Whatever is most important to you – career, relationships, creativity, money-making – time is arguably your most valuable asset. There are plenty of books and blogs that will tell you how to ‘create’ more of it, and plenty of people who seem hell-bent on wasting it.

But, have you ever considered you might be one of those people?

I’m mid-way through time-management guru Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. He is ruthless with his time, structuring it to avoid any task or interaction that doesn’t add to the success of his business. It’s pretty extreme and not entirely workable for those who need to navigate office politics. But lessons can be learned.

Similarly WorkLife with Adam Grant, a new TED podcast recently included a segment about meetings – that the majority achieve nothing other than disengagement.

So I got to thinking about time-drainers (and how I might be one!), and some potential rules for time-rich working:

1. Ban meetings (for meeting-sake)

Unless you can define exactly what you want from a meeting do not call it.

Those ‘scheduled’ catch ups that fill the diary? Get rid. Who else has eeked out a thirty-min update because that’s the time that’s been set to fill?

Similarly, don’t leave news of successes or challenges for these rigid slots. Pre-empt by sharing updates quickly and succinctly in email -your wins won’t be lost in a sea of agenda items. And, if there’s a problem that needs sorting, present it in email, say how you’ll remedy and give a time scale. Be the calm in the storm by stepping up and captaining the ship, without the need to turn the rudder by committee. It usually pays to ask for forgiveness rather than beg for permission.

2. Meetings have a time and place

Saying that, meetings can be useful. So when it calls for it – be there. On time!

Whether personal or professional I am a stickler for being on time. Nothing winds me up more than habitual latecomers – that includes bosses as well as best friends! No one should need convincing that being late shows disregard for others’ time, but in terms of time wasted consider this:

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted… That is over 3 hours wasted.

3. Be prepared

It took me a while to care about agendas. I am more of a ‘let’s just have a chat over coffee’ person. But, an agenda that’s been shared before a meeting means that those hour-long meanderings become 15 min pow-wows.

It’s vital to tell everyone why you are meeting and what they are there for. Power through with a defined set of objectives, and everyone will leave feeling like something has been accomplished.

And if you’re sent an agenda or materials. Read them the day before and give yourself time to digest and think of your ideas or questions before the meeting. Of course, if you are the organiser that means sending the agenda and documents well in advance!

4. Don’t demand instant replies

I’m not sure when email became an instant messaging service? When we ping off a one-line email often the recipient feels obliged to respond immediately.

I’d argue that constant email interruption is tantamount to plonking yourself on someone’s desk and waving incessantly at them until they acknowledge you.

It takes discipline but questioning whether you really need an answer ‘right now’ will save you time*. Importantly, you’ll avoid becoming the reason colleagues and clients ‘eye-roll’ at their inbox.

Avoid becoming the reason colleagues and clients ‘eye-roll’ at their inbox

Of course you should communicate, but take a moment to consider what medium is best. Is a single email at the end of the day better than ten throughout? Could an actual instant message (e.g. apps such as Slack) get the job done?

*(I am still working on this!)

5. Real results speak louder than reports

Apparently you can’t polish a turd. In my younger days I once worked with a team that did a bloody good job of trying.

There is a whole lot to be gained from laying the turd out on the table

We regularly presented impressive-looking coverage reports for a client that I knew would deliver nothing for their business. But as we were the experts, they trusted we were presenting quality returns. We wasted their time, even if they didn’t know it.

And we wasted time designing pretty, wordy, graphy reports that were designed to disguise it was tosh.

In the right relationship (whether client or colleague) there is a whole lot to be gained from laying the turd out on the table. So to speak.

Dishonesty or miss-selling in no way to find satisfaction in a job well done. And it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Honesty saves time, and – surprise, surprise – is a good way to build trust.

(The sneaky 6. Make time to ‘waste’)

On that note. Sometimes the best way to foster trust is to forget being ‘productive’ and spend time being human!

Stress and anxiety are pervasive in workplaces across sectors. As Twitter VP Bruce Daisley has expressed in his podcast series ‘Eat Sleep Work Repeat‘, it feels as if work has just become ‘less fun’.

With focus on employees being constantly ‘on’, it’s no wonder so many are feeling a lack of connection with those they work with. Company culture is a HUGE topic but, I think we can all agree that we want to form meaningful relationships, and even friendships at work.

If this means forgetting an update meeting, switching off email, getting out of the office and spending time in the wild getting to know each other, that’s time well spent.

We shouldn’t become a slave to the clock, but by considering time as an asset we can hopefully instil cultures of respect that get the job done – and build trust and relationships at the same time.