We all have days, or even weeks, on the job when our productivity declines. But if your output has been steadily diminishing, it could be because you're wasting time rather than focusing on key tasks at hand. If that's the case, the sooner you curb that behavior, the less likely it'll be to compromise your job. Here are a few steps you can take to stop wasting time at work -- and start doing your job more efficiently.
1. Lock yourself in quiet spaces
It's easy to get distracted at the office when you're surrounded by chatty colleagues and side conversations that are far more interesting than the work you're supposed to be doing. But if you let yourself get sucked into those discussions, you're likely to fall behind and incur your boss's wrath as a result. If you can't tear yourself away from the folks around you long enough to stop wasting time, remove the temptation by regularly setting up shop in a quieter spot in the office, like the corner conference room most folks forget about. You might even ask your manager for permission to use his or her office if your boss doesn't use it all that much.
2. Turn off your cellphone
A quick text message here and there during the workday might seem innocent enough, but a brief back-and-forth can quickly turn into a full-fledged conversation -- one that takes you away from more important tasks. If you're eager to stop wasting time at the office, silence your cellphone. Give family members and close friends a way to reach you in an emergency (such as by calling your office's landline), and turn on that phone only during designated breaks.
3. Organize your calendar
It's easy to inadvertently waste time when you don't have a preset schedule outlining your days at work. But if you're guilty of not maximizing your time at the office, it'll help to create a daily calendar with blocks of time for various tasks. For example, if you give yourself from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to write up your weekly data analysis report, you'll be less likely to waste time during that period knowing that you only have an hour allocated to that task.
4. Organize your space
A messy workspace can make you downright inefficient even when you're trying to do better. If your desk is full of clutter, carve out some time to get it organized. Shred papers you don't need, file essential documents in some sort of order, and make your supplies more accessible. The less time you spend navigating the disaster zone that is your workspace, the more time you'll free up to actually do your job.
5. Build in breaks
Sometimes we waste time at work by talking to colleagues, checking text messages, or surfing the internet because our minds need a break from the constant grind. If that sounds like you, then you're better off scheduling some breaks during the day but powering through otherwise. For example, you might carve out 20 minutes in the morning or afternoon to chat with coworkers or look at your favorite websites. This way, you'll get that need out of your system so you can then go back to concentrating.
The more time you waste at work, the more your manager and peers are apt to take notice -- and that's a good way to hurt your reputation and put your job at risk. Instead, clean up your act and keep searching for ways to be more efficient. Doing so might also spare you the misery of having to burn the midnight oil when deadlines loom and your work just hasn't gotten done.