Wasting time at work (but not how you think!)

wasting time at workWasting time at work is an act as old as work itself. Today I’m going to talk about something different from the common procrastination behaviors we immediately think about (the Water Cooler Chatter, the Champion Web Surfer, etc.). Today we’ll talk about washing the car.

One of the fun things about where I work is that they have their own little unique vocabulary. One of them I’ve learned recently is “washing the car.”

I had one of those ugly, “please don’t make me get around to doing this today” tasks to complete. While I was procrastinating, I was getting a lot of the little things completed that have been have been sitting on the back burner for a while.

I sat down to talk with my manager for a few minutes, and she asked about the status of the project I was procrastinating. I grinned, and she smiled knowingly and asked if I was “washing the car.” At my puzzled look, she explained that the phrase means that you’re doing something that looks good on the surface but really doesn’t help in the long run.

The moral of the story

It’s important to remember as managers and leaders that just because someone is staying busy, they aren’t necessarily getting the right things done. It’s up to us to point them in the right direction, keep tabs on progress, and course correct if necessary.

Next time someone is working hard but not focusing on the priorities, ask them if they’re “washing the car.” It could be a great teachable moment and from that moment on, you’ll have an easy way to communicate that feedback without having to have one of those difficult, confrontational conversations.

Do you have any special lingo at work that you use? I’d love to hear an example!

7 thoughts on “Wasting time at work (but not how you think!)

  1. This phrase “washing the car” is great! I am definitely going to use that in the future to ease into performance discrepancies. Thanks for that! Great post!

  2. We have been doing director/manager/supervisor training on this very topic, using a module that refers to these activities as “Shiny Objects”…same principle! Thanks for another reminder. It’s an ongoing challenge for many of us.

  3. We try not to “cook in a messy kitchen”. Investing time in planning, relationship building, asking the hard questions, documentation and recognizing new opportunities result in vision, higher level of effectiveness and prevents crisis mode.

    • @Chris Love the phrase “cook in a messy kitchen!”

      @Laura Shiny objects is another great one! :-)

      @Thomas That was the best method I have found so far to ease into a conversation like that. And it’s pretty much universal, so it’s easily understood.

      Thanks, guys, for the comments!

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