Making Mistakes At Work

On a scale of 1-10, how efficient do you believe you are at work?

Could you use some help?Let’s be honest: there is a lot of “work” at work. Most of us are so busy trying to complete the day’s tasks and put out fires that we often neglect to consider if we are functioning in an efficient way. Here are a few common mistakes, and some ideas for how to address them:

Failing to triage incoming assignments. Paperwork, mail, e-mail, voicemail, and assignments flood in all day long. Many people put everything in a catch-all “inbox”, or pile papers on the corner of a desk. Another tendency is to read emails when the red flag appears, but then simply close them, requiring a second review at a later time. Any action you take which must later be repeated is a waste of time.

It is critical to have a system for quickly reviewing incoming requests and categorizing them to be worked on later.  When a request comes in, sort it by the type of action required (e.g. “To Call,”  “To Read,”  “To Schedule,”  “To Deliver”… or whatever makes sense for your particular business). Have labeled stacking trays/folders for paperwork on your desk, and similar folders on your computer.  When you are planning out your day, schedule time to address each type of action.

Succumbing to interruptions.Whether it is someone knocking on the door or the phone ringing, interruptions draw our attention away from the task at hand. Each one can cost as many as 8 minutes as our brains try to process the intrusion, respond, and then refocus.

While periodic interruptions are inevitable, it is important to aggressively minimize them. Some techniques to try include:

  • Turning off the alert on incoming email or voice mail for a period of time.
  • Designating an hour of the day as your “unavailable” time (e.g. post a “Quiet Hours” sign on your door for 8-9am.)
  • Limiting your web usage (e.g. “I’ll work for 30 minutes, then check my Facebook/surf the web for 5 minutes”)
  • Keeping a notepad on the desk to capture random thoughts to which you can return at the end of a focused session. (e.g. “reschedule advertising meeting”, “pick up milk”)

Lacking consistency in processing meeting information. Do you prepare for a meeting by grabbing the nearest notepad or scribbling notes on the back of a meeting agenda? This frequently results in stacks of half-used notepads and lost notes.

Instead, standardize a system for taking notes. For example, have a designated composition book for meetings. Or have an electronic file you can open on your laptop. Begin each meeting by recording the date & time. Having one consistent location will enable you not only to record pertinent material from the current meeting, but also to easily glance back and see what was decided at the previous one. Always end your notes with a clear “to do” summary which you can then schedule into your planner when you get back to your desk. Also, have your calendar at every meeting.

Failing to File. For obvious reasons, filing isn’t typically a favorite task. As a result, we often pile papers up on the desk, on the floor, or in a box. There is no better way to make a piece of paper disappear than by putting it in a stack.

The only way to insure you can reliably find paperwork is to relentlessly put it in its proper place.  Schedule in 10 minutes at the end of the day to put away any paperwork which has ended up strewn about. “Away” could mean either in an “action” bin (see above) or in a storage location (e.g. a hanging file.) This is a gift your give yourself the next time you need to find it.


Work is hard enough without fighting ourselves to do it. Sometimes a few small changes can make a world of difference. For more information on managing your time, visit The Seana Method.

Submitted by Seana Turner, Founder and President of The Seana Method: Freedom Through Organization.