Stop me if this sounds familiar to you. You sit down to work, determined to plow through that Inbox full of hundreds of unopened emails, and two hours later, you are dismayed to realize you’ve barely made a dent. What happened?

You’ve just been a victim of time-wasting.

But don’t worry; you’re not alone. Entrepreneurs and employees alike are wasting valuable time on non-work-related activities: 11% of those surveyed by Salary.com waste hours every single day at work!

Identifying those time-wasters is the first step toward eliminating them from your day.

1. Social Media. Sure, if you manage social profiles for your business, you will need to spend time on these sites on a regular basis. But if you’re spending more than an hour a day (and even that’s a lot for most businesses), it’s either because:

  • You’re getting distracted by reading other people’s updates
  • You don’t know how to effectively manage the time you spend

If your problem is the former, it will take willpower to pull yourself away from Aunt Sally’s pet portraits. Allot 10 minutes before you start your day to see what’s going on with your personal network, then shut it off.

If you simply don’t know how to use your social time wisely, try a tool like Hootsuite, that will help you schedule updates in advance so you don’t spend all day posting to Twitter and G+.

2. Checking Email Too Frequently. Everyone disagrees about how often we should check our email. Tim Ferriss says you don’t need to check it more than 2-3 times a day. Others couldn’t fathom cutting it down so much. But we can all agree: we’re wasting a lot of time checking email.

Start by turning off any audio signal that alerts you when you have new email. We’ve become Pavlovian in that when we hear this sound, we’re attuned to stop what we’re doing and see who has emailed us. Then set up specific times to check your email. If you’re an email addict, aim for once an hour, and then pare down from there.

3. Not Being Organized. If you don’t know what you’re working on in a given day, it’s easy to lose focus quickly. Each evening, before you shut down for the day, look at what needs to get done the following day, and prioritize that list. That way, if something new pops up, you know to put it at the bottom of your list (unless it takes precedence).

4. Switching Between Tasks. Not only does it take longer to refocus when you deviate from a task you were working on to check email or your Twitter stream, but it also makes you less smart. Multitasking (or task switching, a term popular vernacular is leaning toward) is a given in our fast-paced world, but it comes at a price.

As best you can, block off time to work on a single project (with your allotted email-checking time scheduled before or after) and don’t lose focus. When you’re done, take a small break, and move on to the next task.

The list of time-wasting activities goes on and on. Identify the ones that are keeping you from being productive, and ask yourself why you’re allowing yourself to be distracted. Maybe you have a large, overwhelming project you simply don’t want to tackle. In that case, break it down into manageable activities and take it from there.


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