How to Stop Wasting Time on Low-Value Activities
Are you wasting time on things that prevent you from achieving your goals?
I know, I am.
Sometimes you need to relax and do the activities that seem to others as a waste of time. Playing Counter Strike after a 10-hour work day is totally OK. You just have to look out for the activities that can become bad habits. Checking your phone every time it vibrates, scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds.
But beware, wasting time can sometimes camouflage as real work. For example:
- Formatting your report or presentation.
- Checking email more than you need.
- Organizing an already organized desk.
All these things can be real work, but they are often just distractions we use to justify not taking on the real work we have to do.
There are a ton of stuff we do that would better be avoided. I have divided the time wasters into separate categories. Here they are in no particular order.
Wasting Time in General
General time wasters are the activities that all people have in their lives. Sometimes we are indecisive, and then we worry about what may happen. We do things that we hate to do. General time wasters are the things that waste your life.
Make decisions or life will make them for you.
You will never have all the information. Collect your thoughts, take the final five minutes to think about the matter at hand and make a decision. If you do that, then it will be the right decision.
Even if you look back to your decision and ask “Why did I decide that?”, the answer is that it was the right decision when you made it.
Stop wasting your time!
Make a decision and move forward and lessen your cognitive load.
Time is free, but it’s priceless.
You can’t own it, but you can use it.
You can’t keep it, but you can spend it.
Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.
Worrying about the things that might happen.
Second-guessing your decisions that you have already made and asking everybody’s opinion about what you are going to do is not going to make your decisions better. Forcefully direct your thoughts to another topic.
Many of us worry more than needed. Anxiety is something you can lessen with meditation.
3. Hitting snooze
The snooze button is stealing your valuable sleep time.
Setting your alarm earlier so you could hit snooze means that you trade quality sleep for the lower quality semi-sleep. It’s OK to wake up earlier than necessary to make sure you don’t miss something important. In this case get up when the alarm sounds and use the extra time to do something productive.
When the alarm goes off, get out of the bed.
4. Doing things you hate
Well, we sometimes must do the things we hate. Tell your customer that the project will be late or dealing with unexpected emergencies.
Unpleasant events are unavoidable.
But if you do the things you hate day after day, then you should find ways to get out of the situation.
Ask yourself, if you would start doing the activity today if you had a choice. If the answer is no, then start looking for ways to get out of that situation.
We, humans, are social animals.
We need to interact with our peer to be happy and accomplish our goals. On the other hand, we may be in the wrong crowd and wasting time on interactions that don’t add any value to our lives. Here’s how to stop wasting time on your social interactions.
5. The wrong crowd
Maybe your mother told you not to hang out with those “bad” boys?
She was right! We become similar to people we associate with.
Hanging out with people you don’t enjoy just to appear cool.
No! Don’t do that!
As the saying goes, you are the average of the five closest people you hang out with. If you don’t like these people, then you end up not liking yourself. Being with people you don’t like is the special case of doing the things you hate.
Find ways to replace toxic people in your life with those who support you.
Your time is way too valuable to be wasting on people that can’t accept who you are. ― Turcois Ominek
6. Social obligations
Attending parties, social events, and especially baby showers out of obligation, not desire or love.
“Noblesse oblige” means that your social status demands that you act in a certain way.
You create your reality.
Make sure that you interact with the people who are helping you grow and make you happy. Cut everything else.
7. Arguing is “fighting verbally”
Fighting with someone is futile! Agree to disagree, but skip the fight. Trying to change someone’s mind with fighting is usually a complete waste of time.
First, their opinion is not your business. Second, you will never change a mind by fighting with the other person.
Try to understand their point of view and figure out if you can bridge the cap. It will take time. It will take understanding and acceptance. Do it only with people who are truly important in your life.
I really hope you don’t get into physical fights. If you are in any physical harm situation, then seek help immediately.
8. Arguing online
Reading spam comments, listening to haters, and crazy people who are trying to bring you down. There will always be people who will not like what you are doing.
Haters gonna hate. Ignore them and do your own thing.
On the other hand, make sure you don’t dismiss legitimate criticism. Knowing where you can improve will make you better.
There will always be your true fans. Focus creating value to those who appreciate it.
Wasting time on Media
The media is the biggest time waster in our lives. TV, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram. Some people may spend as much as 11 hours every day, mindlessly consuming media that adds no value to their lives.
