“Let me take a break of 5 minutes to browse the internet.” That’s how it starts. An hour later, you are still browsing.
Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Quora, and Pinterest extend breaks from “a few minutes” to “oh shit, I just wasted 2 hours.”
Do you find yourself spending a long time on social media, your phone, or checking what’s in the refrigerator? To make that worse, you even know that those activities are useless and a waste of time. Yet, you cannot help yourself.
But here’s the kicker. Instead of fighting the urge, we will use the approach of eliminating the temptation itself. This article will cover:
- The reason why you waste
- 10 comprehensive tips to stop wasting time
- Eliminating temptations of all time wasters
I had the same habit. I would read something random on the internet, check social media feed, or glance through my text messages every time I completed a task. The time I spent would vary. Sometimes I wasted only 2 minutes and at times 2 hours.
I would find myself wasting time on things I knew were useless. To make it worse, I even wasted time when I knew I had important work to do.
I know that many others face the same problem.
Over time, by flipping through the pages of a bazillion books, trying hundreds of experiments and wasting more time to find ways to save time, here are the ways which helped me stop wasting time. Maybe they will help you too.
Please note: When it comes to wasting time, there is no one fit for all. Each person has a different way of wasting time. So some of these tips might work for you and some may not.
If you can relate to a problem and believe the solution might help, try implementing it for a few days or weeks to check for the results.
As the first step, identify where are you wasting time using the activity below.
- Why you waste time
- 9 ways to stop wasting time
- 3. Use time blocking
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why you waste time
Jordan Peterson explains the reason why you waste time. You can watch this video if you would like to understand the science behind procrastination.
9 ways to stop wasting time
1. Put your phone on DND
The smartphone is a device of distraction. We love to hear our phone ding or buzz. Checking our notification helps us feel good due to a shot of dopamine. The text usually is the bank providing a personal loan or an offer from the supermarket that you would never avail.
As human beings, resisting the urge to check our text messages is not an easy battle to win against ourselves. The problem does not lie in the simple check of a message.
Once we open the phone, you not only read the text message but also look at your other notifications. You notice that someone liked your Instagram photo and boom, you spend another 20 minutes scrolling through the news feed.
The social media apps have learned the trick to hold your attention for long hours. As a victim, you end up interrupted while studying, working, or doing anything important.
The easier solution is to prevent your phone from buzzing and sounding notifications.
I put my phone on DND for the entire day except for 8 PM – 11 PM. Other than those 3 hours, my phone lies on DND for 21 hours a day. This change has saved me from wasting cartloads of time.
A few years earlier if anyone told me to use DND for 21 hours a day, I would have laughed at the idea. You think your circumstances will not let you use DND for most of the day, but trust me, you can.
If you implement only one tip from this list, this gotta be the one. If you believe you use your phone only a little, you’re failing to realize how much it distracts you. Try putting your phone on DND for one day and see the difference yourself. Do not dismiss this idea until you try it once.
Detailed Guide: How to put your phone on DND to avoid distractions
2. Use websites instead of apps
I had all the social media apps on my phone such as Facebook, Quora, Pinterest, Instagram, and whatnot. An app makes the usage simpler and user-friendly. On the other side, apps create an addiction because they can send you notifications while websites cannot.
Most of these apps also have a website. For example, you can use Facebook as an app or as a website on the browser by using www.facebook.com. The same goes for Youtube, Quora, and Instagram.
Using the website takes a little extra effort compared to using an app. For example, the website requires you to open a browser, type the website and then wait for a couple of seconds. Apps do all this within a blink of the eye.
You must use the extra effort required for the website to your advantage.
As human beings, we do not like spending extra effort. The extra effort needed for the website helps in overcoming the urge in itself.
3. Use time blocking
Work within time slots when possible. For example, you can set the first 1 hour of your day to learn and improve in your area of expertise. Next 1 hour to work on any tasks related to your long term goals. You can spend the third-hour checking emails and so on.
When you work in time slots like these, you make better overall progress. If not, you may wander from one task to another, without a clear direction. One task may extend while another might cut short. As a result, you bounce from one task to another like a balloon drifting due to a strong breeze.
If you are a small business owner, you must strongly consider this tip to avoid your time getting pulled in all directions.
Detailed guide: How to use time blocks to schedule your day
4. Log out of websites like Youtube, Quora
Most of the social networks today work on Machine Learning. Based on your usage, social media knows exactly what you like and dislike.
For example, I liked watching The Impractical Jokers, The Carbonaro Effect and short book summaries. If I opened Youtube, few of these videos would show right on my face. I would succumb to the temptation like a dog offered a meaty bone and click on one of them.
Youtube even knows what videos do you like watching based on the time of the day. If I opened the app in the morning, it would recommend various book summaries. In the evening, I was presented with different funny videos. Damn Youtube, you know how to hold our attention.
When you logout, Youtube has no idea who you are or what you like. Try opening an incognito browser window and check what videos show up. I doubt you will like the videos shown there as much.
Besides, logging out each time and logging in again turns into an extra effort. As mentioned in the previous tip, any extra effort leads to less temptation.
5. Don’t wait for the exact hour or half-hour to begin
If I reached work by 9:20, I would decide to start at 9:30. To spend those 10 minutes, I would check some random group messages. One of the messages would lead me to a Youtube video. After watching that video, I would continue watching the recommended videos.
At 9:30, I would be halfway through the video. But because the video was so funny, I would not stop between the video. I would proceed to watch until the video comes to an end at 9:36.
Now that I crossed my best time to start, I would postpone my work to begin at 10. You know the rest of the story. The vicious cycle never ends.
