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Thursday, July 12, 2020

The five least recognized thieves of productive time

How to win back large parts of your day.

When people write about time management, they usually focus on impersonal matters: prioritization, organization, various forms of distraction and loss of focus. All sound topics, and all safely open to being dealt with by training or some teachable techniques. But when I look back on my own career, I can see that these safe topics miss at least five of the most common—and most greedy—thieves of productive time. These are the five.
Not only do these five behaviors waste time on a grand scale, they’re all notable stress producers as well. You can’t deal with them by techniques, fancy software, or skill training. The behaviors I’m thinking of are too personal for that. The only way to deal with them is to bring them into the open and see them for what they are: brazen thieves of time, attention, and—most pernicious of all—peace of mind. Then determine to wage all-out war on them to break yourself of the hold they have on you.

Holding grudges

Like a corpse rising from its grave, putrid and stinking of decay, the habit of holding grudges digs around in what’s dead and gone and drags it out to corrupt the present. How many actions are taken in the workplace with the express intention of paying off old scores? How many projects are derailed, how much information withheld, how much time and money wasted, just so that one person can take pleasure in making sure another’s plans fail or career is harmed?

Scoring petty points

The second habit consumes significant amounts of time and effort to no purpose, and is almost as shameful as the first. Meetings are often riddled with items there for the express purpose of scoring points. The sole purpose of this tawdry activity—the cause of hours wasted on needless reporting, worthless presentations, and sham questions—is to score some insignificant victory against a rival. Do these activities produce anything beneficial? Nothing whatsoever. Do they waste time, increase stress, and send people away angry and humiliated? I think the answer is obvious.

Jealousy

Jealousy defiles too many choices and actions: jealousy of another’s achievements, career progress, popularity, or even looks. If holding grudges is like a science-fiction corpse climbing from its grave, jealousy reminds me of vampire stories; of some smooth and cloying creature that sucks the blood out of living people to sustain its own existence. I have seen fine creative ideas shelved, product improvements reversed, customers deliberately lost, and false accusations raised, with the sole purpose of feeding someone’s jealousy.

Anyone who steals from their employer is rightly labeled a thief. Someone who wastes resources through lack of ability is likely to be fired for incompetence. But the jealous ones—the ones who often destroy far more value and throw away resources on a larger scale to feed their obsession—all too often get away with it.

I began deliberately with the most obnoxious and serious habits. My last two are, in many ways, ridiculous and childish. Yet they still consume huge amounts of time that might otherwise be put to good use; and they probably cause at least as much stress and pain as any of the other three.

The habit of gossiping

That’s certainly true of gossiping. How many hours are wasted in idle, often malicious tittle-tattle? How many e-mails, instant messages, and phone calls are sent with no other purpose than to spread tales, or delight in cruel or salacious rumors? And don’t waste time pointing out to me that various media publications consist of nothing else. People make money out of peddling drugs, but that isn’t seen as a reason for encouraging the trade. Gossip is a total waste of time at best, and usually considerably worse: mean-minded, self-righteous, bigoted, and petty.

Countless people suffer stress and pain because others gossip about them, knowing full well the hurt they will cause. Time and resources are wasted, communication systems abused, and reputations undermined for the same reason. Saying that it’s common doesn’t excuse it.

Showing-off

The final item on my list is showing-off. How many presentations have you sat through that were put together for that purpose? How many pointless meetings are organized so that someone can indulge in a public display of their importance? How many useless reports have been generated in pursuit of personal aggrandizement, or fatuous requests made for unnecessary data? The pompous jerks who inflate themselves at every opportunity may be ridiculous—even comic—but they still waste massive amounts of time and cause extra work for everyone around them.

Any organization—or any leader, come to that—that truly wishes to cut costs and eliminate waste could do no better than start by declaring total war on these five habits, personally and organizationally. And any individual—yes, maybe even you—who wants to cut their stress levels and increase their peace of mind should look deeply into their mind and actions and tear out all traces of these miserable habits.

They are worthless, they are poisonous, and they are hateful. Treat them like the malignant diseases they are. Don’t tolerate them for another day in yourself, and do all that you can to discourage them in others.

It’s my guess that you will be amazed at the time—and cost reductions—that will follow; to say nothing of the massive improvement in the working atmosphere.



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