Sure, some of that time in the graph, may be productive work on a device, but most is not.
The news is not important. You don’t have to know that there was a flood in Indonesia and that Justin Bieber ate the burrito in a wrong way.
The news is most often negative, and that negativity will rub off on you. Don’t let that happen.
You can check out news and other information when you need to make a decision. Following news daily is a waste of time.
9. All news
Reading the news. Reading your newsfeed and news sites is a waste of time. 99% of them anyway. Surfing the web endlessly. One thing leads to another and then another.
Go on a media diet.
10. Watching TV is a waste of time
Never leave a TV on if you are not watching a specific show. Always on TV leads to watching a ‘little’ TV to decompress, and then noticing that 3 hours have passed. Watching commercials and infomercials. When possible watch time-shifted TV so that you can skip all the ads.
Give yourself a TV time limit to relax and watch the shows that you like. Or maybe just stop watching TV.
11. Youtube and videos on social media
Spending hours on Youtube and getting sucked into something totally irrelevant. Watching random videos that scroll across your feed about someone’s child or cat is wasting time of the highest order.
12. Social media
Checking Facebook or Twitter ‘real quick’ and constantly updating your social media status. No one needs to know what you are eating for lunch. And you don’t need to let others know about your morning coffee. Social media is wasting your time that you could spend on face to face interactions with real people.
Prioritize meeting people and real connections.
13. Movies and documentaries
Documentaries are awesome! But they are not an excuse to spend 5 hours in front of a screen every day. Watching bad movies on an airplane to pass the time. Wasting your life. Watching depressing movies when you know they give you nightmares and bring down your spirits. Not leaving the cinema or turning off the TV when the movie sucks.
14. Reading books
Can reading books be a waste of time?
Yes, it can!
Reading trashy books and thus wasting your brain power. First, of course, there are crappy books. Finishing a book that you hate just because you started it.
Let it go.
Don’t waste your time.
There are a million books that could touch your soul. Here’s Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 for dropping a bad book.
There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own. – Albert Einstein
15. Playing video games
I have put countless hours into gaming.
Wolfenstein 3d, Doom 1 and 2, Quake, Need for Speed, Diablo, MUME, Counter-Strike, and others. Thousands of hours that I will never get back. And then there are the mobile games that are just made to be addictive: Angry Birds, Candy Crush.
Some people (and me) are gaming addicts. In this case, you just quit.
NO GAMING AT ALL.
Others can give themselves a time limit how much they will spend on gaming.
Solution: Time allowance for media
All media is entertainment. Give yourself a time limit for all media habits and do not exceed that. An hour a day seems like a good place to start from. Maybe 2 to 3 hours on some days to watch longer movies.
16. Health and fitness
Eating the stuff you shouldn’t. Every time you eat something you have decided not to eat, you waste time twice.
First, the day you eat what you shouldn’t. Second, wasting time you need to lose the extra calories you gained.
Over-indulging in a big meal drains your energy, and you waste the time following a big meal.
This does not mean that you are a robot who should never enjoy a meal and go a little overboard. That’s what the cheat day is for.
Also, dinner is a great time to have a big meal. When you have a late dinner, then wind down and go to bed, then you can sleep through the drained energy period. However, if sleeping with a full stomach is something that reduces your sleep quality then do not do it.
Sleeping is more important!
You have to commute, shop, email, and do all the things that keep your life running smoothly. The chores may wasting time more than you think.
Optimize all your mundane activities so that you spend as little time on them as possible. Here are the major time wasters in most people’s lives.
Commuting during rush hour may increase your time in traffic two or three times.
Time-shift your drive for less traffic. If you work a 9 to 5 job, then it may be hard to shift your schedule. But it’s not impossible. Ask your boss if you could come in and leave 2 hours earlier.
The main problem with commute is usually kids who you have to take to school or daycare. You can’t take your kids to school at 6 am. If you have kids divide your logistics duties between partners.
When you can decide on your own schedule, make a rule that you will not meet clients and partners when you commute would coincide with rush-hour traffic. For example, I have a 12 pm to 3 pm window for meetings. Getting to and from the meetings that start during this period will usually avoid most of the traffic.
And then there are times you have to sit in traffic.
18. Regular shopping
Going to the grocery store without a solid plan what you are going to buy.
