Updated: Feb 7, 2020
It's time to confess. A while ago, I decided to take a closer look at how I spent my (non-productive) time and what were my hidden time-wasters -we all have them! I started by paying close attention to what I did when I was not working, running errands, or doing chores -that time was easy to account for. I wanted to know where was going the time that was not being used to support my goals. And guess what? I clearly found plenty of room for improvement!
We ask ourselves, "Where did time go?" yet we rarely have an acceptable answer. One of the most visible offenders is screen time (TV, smartphones, tablets, you name it!). Most of us have access to at least one of them, and since we're naturally curious, we want to know what's happening around us at all times even if it doesn't nurture our intellect or advance our goals.
Scrolling up and down our social media apps provides a "mental pause," a time parenthesis when we don't have to think or make decisions; merely allow pictures to glide in front of our eyes.
Screens are the most evident time wasters, yet others are a little less obvious.
Doing errands randomly. Either if you work from home or in an office, it's a waste of time to complete an errand today, another tomorrow, and another one the following day. Make sure you keep a list handy of all the errands you need to run in a week and choose one day of the week to take care of all of them. If you cannot complete your errands in one trip, group the ones that can be done together and take care of those. Then, pick another day to complete the rest. In three words, batch your errands!
Constantly checking your email. First of all, get rid of email notifications. Push notifications from emails, social media, and other applications generate a level of stress that I'm sure you don't need. Schedule times during the day to check your email; two or three times during your workday should be enough. Don't forget to put a time limit too! For instance, decide to check emails twice a day for no more than 10 minutes each time.
Interruptions and distractions. Interruptions are out of your control unless you take action to limit them as much as possible. Some people wear headphones as a way to indicate to the outside world that they're doing focus work. You may put a sign outside your door, inviting people to come back at a specific time when you'll have time available. If you're at home and are looking for quiet time to meditate or read, do the same: close the door and place a cute "Do Not Disturb" sign on it. You could also set a timer and explain to your kids that you'll be in "Mommy Time" until the timer goes off.
Distractions are different because we have more control over distractions. Distractions are us checking our phone when we're supposed to be working, or leaving our desk to grab a snack. Sometimes, we plan to work a set amount of time, but our thoughts start wandering away, and it's hard to stay focus. When that happens, it's time to take a real break. If you feel you lack self-control over this, you may want to implement the Pomodoro Technique, where you take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes of focused work (one Pomodoro) and a 15 to 30-minute break after four Pomodoros. Breaks can reignite your creativity and motivation. With frequent interruptions and distractions, your focused work is less, and so is your productivity.
Misplacing stuff. Few things are more frustrating than being ready to leave the house and not finding the car keys. I know this example is a cliché, but it illustrates my point very well. Everything you use frequently needs to have a specific and convenient place where to keep them. Hang your keys on the wall near the garage door, or keep them in your purse. Leave your sunglasses in the car or keep them on the table by the door. It doesn't matter where you put them, all that matters is that you keep them in the same accessible place every single time. Take time to analyze your routine entering and leaving your home, and decide on the appropriate place for your stuff.
Inefficiently organizing your home office. For all of us who work from home, keeping an efficient work area is fundamental. Not everybody has a room designated as a home office. Most people have their workspace set up in the corner of the family room or the kitchen, or a desk in the guest room. Therefore, efficiently organizing office supplies and files is crucial. Keep those supplies you use the most at arm's length, so you don't have to get up and walk to get them. Keep two file systems, one for files you use more often and a second one for files like tax returns or insurance documents that you need close by, but won't have to retrieve regularly.
Solving other people’s issues. For some reason, when somebody else comes to us asking for a favor, we tend to drop whatever we're doing and jump to the rescue, sacrificing our to-do list. There's a Dilbert Comic Strip that I love. It says in part that time management and rudeness are pretty much the same thing. I think it's very true! Unless your neighbor or co-worker has an emergency, take note of the favor she's asking, decide if you can do it or not, and if you can, tell her that you'll take care of it as soon as possible, but for now, you're busy doing other things. Just don't be rude!
The best way to reduce (because we'll never overcome them altogether) time waters is by identifying them. Keeping a time log of how much time we spend scrolling pictures and messages on your social media platforms can be very helpful.
If we’re aware that we are wasting time, we should set safeguards to minimize it. Did you know that Instagram offers a time limit notification? Or that your iPhone has a downtime setting?
If you’re serious about reducing passive screen time, there are actions you can take. For instance, I set a downtime for my phone from 9:00 pm to 6:30 am, and also an Instagram daily notification of 30 minutes, meaning that Instagram will notify me when I've spent 30 minutes in the app in one day. Of course, none of these options will work if you override them and keep at it even after the alert pops-up. I do my best to abide by them and do not use my phone during the downtime. The first week I did that, my screen time went down 25%!
Unfortunately, most of the time when we waste time is not our work that suffers the most -most of us are responsible people, and we'll deliver no matter what. However, it's our self-care that suffers the most. Since we have to complete an assignment, we'll probably sleep fewer hours, have less time to reflect on our day, read less, well, you get the idea.
Make sure you are aware of your own time wasters and keep them at bay. They won't get you any closer to where you want to be.
What do you do to minimize time-wasters? Have you tried keeping a time log? I love to learn from my readers! Share your comments, questions, or ideas. If you liked what you read, please like and share this post!