Taming technology time stealers

If you end too many workdays with a sense of “time regret” — that feeling of frustration when you see how many items on your to-do list you never got to — technology may be to blame.

Technology is a continuous source of distraction, and it often creates a false sense of urgency. “I must respond to this email now. I must send this instant message now. I must update my Facebook status now. I must watch this online video of cute kittens now.”

Stop and take a breath. More than likely, there are many things you encounter during the workday, or choose to spend time on, that could be put off until later (Facebook and kittens, for instance). Here are a few common technology time-stealers, and tips for taming them:

Internet surfing and social networking

You go online to find the location of a client’s headquarters office and the next thing you know, you’ve spent most of an hour catching up on news headlines, reading your favourite Twitter feeds, and scrolling through the latest LinkedIn notifications. Oops. A better approach is to build personal web surfing and social networking time into your day in a structured way, so you’ll be less inclined to wander when you need to stay focused. Set aside a 10-minute time window every two to three hours to take a quick peek at what’s happening on your favourite places on the web — in accordance with your company’s internet use policy, of course. This will help you to stay connected as well as productive.


Sometimes you’re astounded by the sheer number of emails you receive every day — not just from work colleagues and clients, but also friends, family, and the many publishers who send content you’ve subscribed to. No wonder you have more than 500 unread emails in your inbox. Immediately process the emails you receive and decide to delete, respond or file. (This may be uncomfortable at first if you’re used to letting unread emails languish, but in the end, you’ll feel like an anvil has been taken off your head.) Try using email filtering tools, too; there are many free or low-cost solutions available.

Instant messaging

Sure, instant messaging (IM) is convenient. But when your best buddies or family members use it frequently throughout the day just to touch base — thinking it’s less disruptive than calling you at work — you can easily get sucked into the vortex of idle chatter. The solution: If your company doesn’t already provide one, create a separate IM account for work only and use status messages to clearly convey your availability.


Mobile devices, and the many apps they support, can undermine your productivity. Ask yourself: “How much time do I spend fighting the Auto Correct feature when composing an email when I could simply make a call?” Or: “How often do I miss what’s being in said in meetings because I’m checking emails or playing Words With Friends?” Take a more disciplined approach to how and when you use mobile devices on the job, and you’ll reclaim wasted time in your workday. You’ll also likely improve the quality of your workplace interactions as well: Robert Half research suggests tech gadgets are leading to a decline in workplace etiquette.

Technology is important to getting work done — but make sure it’s a helper, and not a hindrance.

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