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The 7 things stopping you from leaving work on time

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Brigid Moss learns how to get through her to-do list – and actually get stuff done

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By Brigid Moss on

Have you ever reached the end of a work day with zero ticks on the list? No sense of satisfaction? No deadlines nailed? And yet… and yet you’ve been busy, running around, in meetings, emailing, dealing with people and problems… “You might not even realise you’re wasting time,” says coach, trainer and psychotherapist John McLachlan, co-author of Time Mastery (Panoma Press, £12.99). A clue is if you’re going home at the end of the day exhausted, having used up your brain power. In his work helping clients get more out of every day – and go home on time – McLachlan has identified seven key time-wasters – we all do some of them, and some of us do all of them (guilty!). “Once you’ve got awareness of these habits, you can replace them with an effective strategy.” Here’s how to make the most of every single minute:

1 Thinking or talking about things that are out of your control

If you spend your first 20 minutes at work talking about your night out or Netflix, this is you, says McLachlan. Same goes for discussing other people’s love lives and sex lives, or other departments. All the chat we love the most, in fact. It even includes weather chat. “It’s anything that’s nothing to do with you and you can’t do anything about,” says McLachlan. NB: everyone needs some downtime for focus – but five minutes, not 25.

How to stop wasting time: Ask yourself: “Can I change this?” “If you can do something about it, go and do it. If you can do nothing, let it go.”

2 Fantasising about the future

This could be daydreaming about what you’d do if you won the lottery. Or what you’d do or say if you were reunited with an ex, promoted or just richer. Fantasising is also how the “beach body” diet taps into our psyche – the marketing hype says if we lose weight, our holiday would be more fun when, in fact, any body is a beach body. “Or you might think, because you didn’t go to university you can’t get a good job, rather than, I didn’t go to university but there are so many things I can do,” says McLachlan.

How to stop wasting time: Notice when you’re thinking about something and ask yourself, “Is this a goal or a dream? Do I want to do anything about this?”

3 Going over, in your mind, conversations that have already happened

The post-job-interview post-mortem is a classic example. Say the feedback was that you didn’t know enough about a key client. You might keep thinking, I do know about that, I wish I’d told them. Or, I’m sure I said I knew about that. “This is either because you haven’t got the outcome you wanted. Or ,you are thinking, I wish I’d said or done something different.”

At the start of the day, write the three key things you want to get done. For 'busy' work, eg emails and social media, allocate three slots a day

How to stop wasting time: Think to yourself: “That conversation is done. What has it taught me? What can I do to prepare for the next meeting or interview?” If you’re emotional about it, ask yourself: “Why am I angry or sad? How can I use that energy to send me in a direction I do want?”

4 Doing activity without a clear outcome for you

If you’re checking your phone or email every five minutes, in non-essential meetings, talking to colleagues about their issues or problems. “People get hooked on activity, not being productive. They like to look busy and important.”

How to stop wasting time: Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” for every task. At the start of the day, write the three key things you want to get done. For “busy” work, eg emails and social media, allocate three slots a day. And if someone comes to your desk and asks for a minute, decide if it’s efficient use of your time.

5 Having too many open loops

This is doing too many things, all the time, because you don’t want to forget one of them. “I compare this to a computer: if you have too many windows open, it’s tiring you out in the background and you don’t even know it,” says McLachlan.

How to stop wasting time: If you’re in the middle of one project and something else comes into your head, write it down or allocate a time to it in your planner. You can even decide to park it for a week: “That’s taking action as well.”

6 Overthinking without taking action

Going round and round and wondering about the same issue? “It’s a waste of time but also energy,” says McLachlan. Maybe what to do about a relationship or a work situation. Maybe there’s a colleague who’s undermining you? Or stealing your ideas? Or not pulling their weight?

How to stop wasting time: Take action. Find out more by asking questions, send an email, make a phone call. Make a plan. If there’s nothing you can do, decide to forget it and move on.

7 Believing “perfect” exists

“Some people wear perfectionism like a badge,” says McLachlan. “Striving for better and for quality is all good. But striving for perfection is an exhausting and pointless game.” The perfectionist may reload the dishwasher for the perfect wash – but what if just getting the dishes washed is good enough? “At work, the perfectionist may get a reputation for delay and failure to deliver.”

How to stop wasting time: Think about the outcome: do you want it to be finished and to move forward or do you want to make it perfect? Ask yourself: "What is good enough?" Then just do whatever it takes to get there: make the decision, deliver the report, finish the project.


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