Are you wasting people’s time?

Here's how to make sure you are respecting others’ schedules.
Are you wasting people’s time?

Most professionals know people who talk too much, are disorganised, or are always late to meetings, or whose communication style is downright annoying. In short, these people often waste others’ time as they muddle through their work life armed with bothersome bad habits.

“So much time gets wasted within the day and a lot of this is the result of other people,” said Clare Evans, a time management and productivity coach in Brighton, UK, and author of Time Management for Dummies. What this signals, she noted, is a lack of respect for other people’s time.

But what if these habits are yours? You may not realise you talk too much or that your frequent lateness bugs others. You prefer back-and-forth emails to phone calls, but your customers dislike that approach, considering it a time waster. And your disorganisation could impact colleagues or clients — or even your career. “A lot of us have developed habits because we got rewarded for them at one point,” said Dave Stachowiak, host of the podcast Coaching for Leaders, based in Orange County, Calif. Therefore, it’s crucial you take a look at your own behaviours, to determine if — and how — you are wasting the time of others.

There are additional ways you could be misusing others’ time. “Professionals waste the time of other people when they are too polite ... and when they are overthinking the right way to approach a topic or problem,” said Martin Hansen, a partner with Ethos Consulting Services ApS in Copenhagen, Denmark. “They tend to overcomplicate things” and tiptoe around a difficult topic instead of being direct, he noted.

“The classic one is, ‘Have you got a minute?’” stated Evans, since it interrupts others without consideration for their schedule. You also might ask a question when you could just as easily look up the answer yourself. And if you continually squander your employees’ time with unimportant requests, “you’re not setting a good example”, she said. “They won’t feel respected and supported, and there will be that element of ‘Here we go again.’”

So how can you ensure you are not wasting the time of others? Evans, Hansen, and Stachowiak suggested the following:

Be considerate. Instead of saying, “Have you got a minute?”, say, “Can I ask you a question if you’re not in the middle of something?” Evans noted. If they are busy, then ask, “When is a good time?” If communicating via email, keep it short, since busy professionals just want the facts, Hansen advised. And look for an indicator from others as to how much time they have to converse, and in what medium, such as email, phone, or in person. In key relationships, especially, be “willing to engage in their medium”, even if you prefer another method of communication, Stachowiak said.

Encourage and support. Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said that you can have everything you desire in life if you inspire and help others get what they want. So lead with intention, and realise you are “here to serve and not to be served”, Stachowiak advised. By doing so, you create an environment of collaboration and innovation, and likely waste less time.

Be clear and direct. Ambiguity leads to confusion and, as a result, time wasting. So if you ask your employees to complete a task, “plan what you want to say and be specific,” Evans said. “If you need something done by a certain time, then say you need it done a certain way or for a particular purpose.”

Know cultural conventions. If you’re always late to meetings, that sends disrespectful signals to others in North America, the UK, and parts of Europe. “In North America, when a meeting starts at 8am, we’re there at 7.59 ready to go,” Stachowiak noted. But be mindful of unspoken rules in other countries, as customs vary. Do your research on business etiquette, or tag along with someone who knows the culture, he advised.

Plan your meetings. “Meetings can be a huge waste of people’s time,” especially if they do not start or end on time, Evans said. Ineffective meetings also fail to generate decisions or achieve their objectives, or include the wrong people in the mix. So if you're a leader who plans these gatherings, “define the meeting’s purpose to all attendees, create an agenda, and invite the right people to meetings who can provide input”, she added.

Request feedback and guidance. "Few time wasters are aware they are wasting other people's time," noted Stachowiak. "If you're concerned that person could be you, a good starting point is to open the door for feedback." Be specific when soliciting input about your behaviour, so the other party can offer helpful input. For instance, say, "What's one change I should make during our next meeting to make even better use of your time?" he advised. "Asking for this kind of feedback consistently gives you a clearer picture of what others think and how you can make their time with you as useful as possible."

Listen more, talk less. Make a greater attempt to listen to others and ask questions, versus voicing your opinion. This will foster positive relationships and help solve problems more quickly. “Listen to what’s being said, repeat back to the person what you’ve heard, and make eye contact,” Stachowiak said. “Try to see things from the other person’s point of view.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at