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We all waste time, every single one of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a huge company or slugging it out in an entry-level position and trying to squeeze in your side hustle. We waste time because we’re humans, not robots. But I think it’s safe to say the most successful people on the planet probably waste less time than many others, so maybe it’s worth getting a handle on this.
Why do we do it?
Wasting time is a combination of factors that all seem to go hand in hand; it’s poor time management and not being aware of where your time is going, sneaky bad habits, inability to focus – short-term or longer, people-pleasing or over-committing, or just plain procrastination. Therefore, learning to stop wasting time means learning to rein in these factors.
Poor time management can be anything from not following a schedule to spending time on too many low priority tasks. It can also be allowing things like TV watching to consume a disproportionate amount of your time.
Bad habits include checking email constantly or allowing other interruptions such as coworkers, text messages, phone notifications, or social media.
An inability to focus is often the result of the same habits, although we also need an optimal amount of energy to focus. Too much and you need to exercise more, go for a walk, or a run to burn it off. Too little? Your brain is like a car engine with a dead battery – it just won’t turn over.
People-pleasing often goes hand in hand with over-committing; it’s saying yes to things, including meetings or events, that aren’t interesting to you and, from a work perspective, may be of low value.
Procrastination is simply the avoidance of the task at hand. This usually happens because it’s unpleasant, boring, seemingly difficult, or you just don’t know where to begin.
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Tips and tricks to stop wasting time
Here are 5 ways to finally stop wasting time.
1. Gather some data
The Daily Hours Log is pretty simple; you don’t use it to schedule your time but to track it. And yes, I find that writing works better than an app for this purpose. For at least 3 days just write down everything that you do in 30-minute increments. This includes eating, sleeping, showering, social media, TV… you get the idea. At the end of 3 days, you should begin to see how your days typically shape up and have a pretty good idea of where your time is going and whether or not you want to make any changes.
Tiii.me is a really cool app-like website that lets you calculate how much time you spend watching TV. For example, I put in Game of Thrones (of course!), The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead. Assuming that I watched all episodes and all seasons of each, that would add up to 9 days, 3 hours, and 45 minutes, or about 220 hours total. Supposing you work 8 hours per day, 5 days a week, and that you sleep 8 hours per night, that’s a total of 27.5 workdays or 5 ½ weeks. Or, to look at it another way, almost a month’s worth of sleep! Think about this next time you catch yourself saying “I just never have enough time!”
2. Minimize interruptions
If you really want to stop wasting time, start by turning off the notifications for your emails, social media, and text messages – yes really. Do you seriously think you’re going to forget to check? And unless you’re a surgeon, how many things in your day are truly a crisis or urgent? Try checking in electronically once an hour for 5-10 minutes, and that still adds up to about an hour and a half a day! I haven’t had notifications turned on for more than 5 years now, and believe me, I don’t miss the constant “ping” and adrenaline hit you get every time it goes off.
Being constantly on your emails and electronic communication takes up enormous bandwidth and just may crowd out the mental space for your next brilliant idea.
3. Ruthlessly prioritize
The expression “ruthlessly prioritize” is one I first heard used by Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey when he delivered the commencement address at the University of Houston graduation ceremony (You can catch the full video here).
Whether it’s due to FOMO, persistent perfectionism, or just plain wanting to be a good person, most of us are way overcommitted. Learn to say no and spend your time like money, only on what is important to you. Ask yourself consistently if this activity is going to propel you forward or hold you back. Keep in mind that no one is going to love you any more or any less just because you do what they want.
4. Stop multitasking to stop wasting time
A study conducted at Stanford University shows that multitasking adds stress to our daily lives, and negatively affects our mood, motivation, and productivity.
And according to INC., MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller said, “[Our brains are] not wired to multitask well…when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”
Your brain needs time to organize your thoughts, and trying to focus on too many things at once slows the process down. Think I’m kidding? Notice how your computer or phone runs with multiple browser windows or apps open.
5. Stop procrastinating
We’ve all done it. We put it off. Push it back. Wait. Hope. Agonize. And in the eleventh hour, at the last moment, or when we just can’t stand to live with it any longer, we finally get it done! And most of the time wish we had started sooner. When you procrastinate, you really end up squandering away free time which could probably have been used more productively or even for something fun.
A trick I like to use to stop procrastinating is to ask myself, “What is the obstacle here?” Does it feel overwhelming? Do I not know what the next step is? Am I too tired? Hungry? Am I avoiding confrontation? Check-in with yourself and find out what is going on with you, and then deal with the root cause. It’s far easier than just trying to push through it.
Turn off electronic notifications and try checking in just once an hour at most. Work someplace that’s quiet and where disruptions are at a minimum.
Learn to say “No”
“No, thank you” is a complete sentence. It’s also one of the most powerful time management tools. It’s okay to say no to anything that is not a high-value use of your time, your energy, or aligned with your visions and goals. Politely and firmly stated, it is also respectful to both yourself and the other person.
Let go of the multitasking myth
I also jokingly call this the “Stand or Sit Rule” – you can stand or you can sit, but not at the same time! You can really only do one thing at a time so cut yourself some slack. You’ll also minimize the time it takes you to refocus.
Give yourself a break
You are not a machine. Recognize procrastination when it rears its head and find out what’s going on. Plan. Start big projects well in advance, take things slower, and be realistic.
About the Author
Certified Professional Life Coach
Hunter has an M.A. in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. For more than 10 years, she coached clients to find and follow their passion and live their best lives. Hunter has also done youth mentoring work with Covenant House, realizing that this is such a challenging and important time in life.
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