5 Steps to Taking Back Your Time at Work

by Cathy Vandewater | February 16, 2012

Ever feel like you spend all your time in the conference room?

Well, if you're high up on the executive food chain, you might.

A new study of CEOs shows that 18 of their average 55-hour work weeks are spent at roundtables—and a mere 6 spent at their actual desks, working alone.

The rest of the work week breakdown is as follows: 2 hours on phone calls, 2 on conference calls, 2 on public events, 5 on business meals, and 20 on "miscellaneous," which includes travel back and forth between activities, personal appointments and activities, and "exercise" (which we're a little confused on, frankly).

There's nothing particularly wrong with spending a lot of time in meetings, if that's where you get the most done. This particular study found that, when CEOs were meeting internally, productivity improved company-wide.

But we're not all executives—and whether sitting in pointless meetings, pushing papers around, or just staring at our work, unable to focus, we're all probably losing a little time during the work day.

So how to regain it? First, know what you should be spending your time on—then identify where it's actually going.

1. What's really important?

Take a second to think about your role at work, and what your most important duties are while on the job. Jot down your goals and targets, and the tasks you perform at work that most correspond with accomplishing those goals. Then map out a rough number of hours per week you'd like to designate to those tasks.

2. Keep a log

We don't all have assistants to track our activities for us, but try your best with a notebook and pen. Write down every activity at work that lasts for more than 15 minutes for at least a day, and at best, a full week. Also track breaks from work that last for more than 15 minutes, and how they were spent—paying extra attention to what you did when you came back, and how you felt (Sluggish? Recharged?)

3. Compare and contrast

Once you've completed your log, go over it with three categories in mind: prioritized tasks, busy work, and rest periods. So what's the verdict? Have you actually been spending an appropriate number of hours on your most important work tasks? You may find that you're dodging important work to tackle minute-to-minute activities like answering email. Look for patterns in your behavior—do you start getting distracted when you've worked too long without a break? Is your focus better at certain times of the day? Do certain activities--like leaving the office for lunch or playing Words with Friends in the staff room--help you refocus once you're back at your desk?

4. Identify lost time

If you feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day, check your log for busy-work and rest periods. How much time did you spend answering emails? Organizing your pens? Attending meetings where you didn't contribute or learn anything relevant to your job? By consolidating this time—designating a few minutes once per hour to check email, setting aside a quick block of time once per week to sort paper work—you can get a handle on those lost minutes, and hold onto your focus for the important stuff.

5. Making the most of down time

Look at your rest periods, and what you did when you came back to work from them. When were you most productive? After a trip to the gym? A quiet lunch alone, or a fun coffee meeting with a coworker or friend? Everybody's different—some people recharge from a little time to reflect, while others get psyched up by socializing. Whatever helps you get into your zone, identify it, and don't judge yourself. Time spent effectively recharging is just as important as working.

Read More:
Where's the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting (WSJ)
Work Smarter: 4 Tips for Increasing Your Productivity

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues


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