Late with a delivery? Don’t blame the baker!

How to stop wasting time and get things done
Reading Time: 6 min

Time. It’s a bitch. It doesn’t care about what we want, it just moves forward, unstoppable. Deadline’s approaching but time doesn’t pause to let us catch up.

Time is extremely valuable. What we do with our time decide our quality of life. It is not a small thing to think about. Using our time wisely is one of the best investments we can do.

Everybody talks about work / life balance. There’s a million pages written about that, hopefully by people who knows anything about the subject. That is not me and this article is not about that.

This article is about how to stop wasting your time at work

I don’t mean wasting your time in a judgemental sense, like your parents bugged you about video games. Wasting time is to do something genuinely meaningless, it doesn’t lead to anything valuable except to make the hours pass. Utterly depressing if you think about it.

THAT is the stuff we should get rid off in our work life. So here is a list with 10 of my top time wasters, personally experienced or externally observed, not in any particular order.

Don’t waste your time on the ones that make no sense! Let’s go!

Phone conference? I am out!

People sitting too far away from a crappy speakerphone, bad connections, 20 people on the call and no way to know who is who. Any comment poses a serious risk at extending the call with 20 minutes, so the smart ones just shut up and solve any questions after the call.

The client must be thinking: “Am I actually paying for all these?”. I am thinking: “I should not be here. This does not make me happy or produce any value”. Just hang up. There was a tunnel. No one will notice anyway.

Brainstorm — but who’s gonna sort the Post-its?

BIG ideas don’t fit on small notes

Generating ideas for ideas sake. In a brainstorm session we let our ideas flow uncensored out in the room. How do you think that affects the quality of the ideas?

The end result is a lot of questionable ideas on Post-it notes that some poor bastard has to get into an email to everyone, an email that no one will read (see below).

People don’t read anymore

Consider expressing yourself with a gif next time to get some attention

Send a mail with three questions and get an answer on one of them, if you are lucky. Number them 1. 2. and 3. and now we are up to 66% success rate. There are some other tricks that can increase the percentage slightly but we will never reach 100%, one more mail will always be needed.

The solution? Only have one question in the mail. Or even better, skip the question, inform about what you are going to do, don’t wait for an answer and just do it.

Slack attack!

Yes? No? Yes? No? Yes? No? Yes? No?

Disruptive technology. I cannot imagine anything more disruptive than text messaging in all its flavors. You send a question that you need answered, then you wait. And wait. And wait. Finally the other person starts writing, you see that annoying animation, but they NEVER PRESS RETURN. They are writing a novel about something that was a simple yes/no question.

Even if the answer is short and snappy the conversation is in extreme slow motion. Whoever says that a chat text conversation is efficient (defined as “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense”) is LYING. Disruption. It’s the future.

If you are the one in need of an answer, either don’t ask and just do, or if you really need an answer, call (surprise!).

If you are getting constant messages, get offline, there is no way that you can get things done while Slack is disrupting your brain into pieces. Not being available will help people find the solution themselves.

Talking is a good thing (sometimes)

Not meetings, one-on-one conversations, not necessarily IRL. Whenever something is complicated to explain or you can be sure there will be follow up questions, don’t send a mail or text message. Even the simplest issue can take 4, 5, 6 rounds back and forth, before you realize that you need to talk anyway. And then everything up to that point was a complete waste of time.

Talking is out of fashion, but to hear the reactions in someone’s voice when you say something will not only save time but lead to a deeper understanding from both sides.

Multi-tasking = multi-scratching the surface

A multi-scratched ball?

Some people seem to be able to handle lots of things at the same time. They don’t, they are only handling one thing: juggling. They have all focus on not dropping any of the balls.

If you want to be good at juggling, keep multitasking. If you want to get good at something else, set aside uninterrupted time to do things right from the ground up.

Digital Independence Day!

One of the worst films I have ever seen. Bill Pullman as the President was a disaster. Maybe it had worked better if I hadn’t seen “Ruthless People” first.

We are all part of a team where we depend on each other. Don’t overdo it! All dependencies are potential roadblocks in the process, think about if they are really beneficial.

This is huge topic! I have written about role definitions and responsibilities here, communication here, I will for sure revisit those topics and also write about decision making processes, documentation and more. Future posts to come 🙂.

But for now, let’s celebrate Digital Independence Day!

Become the Master of Time Estimates

How long does it take to do x? I don’t know. A task without a reliable time estimate is almost certainly a waste of time.

If you cannot time estimate a task then you don’t know enough about it. It contains one or more parts that are impossible to estimate. Without figuring out how to estimate it you can put yourself in deep shit.

I have seen examples of tasks that were estimated to some hours but actually took several weeks. In retrospect, did it have to be solved? In some cases yes. Was this the right way to solve it? Most probably, no.

Bad time estimates can break any schedule and put a whole team into panic mode. Catch the unknowns and figure out ways to contain them.

It all adds up (the bad, the good and the ugly)

Penne! Exceptional when paired with a chunky sauce.

Being a little late doesn’t seem that much of a deal but if you take a step back you will see how it all adds up. If you are just an hour late on each task, where will you be when you are supposed to be done?

The todo list is deceiving us. We do our tasks, check them off one by one. It feels good! We don’t notice that the planning has gradually shifted until we approach the deadline and suddenly there are a million tasks that just have to be done.

It might feel like scope creep, that we have been assigned tasks that were not in the original scope, but if we are honest to ourselves, it is time creep, the timeline is constantly updated based on creeping time estimates.

The warning signals are there all the time, too weak to be noticed until it all adds up. What started as a nice walk in the park ends hysterical with fourteen hour workdays for ten days straight.

To know if we are on time we need to start from the deadline and count backwards. Notice the early signs of a squeeze and take a step back. If what we are doing will lead to total chaos in the end, then we should probably do something else.

It was never the baker!

This metaphor is totally lost on me

Nor the butcher. It was us! Take responsibility! Not for others stupidity but for our own.

To take responsibility is to be in control.

We are not, and cannot be, responsible for others’ actions. Sometimes these actions puts us in a shitty situation. We can blame the baker all we want but we can only change ourselves. This is called learning.

Wrapping it up

The time we save should be used to get back on track instead of hunting our shadows, to get some energy instead of constant stress, to enjoy our life and remember why we chose to work with exactly this in our life and not something else.

But it is also in everyone’s interest, if we stop wasting our own time we also stop wasting others. So let’s stop wasting our time and save the world!


Do what I mean, not what I say!

Leadership through mind reading — a practical guide

Escape Dependency Hell!!

How to write bug free code Part III

Code is for humans, computers don’t care

How to write bug free code part IV

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