How to waste your working day

Professor Simon Collinson and Melvin Jay present a cautionary tale for bosses and staff alike - 10 good ways to waste your working day.

by Professor Simon Collinson and Melvin Jay
Last Updated: 23 Nov 2012

1. Work really hard going in the wrong direction

You should try and devote as much of your day as possible to projects or activities that have limited impact on the real needs and value drivers for your business. One good way to do this is to spend your time on really urgent things, even if they are not important to success in the long term.

2. Learn rocket science

Don’t delegate things that you are no good at to the real experts, just try and do them yourself; you’ll get there eventually through trial and error. Devote your time to learning how to do other people’s jobs for them, as you never know when you might need to interfere in their area and a little bit of knowledge can be really helpful when you decide to get involved in their work.

3. Pontificate

Defer all-important decisions until you have some more useless or unobtainable information, and then delay the decision for another month. If by some incredible feat of luck you managed to make a decision yesterday, then make sure you reverse that decision tomorrow. Talk around each subject as much as possible, but don’t talk about the real issues or move things forward. Try to repeat what the last person said, but don’t use the same words as them, that way it will sound like you are actually making a different point. If you have time, try to over intellectualise and overcomplicate absolutely everything you can, even if it’s just deciding on the place to eat lunch. Focus on the politics of the situation and how to gain as much for yourself as you possibly can; don’t worry about truth, what’s right for the company or action. All these things are highly over-rated.

4. Involve everyone in everything

Solicit as many points of view as you possibly can on every subject, as it’s great to hear 100 people’s identical perspectives, all expressed in subtly different ways. Try to involve people who don’t have the experience/skills to add value, and then listen to them all really diligently and try to implement all their  ‘off the wall’ suggestions. Try to spend as much time as possible aligning people on issues that don’t affect them or they cannot contribute to. People, cannot be happy at work unless they have been consulted on things which are none of their concern.

5. Focus on the process, not on the action/issue itself

Spend your days agonising over the right process to follow or create; don’t worry about getting things done when there’s a process to be embellished or argued over.

6. Perfect absolutely everything

Make sure you get everything 100% right all the time, even if it’s not particularly important. Don’t worry if you end up spending your time perfecting everything to the point where it’s two years too late to make a difference.

7. Reinvent the wheel

Change/amend everything that comes across your desk to reflect your personal views or preferences. Change the colour of the text from light grey to mid grey. Don’t worry about whether your changes are substantive; just make sure it’s done your way. Revel in the joy of reinventing something that exists, or repairing something that works really well already.

8. Make email the focus of your entire day

Log on to your email at 6am, then spend all your time working on your email inbox. Respond immediately and start working on anything unimportant or humorous. Defer anything important to another day. Send emails to as many people as possible, making sure that your back is fully covered by copying everyone in the company into every email. If you don’t have access to your computer, check your phone every three minutes. Don’t bother with the phone and certainly don’t walk ten metres to talk to the person next to you, just send them another email.

9. Duplicate, duplicate, duplicate

Make sure that you spend time doing something that has already been done, or is already being done somewhere in the organisation. Don’t waste time looking for new ideas or things to transform your company’s performance. Instead spend your time doing someone else’s work, or even better do exactly what another person/department does, but in a slightly different way, hoping no one will bust you.

10. Do everything you can think of

Develop a list of 100 projects/ideas that you think might be fun for you to do, don’t include anything that your company actually needs to have done.  Once you have your nice long list, don’t waste valuable time prioritising the projects/ideas that will have the biggest impact on your company’s performance; instead divide your day into 100 individual slots and devote six minutes (1/100 of your working day) to each idea. This is great because you will never achieve anything, but your to-do list will always allow you to claim that you are too busy to take on a project that might actually create value.


Simon Collinson is professor of International Business and Innovation at Henley Business School, and Melvin Jay is founder of the Simplicity Partnership

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