5 ‘Normal’ Things That Are a Total Waste of Time in Leadership

waste of time

You know the scenario.

You get to the end of a meeting, an experience or a project and say to yourself “That was a total waste of time.”

What’s scary is how often you and I end up saying it.

So how do you eliminate things that are a total waste of time as a leader?

I think the best way is to rule out things categorically.

How do you do that? Just look at the patterns you see that waste your time and simply decide I’m not doing that anymore.

The key is to identify what ‘that’ is.

So here are 5 things that are a total waste of time for any leader.

1. Worry


So many leaders struggle with it.

And it is almost wholly unproductive.

It’s understandable that leaders have a lot they could worry about.

As I’ve told my team many times, our job is basically to help solve the problems nobody else has been able to solve. That’s why you’re a leader.

Consequently, leadership can be a breeding ground for worry.

But you should do everything in your power to eliminate it.

There’s a world of difference between thinking about a problem and worrying about a problem.

Thinking about a problem will lead you to a solution.

Worrying about a problem leads you nowhere.

Plus, most of what you worry about will never transpires.

As 16th Century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne put it, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

Leaders should think about problems, but not worry about them.

If you’re stuck in worry, how do you get out?

Although I’m not an innate worrier, when I do worry, this has helped me immensely: I make my logic trump my emotions.

If that’s not working, I take it to a group of leaders I trust and lay out the problem for them and get their insight.

Worry hates the light of day.

Once I’ve thought about it and even shared it with others, then I do one more thing:

I focus on what I know to be true rather than what I feel is true.

In a season of worry, feelings are your enemy.

Logic and community are your friends.

So to beat worry, focus on what you KNOW is true, not what you FEEL is true.

2. Meeting with someone who doesn’t need to meet with you

When someone asks you to meet with you, my guess is your default is to say yes.

So is mine.

But play that out. As your church or organization grows, that means you would spend all week every week meeting with people—many of whom didn’t really need to meet at all and most of whom don’t need to meet with you in particular.

Deciding who you need to meet with in advance helps.

My priorities are (in order) our senior staff leaders, our elders, our staff team…and a few key people beyond that. That’s it.

Most leaders waste time meeting with people who don’t need to meet with them.

Do I meet with other people? Yes, but only after those key people have the time they need and after my other priorities are done, which means I do say no a lot (I still hate that, but it’s necessary).

I outline more about meeting people in this post I called Why You Can’t Have Five Minutes of My Time.

While it may sound harsh, it’s liberating and you will get more done. Plus, your church or organization will be positioned to grow as a result. And here’s a primer on how to say no nicely.

And finally, are you addicted to meetings? I wrote this post outlining 5 reasons most leaders spend way too much time in meetings.

3. Over-managing things that don’t need managing

The start-up phase is wonderful and crazy in any venture.

When you’re starting up, everything happens in a frenzy and making it to your next weekend or next milestone is itself a victory.

You don’t have time to manage well because you’re so busy creating.

But eventually, every organization gets out of start-up phase. Which means you have more time for managing.

But too many leaders end up not just managing, but over-managing.

Great management adds value. Over-managing sucks value (and life) out of an organization.

You know those dead-end meetings where you spent forever talking about something that truly deserved 5 minutes? That’s over-managing.

Stop that.

If you can manage something in 5 minutes, manage it in 5 minutes, not 50 minutes.

What should you do with the rest of your time?

Create something new that will lead your church or organization to the next opportunity. Start leading…stop managing the things that will manage themselves.

Over-management, by the way, is one of the reasons so many organizations plateau.

Leadership builds something new. Management organizes what’s already built.

So go build something new.

4. Inefficient email

Email is the currency of business communication today. Spend as little of this currency as you can.

It’s amazing how many hours each day disappear answering mostly pointless emails.

How do you know email is mostly pointless, you ask?

Great question.

Think about the last time you went on vacation and put your auto-responder on.

Yes, there were X hundred emails waiting for you when you got back.

But after attacking your inbox for an hour, you realized you only needed to reply to about 10-20% of them. True?

The world moved on without you.

Why not make that dynamic a reality every day?

Here are some tips to make your email less of a waste of time:

Eliminate reply-alls unless absolutely necessary

Skim read and only reply if you’re adding value to the conversation

Move conversations to face-to-face meetings. Instead of answering 90 emails on a subject, you can clarify the issue in about 9 minutes in a meeting.

Answer long emails with short replies. (This almost always brings an out of control conversation back into line.)

Nobody gets points in heaven for saying “I answered email all day long.”

Let the truly mission-advancing emails get your attention. Minimize everything else.

Want to truly get to inbox zero? How to do it in 3 easy steps.

5. Working when you’re exhausted

A lot of us have more control over our lives than we realize.

If you work in an office setting that doesn’t have fixed hours, exert some control over your workflow.

When you’re exhausted, take a nap. Or go for a walk. Or go home. Or call it a day.

Sure, once in a while, you need to push yourself well past your personal reserves.

But too many leaders try to do this every day.

They show up exhausted. They work exhausted. And they go home exhausted.

Stop that.


Your brain doesn’t even work properly when you’re exhausted.

What took you 3 hours to do at 7 p.m. might actually take you only 30 minutes at 7 a.m. after you wake up from 8 hours sleep.

That problem you couldn’t figure out all day yesterday finally solved itself in your mind when you went on a walk or took that bike ride.

The next time you find yourself staring at a blank computer screen, walk away. And come back when you’re fresh.

A key ingredient in all this is sleep. I outlined 7 reasons why sleep is a leader’s secret weapon in this post.

Remember this: a rested you is a better you.

Don’t just show up to work. Bring your best to work.

In great organizations, nobody gets paid for showing up.

