There may be things that you’re doing during your day that’s making you feel productive, when it’s actually soaking up your time. Like the sand grains inside a hourglass, your precious moments slowly slip away as you waste time on these tasks. But time is limited and we need to be mindful of how we spend it. By avoiding these common time wasters, you’ll be able to get the most out of your life and increase your productivity. (Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes)
“Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of your life.”— Michael LeBoeuf
Have you ever found yourself questioning where did the time go? After a long day, you ruefully gaze at the clock, feeling unaccomplished and defeated. Even though you were busy all day, constantly spinning in circles, you have nothing to show for it.
If you can relate to this scenario, then there’s a strong chance that you have fallen into some time wasting habits. There may be things that you’re doing during your day that’s making you feel productive, when it’s actually soaking up your time. Like the sand grains inside a hourglass, your precious moments slowly slip away as you waste time on these tasks.
Our modern world has become a minefield of distractions. We have to tackle newer ones such as smartphones, advertisements and commercials bombarding our senses, as well as traditional types of distractions, such as loud coworkers and a disorganized home and workspace.
A study shows that office workers, on average, are interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes 25 minutes to get re-focused on their work tasks. In the space of an eight hour workday, our brains can get interrupted for two out of those eight. Not only does our overall productivity take a hit but so does our cognitive abilities.
Mental health professionals have warned that persistent distractions can seriously diminish our ability to concentrate. It can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep and put us in a hyper-alert state . Author of The Inflamed Mind, Edward Bullmore says that the frequent release of stress hormones, like cortisol, is harmful to our health and causes several physical ailments.
Instead of draining away the power of our brain, we should learn to tap into its boundless potential. We can use our mental prowess to master skills and topics that interest us. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’ to become world-class in any field. But to find that kind of time to master our craft, we must learn how to vigilantly guard it.
According to studies done by Nielsen, American adults on average are watching five hours and four minutes of television per day. Just imagine how much could be accomplished during that time frame – the number of books you can read, the number of skills you can learn and how much fitter you can be if you moved your body, instead of sitting in front of a TV or computer.
We pay a heavy opportunity cost when we choose to spend our time on activities that don’t bring us much value. From a young age, I’ve been hypervigilant when it comes to how I use my time. Consequently, I became impatient, and found myself wound up by anything that slowed me down, such as traffic jams, babblers who take forever to make their point, and sitting in waiting rooms.
I became more restless as I grew older, because I realized that time is limited, and hence a precious commodity. But I also knew that having a sense of urgency is not conducive to a healthy state of mind – it left me feeling jittery and anxious. I needed to redefine what time wasters are and get creative in filling in the gaps of time when I’m being unexpectedly detained.
Time can be one of your biggest allies when it comes to creating a life that fulfills you. You have to grasp the gestalt of the flow of time, so that you can work with it to accomplish your goals. A balanced attitude will make you deliberate about planning for both active and inactive phases, seizing each and every moment.
A big part of cultivating this sensibility is weeding out the time wasters in your life. These are the top five that you need to avoid if you want to attain lasting success and fulfillment:
1. The internet and media: Although the Internet and social media gives us instant access to information, and connectivity to people all over the globe, it’s become a big source of distraction. The ease and convenience that our smart phones offer to access the Internet, makes it highly addictive. Every time we get a notification or a ‘like’, we get a hit of dopamine, a pleasure-inducing hormone that boosts our brain chemistry. According to research, this comes with a huge cost in productivity, with the average person spending about three hours a day on their phone and the top 25% are on their devices for 4.5 hours or more.
To reduce the amount of time you spend on the social media, try limiting the number of apps and social media platforms on your phone. Set a timer while you’re browsing the Internet for fun, and get off when the timer goes off. These disciplinary measures ensures you don’t go overboard.
2. People who are unsupportive and drain you: There are certain kinds of people whose presence can be a major drain on your time and energy – like the coworker or friend who talks nonstop and constantly asks for favors, or the people in your circle who play games and who are unsupportive of you and your aspirations. We have to be especially careful in dealing with toxic individuals – people who disrespect, abuse, belittle or criticize us. These type of individuals are not only a drain your time, but on your spirit as well.
The bottom line is that if anyone is adding weight to your load and aren’t contributing in anyway (love, support, knowledge, skills), then you need to reconsider your relationships with them.
3. Activities that aren’t related to your goals and aspirations: Clarity about your goals and aspirations is insufficient if you don’t back it up with consistent and strategic action. One of the vital components of your plan should include a strategy to eliminate distractions that get in the way of your productivity and derail your focus. This list should include things like replying to emails that are not related to what you’re working on or excessive time spent of leisure activities such as watching TV, staying up late to attend parties and events or playing video games. We also need to find ways to tackle chores such as cleaning the house, grocery shopping, paying bills and car maintenance in an efficient manner. You can create solid systems to complete such activities or outsource them to others, if you have the means to do so.
4. Worrying and procrastination: Internal blocks such as worrying and procrastination can slow us down or stop us in our tracks, causing us lose time. When we worry about an outcome that we can’t predict or control, we are wasting precious energy, which could have been used in more constructive ways. Worrying leads us to procrastinate and put things off to another day when it could have been done today. Instead of burying our heads in the sand, we can break the cycle by addressing the psychological barriers that are blocking us.
5. A disorganized environment and schedule: Disorganized and messy workspaces have been found to be a significant productivity killer, based on studies done by neuroscientists. Physical clutter depletes your attention span and increases stress levels, which plummets your performance levels. Along with an organized environment, we need to streamline our activities in a timely manner. A clear and well thought-out plan is sure-fire way to avoid wasting time on tasks that aren’t important, and giving priority to the things that count. You’ll establish a flow in your activities, while steadily making headway in your plans.
If you’re regretful about wasting time on certain jobs, relationships and projects in your past, take heart in knowing that you can redeem them based on what you extract from those experiences. If you look back on them through the eyes of wisdom and compassion, you’ll be able to glean the lessons, and grow from it.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: What are the biggest time wasters in your life? How do you plan to get rid of them?
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