one of my guests in the Hell of Networking episode of The Broad Experience and contributes regularly to HBR and Forbes. This woman knows a thing or two about being efficient. She’s on a mission to spend every hour wisely and get other people to follow suit. I wanted to share a few of my takeaways from the webinar here.

If you work for a company, this may be a daily issue you’ve been wrangling with for years. There’s good stuff in here for consultants too.

Dorie’s tips:

Handling the boss

If you’re trying to be more efficient at work but you have this boss who’s holding you back (by monopolizing meetings with personal stories, for instance), try to bring them into the endeavor – make the idea seem collaborative so the boss is part of it. So say something along the lines of, “I want to be my most effective – would you be willing to help me think that through?” The boss then recognizes the worthiness of the enterprise.

Meetings – the deadliest time suck

I haven’t spent a lot of time in meetings compared to many workers. But most of us spend hours in these things and feel our souls ebbing away with each passing minute.

Dorie says every meeting should have an agenda. And if anyone questions it, again, emphasize collaboration, i.e. “It’s in the interests of being productive.” How can anyone argue with that? “It’s the ultimate laudable goal,” says Dorie.

You should also have a timeline for the meeting. You could even try holding meetings standing up to see how much less time you fritter away when no one can lounge in a chair.

Also, ask if you really need to be at the meeting. Dorie calls it policing the guest list: should you be there? Who else should be there?

One example she gave is something that’s happened to her as a consultant who has found herself in meetings that were a complete waste of her time.

“If you’re asked to a general meeting ask what it’s about and why you should be there,” she says. She suggests saying something like, ‘It occurs to me if this is a preliminary meeting it might be more efficient for me to look over the meeting notes and then comment on those.’”

Still, we have to be careful how we couch these suggestions. Dorie says you must avoid giving the impression that this is about you or your needs – you need to couch it in terms of, “This is about using my time wisely so I can benefit the company.”

Can I pick your brain?

I’ve written about this before. Dorie is not a fan of brain-picking requests as they are generally so fuzzy and eat your time. She mentioned a woman who was flooded with such requests and finally opted to have her correspondents fill out a form: the form was designed to make them think through what they wanted to ask and invest the time to be ready for the meeting when it came. Needless to say, only the most serious people bothered to go through this process.

Can we talk?

How to deal with employees stopping by your office, asking if they can have a word? Many managers don’t want to have a closed-door policy but they find it hard to get any work done with people always dropping in. Dorie suggests having office hours on a specific day or days, and making sure the time spent together is targeted.

She has a sensible way of funneling meeting times herself – she blocks out chunks of time on Mondays and Thursdays to book calls. The rest of her week is then free for other work. 

You can read Dorie's Harvard Business Review piece on this topic here.