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The Science of Increasing Productivity: Lay Waste to Time Wasters

Today, we're going to look at how you waste time. According to a survey by, the average worker spends over two hours a day socializing or on coffee breaks. In addition, Americans spend almost four hours a day watching TV. I personally spend almost no time watching TV, so that means that some guy in Iowa has to watch 8 hours a day just to make up for me! And according to Microsoft Research, half the time we spend in meetings is a complete waste of time, and most workers spend over half an hour on Facebook each day—and most of that time is while at work. When you figure in all of our other distractions and interruptions, it's amazing we ever get anything done. Not only do our time-wasting activities keep us from getting stuff done, they also make us less happy, and cost the world billions of dollars in lost revenue.

So what are your favorite ways to waste time at work? Facebook? Looking at the stock market? Youtube clips? What exactly do you do that wastes time? Surprisingly, for most people, one form of not being efficient with time is what is known as multitasking. In fact, are you multitasking right now as I talk to you? I hope not because, while you may think multitasking leads to more productivity, studies show that it can actually reduce productivity by up to 40%. In one study reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they found that students took far longer to solve problems when they multitasked. In addition, studies at the University of California found that multitaskers work faster, but actually produce less and feel much more stress and frustration than those who don't multitask. Professor Earl Miller of M.I.T. goes as far as to say that "Brain scans show that people can't truly multitask very well, and when they say they can, they're deluding themselves."

It ends up that our brains can really only focus well on one thing at a time. When we multitask, we tend to lose productivity because we are continually interrupting the main task we're trying to accomplish.

Everyone knows that a continuous stream of interruptions is not the best way to get a lot done. While multitasking may seem like the path to productivity, in actuality, it is often the path to increased stress and frustration. That's why truly productive people tend to be those who are known for their great ability to focus—not their great ability to multitask. Therefore, if you truly want to be able to focus and get a lot done, letting go of time wasters and the habit of multitasking are an important part of the formula.

So right now, sit up straight in your chair, take a deep breath, and then let it out with a long, slow sigh.


So starting today, become more aware of your time-wasting activities and tendency to multitask. Whenever I catch myself multitasking or wasting time, I like to ask myself the question, "What's my most important task right now?" Then, I let go of anything else I'm doing and focus on what's really important in the moment. Perhaps that question will also work for you. In case you were multitasking when I first said it, Once again, the question is, "What's my most important task right now?"

Now I should add that if something really gives you great joy, it's not a time-waster. But endless Facebook posts, TV cop shows, and surfing the Internet probably don't add much to your happiness. They also crowd out the time you need to make progress on your most important goals. Whenever you say "yes" to a time-wasting activity, you really say "NO" to things like taking care of your body, advancing your career, or even spending quality time with those you care for. That's why it's important to notice what you do that's a poor use of your time. By noticing your particular time-wasting activities, you'll naturally start to lessen or eliminate those happenings.

In our next lesson, we are going to explore the art and skill of successful delegation.

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Written by

Jonathan Robinson