We all do it.

Even with the best intensions most of us waste some time at work. We can chalk it up to being human and having a lot of distractions in a day—from chatty co-workers to meetings to unclear priorities. In Salary.com’s 2013 Wasting Time at Work Survey, 69 percent of their respondents said they waste time at work every day.

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If you’re a project management professional or ambitious careerist, you’re probably always looking for new ways to increase productivity and optimize your time. A great first step is to recognize the ways you inadvertently let valuable time slip through your fingers—and make the appropriate changes.

Here are 3 popular workplace time-wasters, and tips to rein them in.

1. Interruptions. One study says that people can waste up to two hours per day of productivity based on interruptions. One reason for this is that it can take around 20 minutes to get back into a work groove after your flow is interrupted. Of course, sometimes distractions are welcome (admit it!)—whether it’s a team member asking for your input, to talking about a TV show. And while interruptions will happen, the trick is minimizing them so they don’t kill your work productivity.

Tip: Put your head down for set periods of time—25, 50 or 75 minutes—whatever is a realistic stretch of time to accomplish a task. If you’re in an office, close your door.  If you’re in an open space, wear headphones, or set up some kind of Do Not Disturb signage around your desk area.  Other common tricks are to turn off email and instant messaging; close all the browsers, apps and docs you’re not using. Also, don’t think you have to drop everything when a co-worker asks for something. Try lines like, “Set up some time for us and I can give you my full attention” to a simple “Can you give me a minute, I’m in the middle of something.” This might change some of your team members’ interrupting habits as well.

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 2. Meetings. In the Salary.com survey, employees named “too many meetings” as one of their main distractions and time wasters. The culture of meetings is getting a few punches these days, as organizations recognize how much work goes undone when stakeholders spend their days sitting in consecutive meetings and letting their action items languish.

Tips: Meetings should be carefully and intentionally held. The most effective meetings are ones that help move the project forward. Stay away from overdoing long weekly status meetings; a better option is to take a page from Agile teams and hold 15-minute stand-up meetings if your project will benefit from a regular check in. Otherwise, the burst of new collaborative project management software hitting the market lets teams work and access status updates in one central location.  This reduces the need for meetings and increases productivity.

3. Socializing with co-workers. This is a double-edged sword, as stated by different studies. The Salary.com survey says that 43% of their respondents blamed interacting with coworkers as the main reason they missed doing work. However, there’s an upside to this social interaction. Other studies have found that coffee room chats and serendipitous conversations can increase productivity through the exchange of information, ideas and problem solving strategies, and the quick emotional boost that comes with making meaningful connections.

Tip: Think about socializing as you would managing a project. If you find yourself in an unplanned conversation, give yourself ten minutes to talk rather than letting the conversation go on too long. Sometimes, you just have to exercise discipline and walk away from a group conversation.  Or, consolidate your social interactions. Make coffee or lunch appointments to get to know a co-worker better, hash out some project issues and solve challenges together. 

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4. Unclear priorities. It happens too often: Individuals and teams find themselves working on tasks that they discover aren’t the latest priority. Projects move fast and are filled with changes and uncertainty. When teams are disorganized—either because of poor communication or non-transparent project management tools—teams flail, valuable time is wasted and projects get behind schedule.

Tip: If you’re not sure what you should be working on, ask. If you’re a team leader, make sure you communicate often, clearly and succinctly. Ask yourself if you are confident that your team is working on what matters most to the business today. Use a project management tool that everyone on the team can access to see the latest status. We’re a bit preferential to our product, LiquidPlanner, because it lets users prioritize tasks easily, so it’s never a mystery about what you should be working on. Whatever your PM tool, find a system that gives everyone on your team clarity about priorities each and every day. And, assume nothing!

5. The Internet, social media and personal emails. There are a few dynamics going on here: Dropping in on Facebook and other social media during the day is the new water cooler break. And we all check out something on the Internet that isn’t work related—from news articles to shopping. Do we even need to explain email? We have a personal life, folks!

Tip:  Instead of nickel-and-diming your time by browsing the Internet, checking your social media sites and responding to personal emails, set aside a designated time, say 10-15 minutes twice a day for these activities. You’ll save time from all the restart time that goes along with frequent quick interruptions (see No. 1). Plus, it’s a good discipline practice to increase your focus and overall productivity.

What’s your favorite or most plaguing time waster—and what do you do about it? Tell us in Comments!

Related stories:
5 Essential Organizational Habits
7 Work-Life Balance Tips for Project Managers
How to Be More Productive With Your Time: Q&A With Productivity Author Laura Vanderkam

5 Reasons We Waste Time at Work—and What to Do About It was last modified: June 12th, 2014 by Tatyana Sussex