The case for shutting up -- how we waste time at work

Aug. 16, 2012 at 10:30 AM ET

Bruce Ayres / Getty Images /
Web surfing? Facebook? Online shopping? No. The water cooler, or its equivalent, kills the most time.

Technology may be revolutionizing the workplace, but old-fashioned distractions like meetings and chatting with co-workers are still considered the biggest office time-wasters.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a survey of office workers, released Thursday by TrackVia, a Denver-based software company.

Office chit-chat ranked as the No. 1 work distraction, the top choice of 14 percent of those surveyed, while meetings and computer problems followed close behind at 11 percent each.

Other time wasters mentioned by survey respondents:

  • Surfing the web
  • Dealing with office politics
  • Addressing misunderstandings with co-workers
  • Using social media
  • Checking email
  • Following company rules and procedures

It’s no surprise employees see going to meetings as a major obstacle to accomplishing their work-day goals, says productivity expert Laura Stack.

“A lot of people feel like they spend their entire day in meetings,” says Stack, a Denver-based speaker and author who leads 80 to 100 productivity training sessions a year.

In her experience with clients, however, employees waste far more time checking email, instant messages and social media like Facebook -- what she calls “tech time” -- than dealing with computer problems or on other non-critical tasks. “You could sit in your inbox all day and at the end of the day say, ‘Where’d all my time go?’” Stack says.

Holly Witt, a Portland, Ore., insurance account executive, says social media is her biggest time waster, especially Facebook.

“I keep telling myself to deactivate the account and I am almost there,” she says.

Slightly more than half of employees surveyed (51 percent) say they waste up to two hours a week on tasks that aren’t work related or don’t help them “get real work done.” Approximately 11 percent say they waste 6 to 9 hours on nonessential tasks, and close to 4 percent said they waste 10 to 19 hours during the work week, according to the survey.

The survey of 300 workers, conducted this month by Amplitude Research, has a margin of error of about 6 percent.


    Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., reporter who wastes time at work on Twitter and Pinterest.

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