Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time (And 10 Time Hacks to Help You)

When was the last time you complained about not having enough to do and more than enough time to do it in?


Almost every leader I know struggles with finding the time to get it all done.

I do too.

So what helps? And what hurts?

One of the best things you can do is have an honest conversation with yourself about how you waste time.

I’m going to assume you’re not gaming when you should be working, but there are other more insidious ways that time slips away.

Any idea what your time wasters are? And even if you do, any idea how to fix them?

Here’s some practical help.



The Top 10 Time Wasters and Time Hacks

So because this is a post on time management, let’s cut to the chase and outline the Top 10 ways leaders waste time and 10 time hacks that can help.

While this isn’t a scientific list, I know this is how I waste time if I’m not careful and they’re patterns I’ve seen in working with many leaders over the years.

All of these are common struggles, and the good news is there are relatively easy solutions.


1. Social media

Social media is so seductive, but it’s a part of leadership and ministry today.

I use social media for ministry but I also know I can get sucked in to the latest funny video as easily as anyone. How do you keep those lines clear?

Personally, I batch process most of my social media posts. While I post content from this blog throughout the day, I set it all up to post at different times in about 5-10 minutes early in the morning using Buffer App.

I’ll go in later in the day and ‘batch respond’ to people, responding to dozens of items in as little as five minutes. Far more efficient.

Hack: Post content using a service like Buffer.  Don’t respond in real time, batch respond instead.


2. Unnecessary meetings

We live in meetings, and our productivity dies in them.

Patrick Lencioni, Al Pittampali and others have effectively critiqued the way most leaders live in meetings.

If I’m not careful, I can spend three quarters of my week in meetings and have only a few hours left over for writing messages and leading what matters most.

Meetings expand to fill the time you’ve set aside for them. So just set aside less time.

Hack:  Schedule less time for meetings. Hold them less frequently.


3. Inefficient email

In my view, email is a necessary evil. But I obsess on the evil part. I really can’t stand it and it takes up far too much time.

You can try to be more efficient on email. Michael Hyatt has some helpful tips here, and even talks about declaring email bankruptcy here.

I’m even considering moving to this system for a few projects I’m working on.

If that isn’t enough, here’s one more old-fashioned hack.

Hack:  Stop emailing people if it can wait. Write down your questions and save them for a face to face meeting. This can make a huge difference!


4. Conversations without a purpose

Conversations can waste tons of time. Sometimes you feel trapped in one.

What do you do when someone corners you?

Hack: Be pleasant and move on. You’ve got work to do. Turn that 20 minute conversation into a two minute conversation. Be pleasant, thank them and if need be, tell them you were on your way to get something done. Then go do it.


5. An open schedule

Chance are you only write appointments with others and meetings in your schedule, right?

Big mistake.

Make appointments with yourself. Write in writing time, thinking time, date nights with your spouse, family time —everything you need to get done.


Then when someone asks to meet, you can say you have a commitment. If it’s truly important, schedule them in during your next available slot.

Hack: Book appointments with yourself for what you need to get done.


6. Being unclear on who you need to meet with and why

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

So is mine.

But I would spend all week every week meeting with people, many of whom didn’t really need to meet or to meet with me.

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.

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.

Hack: Decide on the kinds of people you’ll meet with in advance and why.


7. Too much blending of personal/work time

Life online and flexible work hours mean a lot of leaders blend personal and work time.

Because you feel busy, it’s easy to assume you’ve worked 50 hours when in fact, you’ve worked 35 and spent 15 hours running personal errands or wasted time on social media etc. I’m not saying that’s always true.

It’s a good idea to keep mental (or physical) track of what’s work and what’s not. Or, adopt the hack.

Hack. Work when you work, play when you play.


8. Not getting enough sleep

You would think that getting more sleep would waste time.

Just opposite. It makes you more productive.

The first thing you’ll cut when your busy is your sleep. Big mistake. Sleep more. You’ll get more done.

Hack: Pick a prescribed bed time and stick to it.


9. Having no idea what your real priorities are

You every spend a day to think back and say “what did I actually do today”? Yep, that’s a bad day.

You have priorities, but do you have daily to dos that become your first priority?

If you put the big rocks in first…the rest fit in as well.

Hack: Set a key task list of 1-3 things you simply have to get done every day and do them first.


10. Not pausing regularly to self-assess your time and priority management

Most of us just rush from one week into another, never pausing long enough to ask why we’re not accomplishing more.

I have learned I have to regularly pause and ask what’s working, what’s not and why. Then I recalibrate my calendar and life to try to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

That’s something you can do weekly, quarterly and annually.

Hack: Pause weekly, quarterly and annually to assess your time and priority management.

So those are the top 10 time wasters I see in myself and others, and the top 10 hacks.

What do you see? What’s helped you?

Leave a comment!


  1. James Copeland on October 31, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Great post. I’m always feeling like my day wasn’t as productive as it should have been. And I find myself right in the middle of more than one of your points.

    Will work on putting these hacks into practice.


  2. Michael C. Mack on June 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Very helpful post! The only thing I’d add is an addendum to #5: Schedule time with God every day. That meeting alone will make the decisions about how you spend the rest of your time more clear.

    • christoph on June 18, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Amen to that time with God

  3. […] Nieuwhof lists his top 10 time wasters and top 10 time hacks for leaders. Can you guess what a few of the biggest time wasters […]

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