Two Strategies for Women to Zap the Time-Suckers at Work

You’ve done it - because we’ve all done it.  You begin your work day with the full intention of focusing on several important activities and before you know it, it’s time to leave the office and your list is half-done at best.

Oh, the list is long about what specifically happened and got in your way – the boss unexpectedly asked you to take care of something, your co-worker needed something from you for her 11 am meeting, a client called with an emergency, and your chatty colleague just had to tell you all the details about their weekend hiking trip.  Understandable, responsive, and entertaining, but all you are left with is a lingering to-do list and a really loud sucking sound from the time vacuum cleaner.

How can you zap or decrease these time-suckers at work?

Productivity experts offer helpful suggestions such as managing your e-mail and social media, using productivity software, and getting organized.  These can be useful tactics, but as a woman’s career expert, I have found there are two overall behaviors that many women do in the workplace that truly eat up their day and challenge their desire for work-life balance.

Being Crystal Clear on What's Truly Most Important

During my 10 year AOL career I learned a very valuable, enlightening lesson from then COO Bob Pittman:  You must be crystal clear on what's absolutely most important and focus 80% of your time there.

All of the projects or tasks at work on can be placed in one of three categories:  “have to do's”, “like to do's” and “nice to do's.”  Spend 80% of your time on the “have to do's” and leave 20% for everything else. 

Simple to understand, not so simple to do. The '”like to do's” and “nice to do's” may be more interesting or fun.  The problem is they simply suck time from the “have to do's” and leave you frustrated.  To help you stay on track remind yourself that by not being clear and sticking to the “have to do’s”, you end up working late or on weekends zapping time away from your family, relinquishing time for yourself, and not fulfilling other responsibilities that are important to you.

Being Able to Say No in Many Forms
What's one big reason many women struggle with staying focused on the “have to do’s”?  Because we’re not willing to and able to say "no" in many forms.  (In fact, “no” is one of my personal 5 most empowering words that I include in my free ebook 5 Empowering Words for Women.) 

For most women, saying "no" is very uncomfortable.  So, instead we often say "yes" instead and create our own list of time-sucking tasks and activities that ultimately take time away from people and activities that are more important to us. 

What women need to improve upon is being able to say “no” or “not now” in many forms.  Often the biggest gap is coming up with specific wording.  Here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

If your boss or project manager tells you to take care of something immediately, ask him or her “Okay, I can do that, but first help me choose which of these other activities can wait in order for me to put this at the top of the list.”

If your colleague asks you the same thing, say “I hear what you need and want to help, however, I can’t right now.  What I can do is get to it by….”

If a client calls with an emergency, make sure to assess it truly is an emergency that needs your immediate attention by asking "I hear your concern and we definitely need to do something. I am juggling a number of priorities so by when do you need this taken care of?"

If a co-worker wants to tell you her weekend adventure or just shoot the breeze, say “You always have an interesting story to share.  Right now, I have to get a few things done.  Can I hear your story a bit later when I can truly pay attention?”

About Mary Foley

Get more free resources to increase your career confidence, including your Free Sanity, Confidence & Fun Action Pack with eBooks How to Thrive on Shift & Change for Your Career and What Every Woman Must Know About Office Politics eBooks. Find out more at


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