Do not wait for the clock to strike the exact 30 minute or hour like 9:30, 10, 10:30, 11. The first best time to begin was in the past, the next best time is right now.
6. Find ways to reduce distractions like headphones, closed rooms, DND board
The more you stay around people and scenarios which lead to small talk, useless conversations and random gossip, the more you will end up wasting time.
People will speak loudly, crack jokes, answer calls on their phone, drop a bottle, ask you unnecessary questions and more. As much as possible stay away from an environment that facilitates distractions.
You do not have to isolate yourself from the rest of the world like a prisoner in an isolated cell. But whenever possible stay away from the commotion. Using empty rooms when available prevents you from being accessible. Using an earphone(even without any music) blocks people from bothering you for no reason.
You can also cultivate a habit of asking people to not disturb you for a certain like 9 AM to 11:30 AM every day.
Every workplace, job role, and culture has a different working style. Do what you can to reduce scenarios that lead to distractions.
Working among distractions is like many people talking at the same time in a meeting. Nothing good comes out of it.
Detailed Guide: How to reduce distractions and increase focus
7. Set an end time for a break
Whenever I finished a task, I felt I deserved a break. The problem was not in the number of breaks I took. The problem was how long the break went for. Sometimes I would complete a task in 30 minutes, convince myself I deserved a 5-minute break before I moved to the next task.
The 5-minute break would turn into a 30-minute break. Many a time I have taken more than a 30-minute break for completing a task of 30 min. We have all been there, haven’t we?
Set a time to end your break. If you decided to take a 10-minute break, the break ends in 10 minutes. Even if you are catching up with your gorgeous new colleague, the break should end in 10 minutes.
Having a plan for the day helps you end your breaks on time instead of endless wasting time.
Detailed guide: How to plan your day for productivity
8. Keep 1 thing open
I had a bad habit of leaving my browser window open with many tabs. I would also have multiple browser windows open, each with over 10 tabs. On average, I had 20 tabs open with different websites. Some were websites I opened a couple of days back.
I did not need most of them, I was only lazy to close them. Most of my work involves a browser. So, sooner or later, when I delved deep into work, some notification would show up on one of the tabs I had left open. For example (1) Facebook.
I would click the tab to check what the notification was. Even if the notification was a friend asking for a life on Candy Crush, I would end up wasting some more time on Facebook.
The only browser tab or application that you should keep open is the one you are working on. Close the rest. Make it a habit to close the application or the browser once you finish the task. If not, the activity from the open tabs invites you to click by screaming “Click me please, click me.”
Working on one task at a time help you prioritize the right tasks and knock them out the park.
9. Follow the 2-minute rule
The 2-minute rule was introduced by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done.
As per the rule, if you come across any task or a job that needs less than 2 minutes to complete, you should do it then and there without postponing it. Remembering the task later, recalling necessary areas and then doing it will take 5 or more minutes. In some cases, you might forget it completely.
You are just about to step out for a break and you receive an email that needs a quick reply. Do it right away.
You are taking a break and recall a quick phone call you had to make. Pick the phone and make the call then and there. As a rule of thumb, if you can complete a task quickly, do it right there. Do not procrastinate.
10. Do something you love
The most effective way to stop wasting time is to work on something you love. You do not have to do what you love as a full-time job.
For example, if you want to run a business, you can start making small progress towards your dream even with a full-time job.
You can even pursue a long-forgotten hobby. Did you dream about playing the guitar in your teens? Pick the guitar and spend 30 minutes every day.
Doing something you love serves as a catalyst for ignoring things that waste your time. Working on what you love serves as an adrenaline rush. The adrenaline helps you flush the other distractions out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we waste time?
As human beings, we like to take the path of least resistance.
In simple words, when you have multiple paths which lead to a destination, you tend to choose the easiest one.
Similarly, when we have a choice between working on a task vs wasting time, we choose to waste time because it is easier.
The chances of wasting time increase if you dislike the task at hand or find it boring. If you have a task in an area you love, you do not waste time as much.
For example, if being a pro guitarist is your passion, you will not spend 30 minutes on Instagram during your guitar practice. However, if you work at a job you hate, you postpone the tasks forever and spend time on Youtube instead.
How to stop wasting time on the internet?
To reduce time on the internet keep internet away as much as possible. With the smartphone in your pocket, this is not easy to do. You must reduce your exposure to the internet by keeping your phone on DND, closing unnecessary tabs, uninstalling social media apps and turning off as many notifications as possible.
How to stop wasting time on Youtube?
Youtube has a powerful method to determine what videos you might possibly like. It predicts which video you might like based on your age, gender, location, and many other parameters. If you log out of the account when you use Youtube, it no longer knows anything about your likes. When random videos are shown which do not match with your interest, avoiding Youtube becomes far easier.
Social media uses a hook to keep you hooked. A hook is nothing but a trigger that urges you to come back and use the site. Instagram uses likes, people who viewed your story as a hook for example. Your best bet to overcome such hooks is to turn off notifications or put your phone on DND. When a notification causes you to check your phone, it means the phone controls your behavior. Instead, you must turn the tables and check the phone when you like to.
To stop wasting time, it took me a long time. The first step was accepting that I was wasting time. If you work long hours, you will have a hard time convincing yourself that you do waste time.
Next, I had to find my biggest time-wasting habits and then build the discipline to get over those habits.
Do not expect to get rid of your time-wasting habits in a day or two. You will need weeks or even months. Have the discipline and patience to target the improvement over the long term.
If you start with the intention of getting rid of all your time-wasting habits in a week, you will give up before you even get started. Yet another waste of time.
Leave a comment on what is your most common method of wasting time.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.