“I wish I had the time to …”
Do you find yourself saying that often? If your answer is yes, welcome to the gang of people who believe they do not have enough time to work on the tasks they truly want to.
But is that the truth? Do you have no time whatsoever to spare or are many of the common time wasters sneaking unnoticed right under your nose? If you’re not sure, it’s time you paid attention.
When you aim to achieve a target, your mind scampers to find time to work on it. At first thought, you attempt to free up large chunks off your schedule so that you have ample time to spend on the tasks you desire.
But today, everyone has a major portion of their day tied to various activities. A student has classes to attend while a working professional has a full-time job. Therefore, when you’re aiming for a difficult goal, freeing up a large block of time, say an hour or two, can seem daunting. As a result, many give up chasing their dream simply because they assume they do not have the time to work on it.
But, what if you free little blocks of time throughout your day instead of hunting for one big piece? For example, if you want an extra hour to start a side hustle, which of the two options seem easier?
- Finding one spare hour in the day
- Freeing up 3 blocks of 20 min each
For people with an occupied schedule, the second option is an easier choice.
In this article, we’ll look at the most common ways people waste time. By knowing the areas where you’re leaking time, you can cut down some of that wastage, thereby freeing up many little chunks through your day.
Each of these little blocks of time may not seem significant on their own, but they tally up to a large figure by the end of your day. More so on a grander scale.
So, in this article, let’s look at the common ways people waste time without being aware of it.
- The most common time wasters
The most common time wasters
Throughout your day you have different chores and responsibilities to attend to. For example, you have to wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, get ready, and go about business. You have no choice but to spend time on such activities. But, are you spending an appropriate amount on your daily routines?
Let me run through some of the common activities which eat up your time without your knowledge. As you read through each of these, ask yourself if you’re doing your best to optimize your time.
The list will exclude the time spent on smartphones because that problem is well known.
1. Waking up to getting started
How long do you need to work on a meaningful task from the time you wake up? Are you completing all your morning chores within a reasonable time or are you letting time fly by?
Here are some examples of wasting time from the time you wake up
- Rolling in bed for 20 minutes before sitting up
- Scrolling through the newsfeed of different social networks in bed
- Snoozing multiple times before waking up
- Taking too long to brush, take a dump, shower
- Lazing around doing nothing
Do a few hours pass before you pick up a meaningful task? Be honest to yourself. After all, you don’t have to send an activity report to anyone. Knowing how you spend your time will only help you cut off any loose ends.
If you need a few hours to finish all your usual morning chores, ask yourself, “Do I genuinely need that long or am I slacking off?” Sometimes you have a valid reason, but more often, you’re not mindful of how you spend your morning time.
Your mind will argue saying, “I need 15 minutes to brush my teeth. Oral hygiene is important.” But is that the truth or are you justifying your slow habits?
How to fix it:
Observe your own actions from the time the alarm rings to the time you begin the first important task of the day. If you’re mindful enough, you’ll notice where you’re going slow. You have an opportunity to make more time for yourself if you:
- Identify the biggest bottlenecks which are taking your time in the morning
- The tasks and chores you can complete faster than you usually do
That said, do not aim to optimize every single minute of your routine. You’re not a machine, so allow yourself breathing space. But whenever you find a window of opportunity that can free up a block of time for you, grab it with both hands.
2. Time taken to begin a task
How much time do you spend between deciding to start working on a task and actually working on it?
Here’s how Marcus begins his work routine. Every day, he begins his job at 9:15 AM. As soon as he logs into his computer, he opens FoxSports to quench his thirst for sports updates around the world. Side by side, he opens his to-do list and picks a task to work on.
But he decides to watch a Youtube video first. 7 more minutes whiz by as Marcus laughs his guts out at a standup comedian’s new gig. When the video comes close to a finish, his phone beeps. A good friend just sent him a text. The back and forth messages take a few more minutes.
The clock now shows 9:50 AM, but Marcus is yet to begin the task he had picked up.
Does Marcus’ morning routing routine sound like your story? Spending time on irrelevant activities before beginning a task is another major time waster. Each person squanders time before commencing a task in various ways:
- Using Social Media
- Watching Youtube
- Mindless browsing
- Reading news
- Chatting with others
- Exchanging texts
People have their own triggers and interests in one or more of these areas. Some love watching Youtube videos while others enjoy reading the news.
What you spend your time on is beside the point. A better question to ask yourself is “How long?” Spending 5-10 minutes on such activities isn’t a time management sin. But if you need over 30 minutes to pick up your first task from the time you begin your workday, you have a scope for improvement.
How to fix it:
Identify what activities you indulge in usually before working on a task. Awareness of where you’re leaking time serves as the first dosage of medicine.
