4 Clues You Might Be Wasting Time at Work

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As a working parent, you know how precious those hours are where you have dedicated, child-free time to do your job. You enjoy the privilege of drinking your coffee hot, taking bathroom breaks by yourself, and catching up on adult conversations.

You also know that the time you spend at work is time spent away from your kiddo. You want to make the most of it so that your evenings and weekends can be devoted to your family.

But work never stops and with such easy access to email and text, it’s all too easy to drag out projects and conversations and let your work follow you outside the office. And that’s not the you that you want your kids to see.

You want to show them that work time is for work and family time is for family. That you are productive and efficient enough that you can accomplish everything you need to AT work. You are great at what you do, but it doesn’t happen at the expense of your family.

You work to live.

True, there will always be the occasional exception to this. Sometimes after-work hours are required to get a particular job done. You get that, and you do that when it’s necessary. But it’s not something that you want to create a habit out of.

If leaving work at work, or ending your workday feeling like you’ve accomplished what you need to, is not the norm for you, I might ask you one somewhat awkward question:

Are you wasting time at work?

Sure, there’s always more you could do when it comes to your job. I don’t think anyone is immune from recent trends of asking everyone to do more with less. But if you’re setting your expectations realistically, working efficiently and with focus, and prioritizing not just the work that you do, but also how you want to live your life, then you should be able to leave the office or workplace each day ready to focus on your family.

So how do you know if you are wasting time at work? Here are some clues you should be on the lookout for:

You’re Not Tracking Your Time

If you’ve ever been a billable resource, you know how important it is to be tracking your time so you can accurately display to the client what you’re doing and how much it’s going to cost. But even if you’re a salaried employee or aren’t required to track your time to bill against a project, it’s still an insanely helpful habit to get into. There are lots of time-tracking apps out there (I like Toggl). It’s a brutally honest way to see what you’re doing. And it also makes you second guess any task that you put into the time tracker because no one wants to see in writing that you spend an hour of your workday scrolling the web or chatting with coworkers.

  • Action: Try tracking your time for one week, and then analyze the results. What are you spending too much time on? Where can you delegate or what should you re-prioritize?

Your To-Do List Always Seems to Grow

This is less about wasting time and more about being intentional and realistic with your time. If you’re like most working moms, you live and die by some sort of to-do list. In fact, you probably have multiple lists! It’s rare that I have a week where I cross everything off, but I do regularly have days where I accomplish everything that I set out to accomplish. Magic? No, it’s about restraint. It’s about knowing that on average, you get to anywhere from 3-6 items/tasks/projects and anything more than on your to-do list is just setting you up for disappointment. Plus, a longer list leaves no wiggle room for the unexpected emergencies that come up, following up on previous days’ work, or working toward those long-term goals. So if you’re always adding more than you are crossing off, it might be time to rethink your system.

  • Action: Create a long-running task list where you get everything out of your head and onto the list. Set it aside - close, but not visible all day long. Then start creating your daily to-do list with just a few items. Maybe just 3. Give yourself a couple of days to see how it feels to cross ALL 3 THINGS off your list and decide if you want to create the next day’s list with 4 items. Be sure that you can keep up with the pace and still have wiggle room in your day for meetings, appointments and the unexpected.

You’re Easily Distracted

The mental load of a working mom is intense. Remembering schedules, errands, and all of those pesky to-dos that keep the house running is enough for a full-time job. It’s no wonder that when you have child-free time, your instinct is to start tackling those items. But when you’re trying to get your job done during limited hours at work, these distractions are costing you your productivity. Because once you open yourself up to distractions of trying to get non-work items completed, you also open yourself up to the distraction of scrolling social media, chatting with coworkers, or any other drama that’s going on at the office. There’s absolutely a time for taking breaks and chatting with colleagues. But it should never come at the expense of making progress on your 3-6 tasks for the day or doing your job.

  • Action: Try scheduling in time on your calendar for some “distractions”. If you NEED to check social media during the day, schedule 20 minutes over lunch to aimlessly scroll. If you HAVE to make that doctor’s appointment or a quick purchase on Amazon, again, put it on the calendar like an appointment. You know whether or not you have the time to do that in your workday. Having it in black and white not only helps you see how many hours and tasks you have to play with during your day, but it also relieves you of any guilt. Commit to doing those distracting things and don’t feel guilty about it. You’re still getting everything else that you need to get done, done.

You Always Need Just a Few More Minutes

When 5pm rolls around and you have to pack-up or else be late for picking up the kids, you always do so with a sigh. You always have emails that you didn’t respond to, projects that are half-finished, and a desk that looks like a tornado blew threw minutes before. If only you had one more hour before you had to go. You’d feel so much better. But would you?

If you’re scheduling your time, being realistic with your productivity expectations, and limiting your distractions, you should be able to end most days feeling pretty good about what you were able to accomplish. Before you blame your kids or head into the hectic evening schedule feeling frustrated or disappointed, try making some changes to how you do things during the day. But then the biggest step to feeling good through this transition is to change how you think about it.

  • Action: Stop beating yourself up for everything that you didn’t do. You can’t change the past (ie your now finished workday) so don’t let it hold power over your evening. Tell yourself - “everything happened exactly as it should have” - and let it go. Next, list off a few things that you are grateful for. Maybe it’s amazing childcare, the podcast that you’re about to listen to on your drive to get the kids, a job that provides for your family, or the opportunity to learn new things. Moving forward, start blocking the last 15-20 minutes of your day to make your short task list for tomorrow, clean up any straggling emails, and create a plan for yourself for tomorrow to do better than you did today. Leave work feeling confident and prepared for tomorrow and then go enjoy those kids. Remember what your priorities for life are.

Habits and Seasons

How many of these resonated with you? If you’re honest with yourself, do you think you’re wasting more time at work than you realized?

It’s ok. We all have good days and bad days. Our productivity and focus cycles in seasons and I believe it works against us to fight that. But I also believe there are good habits that you can adopt to allow for a more even flow of productivity during the workday. That will create a more manageable task list and schedule that can leave you feeling satisfied, productive, confident, and at ease.

No one wants to show their kids that they spend all day away from them at a job that makes them feel constantly stressed and overwhelmed. What does that leave for the most important people in your life?

Make the most of those hours away from your kids. And then make the most of the time you have with them. Don’t be distracted. Don’t waste your time.