I sat down to write this post 45 minutes ago. In that time:

  • I have visited the kitchen twice,
  • drunk two cappuccinos,
  • looked up the spelling of “cappuccino”,
  • read the Schumpeter article from last week’s Economist,
  • walked with the dog in the garden,
  • checked my emails,
  • responded to two of them,
  • checked whatsapp,
  • played around on buzzfeed.com,
  • shared a link to “33 Dogs That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now” on Facebook, and
  • typed the above.

To be honest, having written that list, I’m a little amazed at just how much was accomplished in 45 minutes (I thank the caffeine). Some might see it as time wasted.

Such people would have a realistic and objective grasp of the situation.

Nevertheless, I was thinking of other things during that time. Re-ordering my day, ticking off mental to-do-lists, planning this post, looking for inspiration, etc. And one of the inspirations involved the “I wonder how much time I actually waste?” thought.

Here’s A Shocking Infographic!

Check this out: Time Wasting At Work Infographic

At first, I thought we were talking a bit crazy. Until I started reading some of the sources, which included this academic paper: Disruption and Recovery of Computing Tasks: Field Study, Analysis and Reflections*.
*I’m not sure why academics like to use the word “reflections” in their titles. Honestly.

And admittedly, some of the methodology was a bit dodge. A sample size of 27 computer users at Microsoft (that’s what it sounds like) is hardly a representative sample of the world at large. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the only source. And who cares when stats have shock factor?

The summaries…

Excessive Emails 

    • On average, we receive 304 business-related emails a week.
    • The average employee will check his emails 36 times every hour.
    • It takes us around 16 minutes to re-focus after handling incoming email.

The Work Meeting

    • We attend about 62 work meetings per month (= about 3 each work day)
    • About half of those are considered time-wasted.
    • Works out to around 31 hours of pointlessness


    • 56 interruptions per day for the average employee (most, I assume, are email alerts – and it works out to around one interruption every 10 minutes)
    • On average, we spend 3 minutes working before we switch tasks.
    • About 2 hours per day is spent recovering from interruptions (not a stretch – consider 56 interruptions, with each requiring two minutes for you to refocus…)

On the Upside

There are at least two items of good news hidden in all of this:

1. The bar for awesome is not set very high.

If you’re prepared to zone out in a pair of headphones and disable email alerts for 20 minutes at a time, you’re going to be wildly more productive than most.

2. If you dislike long work meetings, you have solid justification for shimmying them along.

I don’t deal well with time-wasting when I’m not the one wasting it. I got caught recently in a meeting that started as an interruption and went on and on and on. Still, today, I’m not sure what the point of that conversation was, or why I was involved, or whether we actually reached an outcome.

You know that moment when you feel like you were just hazed with an overwhelming sense of stupid? Yes – that one. Had it.

And truthfully, the meeting ended because I told the parties concerned that I’d had it.


The Other Side To The Argument

Here’s the thing though. The overbearing office manager is narrow-minded and a watcher of productivity. He/she is often guilty of equating productivity with time-spent-on-spreadsheets or whatever.

But that’s just not true. Jack Welch of General Electric fame is possibly even more famous for devoting an hour a day to “looking out the window time”. Bill Gates used to take two “think weeks” a year when he was still CEO of Microsoft.

The point is that some distractions are good for us. Our brains do their best work when they’re focused elsewhere.

I realise that my evidence for this is largely anecdotal (and slightly empirical), but how often does an episode of House MD conclude with him arriving at the diagnosis of the unsolvable while he’s trying to annoy Wilson? How often do we sleep on something? And what about those times when the painfully obvious solution arrives the day after you spent a day toiling away fruitlessly…

For the record, those Jack Welch and Bill Gates examples came from the Schumpeter article that I read by chance while waiting for the espresso machine to rinse itself…

Lucky break? Or just a break that served its purpose?