In the current world, mobile phones and laptops provide ample opportunities for distractions. If you set your phone on DND and toss it into a drawer before starting work, you’d resist a majority of the temptations then and there.
As for your laptop, only retain the application/browser tab you’re working on. Close all the other applications running in the background like chat messengers, browser tabs with Facebook/news, and whatnot.
For a more detailed approach read the article on how to avoiding distractions at work.
3. Short breaks turning long
Everyone needs a break between work to regroup, reorient, and refresh. But, how long do you take a break for?
Let’s look at how John takes a break at work.
As a designer, John works on a task for a stretch for 60-90 minutes. As soon as he’s done, his body craves caffeine. “Let me find a coworker to grab coffee with,” and off he goes hunting for his friends, Luke and Barbara. Luke has just come out of a meeting while Barbara is right in the middle of a task.
A few minutes later, all three friends are at the pantry chatting over coffee and icecream. One conversation leads to another and by the time they return to their desks, 45 minutes have gone by.
Do your breaks last that long or are they short? Sure, you do need a time-out after a task, but do you need 30 minutes to rejuvenate yourself? Nope.
If you take long breaks and later complain about long working hours, you only have yourself to blame.
How to solve it:
Watch the length of your breaks. A 15-minute break after a 90-minute task should more than suffice. Anything beyond that is pure extravagance.
Spending time socializing to develop your network and cultivate relationships works as a different argument. But taking long breaks with the same set of people doing the same thing serves as an opportunity to save time.
4. Break after every little task
Is taking a short break after tasks the solution to time wasted over breaks? Not exactly.
Meet Paul who works as a programmer on various tasks throughout the day. A portion of his work involves developing large modules that span over hours. At the same time, he has to fix errors on his previous work which hardly takes 5-10 minutes each.
Every time Paul fixes a bug, he takes a break. So every 10 minutes, he allows himself to lean back on his chair and pull a few potato chips from the bag on his desk. At times, he walks around, chit chats or picks up coffee from the vending machine.
How often you take a break determines how long your break should be. You don’t deserve a break after every small task. And, you definitely do not deserve a long break after a short task.
How to fix it:
Pomodoro technique strikes the right balance between getting things done and taking breaks. The technique involves working interrupted for a span of time followed by a short time-out. The traditional method uses a 25-minute work window followed by a 5-minute break. After repeating the cycle 4 times, you allow yourself a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
5. Checking email
How often do you check email? Today, looking through one’s inbox has turned into a habit. Throughout the day, you check for emails even if you don’t need to.
Meet Marie, who works as a manager at a top organization. Every morning, as soon as she wakes up, before even getting out of bed, she scans her phone for any urgent emails that need her attention. Once she’s at work, her computer keeps buzzing with email notifications. Even when her mind is deep in thought trying to complete a task, she makes it a point to glance at the email to check if it needs attention.
When Marie is on vacation, her out of office email reads, “I am on vacation until …. Please expect a delay in response.”
If you read that carefully, you’d know what I am getting at. When you’re on vacation, you’re supposed to stay away from emails completely, not respond to them with a delay.
If you have a compulsion to stay connected with email, you’re losing a big chunk of your time. “But I need to check emails often. If not, it’d lead to consequences,” you retort. Now, is that based on facts or only your assumption? When was the last time you decreased the frequency of your email checks and evaluated the damage caused?
Keeping your email notifications on kills your productivity. Every time a new email shows up, your eyes cannot resist reading the preview on the corner of your screen. Your brain starts wondering, “Should I work on that email now?” After a couple of minutes of thought, you decide to take it up later. When you get back to the task you were working on, you exclaim, “Wait, where was I?”
How to fix it
Do not keep your emails open on your computer throughout. If you have notifications on your phone for every new email, turn it off.
You can follow one of the two approaches to tackle email such that you balance productivity and connectivity
Check emails a few times a day:
If you have an addiction to emails, you must try this approach first. Check your emails 3 times – before work, after lunch, and towards the end of the day. At any other time, both your mail application and the notifications should remain closed. For most people, that’s the right balance.
Use 10-minute slots scattered through the day:
If your role requires quicker action towards emails, assign multiple 10 min slots scattered through your day to check your inbox. You can strategically place them every hour or two based on your need. But, once you’ve read your emails, close your mailbox and notifications until your next slot.
The less time you spend on email, the more productive you’ll be.
If you have similar habits of wasting time, don’t kick yourself. We all have our time management flaws and that’s OK. But, if you are wasting time under these 5 areas but refusing to accept your mistakes, you’re losing out on an opportunity to free up more time for yourself.
Take a hard look at your time management mirror and evaluate yourself. No one is watching if you’re honest with your evaluation, but your future self cares about the changes you make.
So, will you spot the opportunities in your daily schedule to stop wasting time? The choice is yours.
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.