You look up at the clock on your bedroom wall, and watch the second hand tick away with a ruthless, mechanical precision. Tick … tock … tick … tock – the time slips away like quicksand.
You let out a sigh of defeat, and look back down at the computer screen, your face bathed in an eerie artificial glow.
This was supposed to be the day when I finished my report for the boss, what went wrong? Where did the last few hours go? Surely that clock has to be wrong.
Your mind starts counting back through everything you’ve done today that wasn’t the work you wanted to complete.
You reckon a couple of hours were spent on Facebook and Twitter … after all; you’ve got to know what your friends are up to, right?
Then there was that cooking show on TV that you just couldn’t miss, and religious checking of your favorite news sites, and all those text messages that you just can’t ignore when your phone starts buzzing.
A familiar feeling of frustration spreads through your mind – you’ve just wasted another day, with nothing to show for it when the sun goes down.
You woke up this morning ready to own the day; knowing exactly what you needed to do. And now, as you ought to be winding down for a well-deserved night’s rest, you’re mentally kicking yourself instead.
Can you relate?
If you do and you want to go “cold turkey” on your time-wasting habit, then I’ve got the medicine for you.
When I was at college, I’d waste a lot of time. I would sleep in until lunchtime (missing classes in the process) and crawl out of bed just in time to play video games or watch movies. Of course, my essays and assignments would only just manage to be completed in time.
Basically, I threw away dozens of hours every week. This is time I can never get back. At a conservative estimate of six wasted hours every day, seven days a week, for three years, I threw away something in the region of 6552 hours.
That’s 273 days over a three year period; practically one year of my college life up in smoke, like burning paper, never to return.
It was at this stage of my life that I realized I needed to tackle my demons, and stop wasting so much precious time. I couldn’t afford to throw away almost a third of every day – and no longer did I want to.
So what did I do? Made some changes.
In this article I’m going to share some of my favorite strategies for eliminating wasted time, so that you have more opportunities to accomplish your goals and do great things in your life.
How to Stop Wasting Time and Get More From Life
1. Limit How Others Access You
One of the most powerful time management lessons I have ever learned comes from The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.
Ferriss suggests that one of the most common time wasters – especially for those of us who work in a corporate office environment – is allowing colleagues and those around you too much access to your time.
Basically, in an office environment it’s not unusual to have people come up to your desk to ask questions, or bombard your direct dial with requests, or send endless litanies of emails to your inbox.
These interruptions vie for your attention, and therefore waste your time – taking away from the resource you have to meet your goals and get important work done.
The solution is to manage the access that others have to you in a better fashion.
Here’s a simple blueprint you can follow, which delivers very positive results:
- Let your colleagues know (in the friendliest possible way) that you are busy. Consider putting up a “do not disturb” sign when you really cannot afford to be interrupted.
- Respond to emails at set intervals – rather than on a when-they-come-in basis. I’ll talk more about this shortly, but for now know that this will free up a lot of time.
- Give off an air that makes others not want to interrupt you. My favorite strategy here is to don a pair of noise-canceling headphones; wearing headphones gives off a vibe that you are busy and don’t want unplanned company. The other benefit of wearing noise-canceling headphones is you can block background noise, and removing the distraction.
By managing your own access better and discouraging those around you from needlessly interrupting you, you’ll free up large swathes of time that would otherwise be wasted, and get more work done.
2. Quit Checking Devices and Emails
Another massive time-waster (and a problem that seems only to be growing in stature) is the 21st Century affliction that I call “device addiction”.
Are you bitten by the device-addiction bug? Here’s how to find out:
- You check your phone for texts/notifications/missed calls every few minutes.
- You sometimes imagine you are hearing your phone ring or vibrate – but when you check you haven’t missed any notification.
- You constantly check your email inbox (whether at work in front of your computer, or at home, or on-the-go on your smart phone or device).
- You cannot leave any message, missed call, or email unanswered … even if responding would actually interrupt the flow of what you are currently working on.
Device addiction leads to massive amounts of wasted time. And what does that mean? You are missing out on getting the most from life.
I’ll be realistic here – it’s unlikely that you will be able to “banish” device addiction completely.
Our modern lives are so intrinsically tied up with digital technology, that to try and eliminate it from your life would be a totally Luddite and pointless.
Instead, make it a goal to structure your use of mobile devices and email.
Rather than constantly checking, replying, and getting caught up in procrastination, make it a habit to limit to a set “timing structure”.
For example, resolve to check your emails and mobile phone once every hour.
And give yourself no more than ten minutes to make any replies (which means that unimportant messages will have to remain without a response).
Of course, you need to be ruthless in doing this and wean yourself out of the mentality that you have to check your phone every five minutes, or that all work emails are 100% mission-critical.
3. Avoid Time-Wasting Activities (aka Kick Procrastination)
Lastly, avoid things that contribute to procrastination.
Go ahead and create a list of activities you often indulge in, which also happen to be a time-suck.
I’m talking about things like:
- Playing video games
- Browsing online shopping sites
- Channel surfing on the TV
- Reading trashy magazines
Your list can include anything you would rather not spend your time doing.
Once you’ve created your list of activities that waste time in your life, you need to take steps to reduce the impact of that wastage.
This will obviously depend on what activities you included on your list.
In order to get the ball rolling, here are some examples:
- Playing video games – Sell your games consoles and games. You’ll free up some extra cash, de-clutter, and eliminate the temptation completely.
- Browsing online shopping sites – Use technology against technology! Get a site-blocking tool, such as StayFocusd, in order to limit the time you can spend on such websites.
- Channel surfing on the TV – Get rid of your expensive cable plan, and set yourself a time limit for how much TV you will allow yourself to watch on any given day. Plan your viewing in advance, so that you don’t need to channel surf.
- Reading trashy magazines – Cancel your subscriptions, and throw away existing magazines (or donate to someone who wants them).
By the way, this will have a double benefit of saving you money too. So not only do you get more time, but you free up extra cash as well!
Make it super hard for yourself to procrastinate. Soon, you’ll procrastinate procrastination itself 🙂
To recap, we’ve looked at three very powerful strategies for reducing the amount of time you waste. Now it’s up to you to implement these strategies, and redirect the time you free up into more productive pursuits (such as accomplishing your life goals).
I’ll leave you with a powerful and pertinent quote from Benjamin Franklin:
Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
If you love life, then do your best to eradicate wasted time – it’s a challenge you’ll never regret undertaking.