How To Stop Wasting Time

While the actual definition of “wasting time” may be somewhat subjective, I think most people would agree that there are certain activities that are definitely less productive than others.

And if you have certain goals and want to be as productive with your time as possible, anything you’re doing that isn’t productive and works towards those goals in some way or another could be regarded as a waste of time.

Typical examples include aimlessly surfing the web, playing video games, watching TV and using social media. You know, the usual.

That doesn’t mean we need to eliminate all unproductive activities completely.

Some people like to use these as a way to relax and that is absolutely fine – it’s totally up to you how you want to spend your 24 hours each day.

But if you’re doing these activities as a form of conscious or unconscious procrastination when you have more pressing tasks at hand, or if you’re doing them and not finding time to do the things you’d really like to be doing, then it’s fair to say you’re wasting your time.

So wasting time is a habit. A bad habit. But the good news is, you can break habits and form new good habits to replace the bad ones! Here’s how I go about it.

1. Identify unproductive activities

The first step to rescue time wasted on unproductive activities is to identify exactly what these activities are. The best place to start is probably with an audit of your time.

I outline how to do this in detail in this post, but essentially, you’re looking to record what you do with each hour of your day for a week or two.

You will then have a much clearer picture of how you send your time currently and you can highlight where you’re wasting time.

A lot of the time, we might be doing stuff that is a waste of time without even realizing it.

To find out if that is the case, all we need to do is to ask ourselves a simple question and that is,

“What would happen if I stop doing this activity?”

This can apply to anything you do in your work and personal time.

If the answer is, “Nothing would happen if I stopped this activity,” then congratulations – you’ve just found something that is not producing any value in your life.

These activities can slip into our lives without us realizing and after a while, they simply become habits that we do almost on auto-pilot.

Make a list
Make a list / Image by Andrew Neel

2. Make a list

Make a list of all your time-wasting activities and unproductive habits and put them in order of time currently spent on them, so that the activity that wastes the most time each week goes on top.

3. Decide what action to take

Work through the list, starting with the biggest time-wasters at the top and decide what action to take.

The options are:

  1. Eliminate
  2. Reduce
  3. Manage

Some things you can just eliminate straight away. For example, if you spend a lot of time playing games on your phone, you could just delete them. Done. Out of sight and (eventually) out of mind. Congratulations, you won’t be wasting any more time on those.

There are other activities that you may not want to give up completely, because although they are unproductively, maybe they help you relax, for example, watching Netflix in the evening. In this case, you can make a compromise by simply reducing the amount of time you spend on them.

So instead of watching two episodes each night of that TV series that you’re currently into, why not reduce it to one and use that saved time to do something else more productive? Win-win!

Finally, there will be activities that you are spending too much time on that you cannot eliminate or even reduce, so you need to manage them differently. An example of this might be your email and the way you use it currently.

Next, I have outlined some of the biggest time-wasters and what you can do to liberate more of your time for productive activities.

Time-wasters and solutions

There are loads of things that can be a waste of our time, but here I’ve laid out seven for you with advice on how to overcome them.

1. Email

Email is quite possibly the most common source of wasted time for most of us whose work requires us to work from a computer. And the thing is, you might not even realize it how much time you re wasting. The fact is, so many people become slaves to their Inbox and end up practically living in it.

And that is a massive waste of time.

Some people do receive huge amounts of emails, it’s true. But the problem comes down to the habit of checking your Inbox without actually processing anything or reacting to an email every single time you get a notification that a new one has arrived.

This is not an efficient way to work because firstly, you become permanently preoccupied with what’s happening in your Inbox, rather than focusing on actual productive work/ And secondly, everything you do becomes reactive – you’re waiting to get an email to react to someone else’s demands or queries. In other words, someone else is managing your time for you.

Solution: Learn Inbox Zero. This is an excellent email management technique I use to minimize the time I spend in my Inbox and cannot recommend strongly enough.
You can find out exactly how to use it in my post linked below.

Check out this post: Does Inbox Zero Work?

Image via Canva

2. Social media

Checking for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook every time you get a notification? Massive waste of time.

Checking Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see why you don’t have any notifications? Massive waste of time.

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of social media generally, so I understand that my opinion here is already biased. Although you can find some interesting, heart-warming, informative and amusing stuff on social media, it is mostly a toxic pool of utter shite than does most of us more harm than good. If you actually want to spend time on developing yourself and leading a more full and productive life, you should all definitely be spending less time giving a crap about what Trump is Tweeting or what some Kardashian is wearing.

Be kind to yourself and spend some time on you instead of living vicariously through the posts of others!

Solution: Ideally, stop using it – you’ll be happier. Otherwise, use web blockers at times when you need to focus on other tasks.

3. Internet generally

The internet is a wondrous thing. So much useful information and interesting stuff at our fingertips. But it can also be a huge time-suck if you’re not disciplined with it. I am guilty of wasting stupid amounts of time on YouTube and Reddit when I should have been focusing on something else.

Solution: Use webpage blockers. Another good tactic is to use different devices for work and personal time or create a work account that only lets you use the stuff you need for work.

4. Not having a schedule

If you’re not using a schedule to manage your time, then somebody else is going to be managing your time for you. Knowing what you have planned for the day and allocating appropriate time for each activity will save you lots of time and energy.

Solution: Learn how to create a schedule and use time blocking. You should also schedule time for some of the relaxing time-wasting stuff, so that you have a dedicated time for it, rather than let it infiltrate the times when you need to be focusing your time and attention on work or something else productive.

5. Multi-tasking

Trying to do more than one task at once is almost always a waste of time. It’s counterproductive because you usually end up doing everything poorly, rather than nailing one and then moving to the next.

Solution: Focus on one task at a time. Try the Pomodoro Technique.

Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique?

6. Not knowing when to quit

Persistence is an admirable quality and it is something that is required to succeed at pretty much anything I can think of. However, sometimes we persevere when we should be quitting.

For example, if a book you picked up turns out to be crap, don’t power through it, just ditch and find something else. Same with TV.

Don’t waste time doing things you don’t want to do and adds no value to you.

Solution: Stop doing stuff that’s sh*t. Know when to quit.

7. Saying ‘Yes’ to stuff you don’t want to do

Too often we take on work and personal engagements that we really don’t want to do or have the time to do. It is a huge waste of time and distracts us from the activities we want to be dedicating our time to

Solution: Stop saying ‘yes’ and start saying ‘no’ more often.

Check out this post: How To Say ‘No’

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

One of the biggest ways to stop wasting time actually starts with recognizing how valuable your time really is. It is a resource far more valuable than money or food and yet many of us just throw it away all the time without even giving it a second thought.

What constitutes wasting time may well be subjective, but if you want to be more productive and get more out of your days, identifying the activities that don’t create any value or take you a step closer to achieving your goals is the first step. Next, you have to take action to either eliminate, reduce or manage them.

We all waste our time sometimes. And that’s ok – some time-wasting activities, such as TV and video games can bring joy, relaxation and entertainment and if you feel they are adding value to your life, then perhaps they are not a waste of time for you.

But if you can do some of these activities less and instead use the time you gain from that to focus on your goals, family, personal development, you’ll be amazed at how much more fulfilled you’ll feel and how much more you will get out of life.

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