You will lose time aimlessly browsing through aisles. You will most likely forget some things and buy other things that you don’t really need. Always make a list of stuff you need from the store. As a time saver, make a master list of items that you can use as a template every time you plan to go to the store.
Order groceries online!
Online shopping will save you the time you waste on the commute. Online shopping can quickly become an aimless browsing session. Make sure you minimize your online shopping trips and only get the things you really need.
Letting notifications interrupt your day is the biggest focus killer!
Turn off all notifications!
Don’t make them “silent”! Turn them off completely. No blinking, no buzzing, no notification on the screen.
The distractions that you get from notifications make you spend a lot more time on the tasks. Sometimes twice as much or even more.
Reading email when you feel like it is a waste of time!
Only check email 2 to 4 times a day. Morning, noon, end of the day.
Your email inbox is not an infinite to-do list for other people. The same goes for answering the emails you get from people you don’t know. The fact that someone decides to contact you does not mean you have an obligation to answer.
Another time waster is email ping-pong. Avoid the back-and-forth, talk to someone. Give the other side concrete options they can agree to.
20. Answering the phone
Answering the phone is a waste of time!
Avoiding notifications also means answering the phone when it rings. The fact that someone has your phone number does not meant you have to answer.
Remember, your phone is there for your convenience. When you are doing something or talking to people in real life “I have to take this” is not OK. The conversation you are having in with the person in front of you is more important.
You put your phone in silent mode so that you don’t know it rings.
I have found that putting the phone on the airplane mode during the work sessions or meetings is a good way to get the monkey off your back.
If it was really urgent they will call you again.
Attending unnecessary meetings is a waste of time.
Meetings are for making decisions.
Sometimes there are creative meetings that are worth the time, but everybody has to come prepared. “Prepared” means that if you attend the meeting, then there has to be a clear agenda.
Practice the “Right to Decline” unneeded meetings.
It is named the “Web” for good reason. ― David Foster Wallace
Wasting Time at Work and Business
Most of our adult life we spend half of the waking hours working. Let’s say that you work for 40 years. 50 weeks every year. 40 hours every week. You spend 80 thousand hours working.
You can do that harder or smarter.
If you save one hour every week, that means a full year of less work throughout your career.
So where does the time go?
22. Not capturing ideas
Where did you write down that million dollar idea?
Most successful people carry a notebook to write down the ideas they have.
The other reason for the physical notebook is that it helps you think visually. Write down ideas, create mind maps, and doodle. Recording your thought processes helps you think faster and avoid spending too much time trying to remember the one great idea that you had.
23. Chasing small money
I get it! Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes. Accept every deal, no matter how off course from your selected path.
Try to avoid going after low-value targets as much as possible when you are running a small business with a big vision. You will not make real progress when you take that small gig to put some money in your pocket.
And that is the problem!
You are not moving forward. You are wasting time.
I have done this so many times, that it’s embarrassing to admit. Say “No!” to distractions that destroy your focus and set you back on your big vision.
How tragic it is to find that an entire lifetime is wasted in pursuit of distractions while purpose is neglected. ― Sunday Adelaja
24. Answering a “quick” question
I do a lot of internet marketing seminars and training.
People pay me money to answer their questions. But it still makes me smile when they say “I have a quick question.” The question may be quick, but the answer may take a lot of time.
Of course, you answer all the questions you can when you are a speaker or a trainer.
However, at work when a random co-worker asks a “quick question,” say no.
Be helpful and send them to a person who is getting paid for answering these types of questions. If you are the person who answers these questions, then batch them together. Set a time every week when you answer all the questions on a given topic. You will save a lot of time and maybe even start a meaningful tradition.
25. Saying yes to everything
You. Can’t. Do. Everything!
Stop saying “yes” to all the requests you get at work because you don’t know any better. Make a conscious decision what are the things you will do and what are the things you say “no” to.
Write it down, so that when it’s on the list, it gets an automatic “no”.
You don’t have to be totally inflexible about it; you can have some “depends” on your list. After you create your list, say “no” to everything for a few weeks. The no-period will train your co-workers to accept the new reality that you will not drop everything every time they ask you for something.
As with “quick questions,” if you have to do these things then batch those together. Let people know that you have a specific time when you will help them. Sometimes the problem disappears before the time comes.
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.
26. Chasing unwilling clients
There are times when you have to get all the clients you can. Work as hard as you can to avoid such times.
Chasing potential clients that obviously do not want to work with you is ineffective and wasting time. