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6 Time Wasters at Work You Need to Drop ASAP

We’re always told to “limit distractions,” but what are they, even, and when do they creep up?

So little time, so much to do—yet there always seems to be room for “harmless” distraction. Round up these small interruptions, however, and it can get pretty alarming to see the total amount of time they actually take up.

Reports are in and show that office workers can waste up to three hours of their workday on distractions with roughly 56 minutes spent on non-work-related smartphone use. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, also observed that on average, an employee is “interrupted or switches tasks every three minutes and five seconds.”

The issue at hand isn’t just about time wasted either: the bounce back itself from time spent on distraction requires a considerable warm-up (or re-warm-up) period. Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, Gloria Mark found in 2008 that it takes a person 23 minutes to get back in the zone and regain focus for his or her intended assignments.

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When it comes to distraction, it’s better to attempt to nip things in the bud than to indulge in them at all—regardless of whether they happen in small doses that seem virtually harmless. Before we can even cut through the mental clutter, ditch the distractions and nix non-important, non-urgent matters. However, it pays to identify what it is we’re trying to drop.

Don’t squander your time and finally tap into more meaningful, more efficient work hours by dropping these time wasters, stat!


A ping! A beep! A buzz! Notifications are the sneaky culprits that open the floodgates to casual social media scrolling, attending to non-urgent work emails and getting sidetracked overall.

Whether on mobile or desktop, these alerts that pop up on the side of the screen are designed to disrupt. They grab your attention and demand a reactive response: to click on the badge before it disappears and see what’s up on that platform you got the notification from or to hit pause on your current train of thought to look over at banner or badge and hit the “x” button.

Adjust your notification settings and limit them to only the essentials: perhaps only on breaking news (especially if your line of work depends on staying on the pulse of these things).

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Work interactions peppered with small talk and gossip.

Should an officemate come forward with a work-related concern, by all means, entertain them. You may want to save the “what’s new with you” and “how was your weekend” chats for another time though. 

Some bad news for fans of small talk: it may make for a decent social lubricant, but it doesn’t do much to enrich relationships and turns out to be one of the biggest time wasters at work. Save both your time and your officemate’s by ditching small talk and gossip altogether.


It’s easy to fall into this trap: believing that answering emails right when they come in makes you an efficient, proactive employee. Au contraire, taking time and focus off actual work to check your email not only takes away from your productivity, but induces stress. Research shows that people who reduce the amount of time spent checking their email to just three times a day (compared to the 15 times per day by an average office worker) also reduces their stress levels.

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You’re looking at the #1 online distractor across all generations. Facebook, followed by Instagram and then Twitter, is the one distraction that houses many other smaller distractions. Here, it’s common for people to check notifications right when they get them (the sense of urgency only increases when they are alerted that they’ve been tagged in a post), engage in non-work-related conversation via the Messenger app and scroll through the newsfeed passively. 

Coffee Breaks

Literally removing yourself from the work zone has its pros and cons. A nice break from the same predictable scenery can work to reenergize and refresh you. At the same time, taking breaks when they aren’t needed does more harm than good.

A prime example of an efficient work break is looking far out the window and into the distance for 15 minutes to give your eyes rest from staring into your laptop. A counterproductive work break, meanwhile, is getting a second or third cup of coffee not because you feel like you’re powering down, but because you know you want to stall from your work. 

Impromptu Meetings

Schedules allow people to properly allot time for things that are non-urgent, but important. Think: big campaigns, major projects and planning sessions. Where does that leave officemates asking to borrow your time on the spot? This could mean that the meeting itself was, unfortunately, an afterthought, a byproduct of an oversight or actually does pertain to an urgent and important matter. The latter is hardly ever the case and oftentimes, discussing through email works just the same.

Some meetings are better off as emails.

Not Having an Agenda

Limiting distractions becomes a lot easier to do when you’ve got your eye on the prize. Besides, heading into work without a set of goals you want to accomplish is a lot like running around like a headless chicken. Write things down. Make them visible. Return to them throughout the day and tick those items off one by one. Would you believe, though, that assembling a to-do list itself leaves room for time wasters?

One way to optimize this is to use the 1-3-5 rule: in a day, target 1 big thing, three medium things and 5 small things. Put the 1 big thing first and get that out of the way before getting to work on all other tasks. The further down the list you go, the less urgent tasks should be.

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It’s time to get your time back! Drop these time wasters like one bad habit.

Words Nicole Blanco Ramos

Art Alex Lara

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