Here's a simple way to potentially save hours of your time each week, by investing a total of about five minutes.
First thing one morning, take a piece of paper and write a column of numbers representing each hour from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. For me, the list would start 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 1 and go all the way back to 12 (so far, you have invested about fifteen seconds).
For this single day, at the top of every hour stop for 20 seconds and consider how happy you are with the way you spent your time. Did you invest it wisely? If the answer is yes, don't write anything.
But if you wouldn't repeat the way you spent the last hour, next to the number representing that hour write a few words that describes what you did.
On one of my lists, for example, at 3 o’clock I wrote "pointless to talk with Ralph; doesn't listen," meaning that it was a waste of my time to meet with him.
Stick with this exercise all day; it takes very little time, just the discipline to stop every hour for a few seconds. But at the end of the day, you'll have a list of activities you wish you avoided. If the list has more than one or two items, you might want to continue the practice for a while.
If you make this a habit, you'll soon start to spot patterns. It will be easier to recognize ways in which you are wasting time and effort, and you'll do a better job of avoiding these.
Save time for everyone
You can also use this technique across an entire department to help all involved make better use of their time. To avoid offending people, I wouldn't suggest pooling the results. You can simply introduce the test and allow people to draw their own conclusions.
Encourage people to not only list the problems that wasted their time, but to also write down solutions for using their time more wisely.
For example, at the end of a long meeting, you might realize that while your initial strategy of barking out orders did not work, that once you took the time to listen to others, they became more willing to listen to you.
You might then write, "Listen first, talk second."