What Wastes Your Time?

So what wastes your time? Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 ‘Normal’ Things That Are a Total Waste of Time in Leadership


  1. C.S. MacPherson on October 22, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Great points, but again a disconnect with pastors from mega-churches to pastors who have congregations less than 200. Pastors are to be available to even the least important in a congregation, and having a hierarchy list is problematic if you’re pastoring less than 200 (well, over 90% of pastors).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 4:21 pm

      Thanks C.S. I hear you but I led a small church too. Not necessarily. Being always available is a great recipe for burnout and not reaching new people. I write pretty extensively on that elsewhere on this site. Hope it helps.

      • Andy Hogarth on October 25, 2020 at 7:19 pm

        Hi Carey,

        Thank you for your faithfulness and wisdom.

        This post is rich and to the point.

        Bless you, your family and the whole team.

        Andy Hogarth
        South Australia

    • Trav Cook on October 22, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      I think the concept that scales whether your church is 100 people or 1,000 people is that your job as the pastor is to make sure all the people are being cared for – not that YOU are personally caring for all the people, otherwise inevitably people won’t be cared for. I feel like Acts 6 has a similar take – make sure the important things are happening, but it doesn’t always have to be you doing it.
      I understand the sentiment that ‘even the least’ should get your attention if they need it, and maybe from time to time they should and they can, but if your priority is to reactively care for those who demand it most, then others in your church may suffer in silence. If you have a priority list, then you’re at least trying to ensure that investment and care is being modeled from the top down and you have the best chance of that happening for ‘even the least’.

    • Abi on October 29, 2020 at 8:35 am

      I sincerely hear what you are saying and thought the same thing for years until I began to grasp my call to equip the saints to minister to each other. Not only does this position people to thrive but it removes the centrality of the pastor/s as the primary source of wisdom, comfort, prayer, etc. This can be done in any size church family by teaching the body how to be responsible for one another. It’s hard at first, but very freeing.

  2. Olga Caalim on October 22, 2020 at 8:29 am

    Let go and let God take its course.

  3. vận chuyển chó bằng máy bay on September 29, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Excellent website. Plenty of useful info
    here. I’m sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious.
    And certainly, thanks in your sweat!

  4. Rob Gillen on October 1, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Great read! Love the clear, simple definition of leadership: Creation

  5. JR_Walker2100 on February 8, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    What is a waste of time? Leadership/CEO philosophy sites like this one. No doubt, setting the record for the most one sentence paragraphs on a single post. Ugh.

    • Marakov on October 22, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Wasting further time with your comment aside, you point out the article is a vain attempt while contradicting yourself by pointing out how concise and to the point each paragraph is.

  6. […] Read More […]

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  8. […] Five Things that are a Total Waste of Time in Leadership by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  9. Bud Brown on February 3, 2016 at 10:47 am

    6. Avoiding Conflict

    In Basic Training, soldiers are taught to run to the sound of gun fire, rather than follow their natural instinct of running away. The quickest, least costly way to subdue hostile forces is to engage them as soon as possible. This prevents them from gathering strength and redeploying to more favorable positions against you.

    The metaphor isn’t precise, of course, because the objective in responding to church conflict isn’t to destroy an enemy, it is to restore a realtionship. But nonetheless, Paul’s admonition is clear: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” That is, deal with the problem as soon as possible.

    Pastors who avoid conflict only insure that it will grow more fierce, spread more widely, and become more costly to contain. Whether avoidance is rooted in fear of the personal cost, the vain hope that the problem will solve itself, or simply not knowing how to respond you can be sure of this: the sooner you deal with a problem, the better.

    Avoiding conflict for the moment only insures that it’s going to take far more of your time in the future. Just look at the way Congress has avoided meaningful conflict over the federal budget for all these years!

    Save yourself time and heartache by dealing with it now.

  10. […] 5 Things That Are A Total Waste Of Time In Leadership by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  11. Lawrence W. Wilson on January 28, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Reaching unanimous agreement. Or even close to it. Took me a long time to figure out that unanimity is more about the leader’s fear of rejection than about moving forward. Get a solid majority, and act.

  12. LAG on January 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I’m a lay-leader and mother with a full plate. I lead people at work and a women’s small group in my home. My top 5 are as follows:

    1. Worry – agreed – my juggling act gets out of hand at times, and worry is a sure sign I need to disengage and rest.
    2. Working when exhausted – wholeheartedly agreed – I’m an achiever, though not as young and energetic as I once was. Pushing too hard, leads to collapse & depression.
    3. Guilt – Never content with what I’ve done, whether working, resting, reading, praying, exercising, etc. It’s a peace-thief. Another warning sign when I’m getting out of balance.
    4. Listening to the negative – another thief. Avoid media’s, friends’, or social media’s rants with everyone’s negative 2-cents about EVERYTHING. It quickly erodes faith & hope, a precious, precious mindset that I need to protect.
    5. Assigning meaning to everything – A strength of mine is observation & reflection. But why do I feel the need to qualify everything I go through or observe to make sense out of it? It’s analysis paralysis. Stop it! Recognize when you’ve crossed the line in your search for understanding. Then, be still and lean on God.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 3, 2016 at 11:10 am

      5 yesses! Thanks!

    • Monica on October 23, 2020 at 8:47 am

      Interesting. One of my biggest frustrations and disappointments with my leaders (not a church) is the sense that they don’t have time for me, and that they had more important meetings to attend to. There’s nothing quite like that hierarchical structure to make junior leader feel deflated and unnoticed, and therefore unmotivated. In my experience, a great leader is someone who cares as much about connecting with the little people as he/she does about advancing the organization. One who can find a balance between those without burning out is a treasure. Relationship is key. Especially in churches.

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