No matter who you are, here’s one thing that’s true- everyone has the same amount of time in a day. From people who seem to pull off managing every aspect of their lives, to those who struggle just to get to work without being late three days in a row- they’re all working with the same 24 hours. And the number of those 24 hours we have on this earth – well, they’re limited. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste a single minute of them.
Time management is a huge area, so for today we’re going to focus on one aspect, and that is time wasters. Time wasters are those habits and activities we engage in that serve no purpose. Chances are, you have some ideas about what yours are- but we’re going to approach this with actual evidence, as some things might surprise you. We’re also going to focus on how you spend your time at home, although these strategies can be as easily applied to the workplace.
1. Do a time audit.
For this you need a timer (you can use the one on your phone) and a piece of paper.
Set the timer to go off for 30 minutes after you walk in the door.
When the timer goes off, write down what you were doing, and then reset the timer.
Continue until you go to bed.
Try this for three days to get an accurate picture as possible.
2. Categorize your activities.
Now looking at your list, I want you to separate them into four columns:
b) Necessary but could be done better
c) Total time waster
Your columns could look something like this:
|Productive||Necessary but could be done better||Important||Total time-waster|
|Cleaning kitchen||Checking email||Watching a show on Netflix with my husband||Scrolling through Facebook|
|Working on the household budget||Cooking dinner||Reading a magazine||Watching the news|
Now you may be wondering why, for example, I’ve put things like watching TV as important. That’s because it’s one of the key things my husband and I like to do to relax and reward ourselves for the day. Likewise, as a blogger and someone who loves making her home welcoming and efficient, reading magazines gives me ideas. So I’m never going to consign these things to total time wasters as they fulfill an important function in my life. Remember the criteria above- we’re looking to eliminate things that serve no purpose, and these clearly do. Now if we watched five shows in a row and neglected to do anything else in a night, that might shift it to “necessary but could be done better” column!
3. Ditch your total time wasters.
Now that you’ve got your time wasters nutted out, you need to give some thought as to what triggers you into starting them. Chances are they are either triggered by habit (eg it’s 6 o’clock so that must mean it’s time for the news), transitions (hmmm, ok I’ve just done the dishes, might see what’s on Facebook), proximity (look here, my phone just fell into my hand) and boredom (ugh I’ve been working on this for ten minutes already, I’ll just check my Pinterest feed). The nature of the trigger depends on how you’ll deal with it.
Let’s say it’s habit. Training yourself out of habits is a major endeavor and the work of another post or ten. However, the key piece of advice I can give is that you can’t stop a habit cold turkey without something to replace it. So if you decide that watching the news is something you don’t want to do, then when 6pm rolls around, you have to have something else to do instead, planned and ready.
Transitions are weak points where you can easily get distracted by a time waster. You can train yourself out of this by using statements like “when” “then.” For example – “When I have finished the dishes, then I will do the budget,” so you’re keeping your momentum going.
Proximity can be fixed by putting your phone across the room, or even in another room.
Boredom is a challenging one, as I believe we have become so used to the instant gratification the internet offers us, that the minute we get a distracting thought, we know we can act on it, so we do. For example, when my husband and I are watching a show, sometimes we might say, “Oh that actor looks familiar. Wonder who that is.” And then we grab our phones, search it up, and then next thing you know, we’re down the rabbit hole. The brain works wonders with delayed gratification, so when you get the urge, just tell yourself you can act on it when you’ve written another 200 words, or paid three bills online or whatever it is you need to do. You can also support yourself here by removing apps from your phone or turning the wifi off your computer. Focusing on one thing at a time does get easier with practice and it also makes that one thing more enjoyable as well.
4. Refine your “Necessary but…” list.
Now you’ve dealt with your total time-wasters, it’s time to move on to the “necessary but…” list. Everything on this list is here because you need to do it, but how you’re doing it isn’t as efficient as it could be. Again, dealing with the problem is context dependent. However-
Chances are that email is one of the things that popped up on your list. While email is fundamental to much communication both in and out of the workplace, our use of it often leaves much to be desired.
Taming your email can be done by doing the following
- Schedule in blocks when you check email. In the morning, around lunch, and around 5pm work well for me.
- Reduce your email by unsubscribing from as many mailing lists as possible. To make this easier to do, create a new folder, and in it put the last email you received from that list. Then unsubscribe, but keep the email. After a month, delete the email from the folder. This way, if you find you really do miss it, it’s easier to subscribe again. But if a month has gone by and you haven’t given it a second thought, then you can feel comfortable permanently deleting.
- Turn off notifications. These include the sounds and the email icon. These notifications are calls to action to check your email, and they are very hard to resist. Better to just get rid of them.
Most of the things on this list will be things we need to do around the home. If you’re stuck for ideas on how to do them better, then check out the following articles:
Pinterest is also an amazing resource for household routines. Check out my board called (oddly enough) Routines for even more ideas. Alternatively, if there’s something on your list that you need help with, let me know by asking in the comments or sending me an email. Take one routine at a time- remember that small, gradual changes are often more sustainable than massive changes all at once.
To sum up:
We waste a lot of time in our lives- precious time that can’t ever be given back. By doing a time audit, we can identify those things that serve no purpose in our lives and then take steps to get rid of them. We can also see the things we have to do but aren’t doing as well as we could, and work to change them.
There are many ways that we can use time to our advantage, but starting with time-wasters is quick, easy and will give you guaranteed results!
Did you try doing this exercise to get more time in your day? What did you find out?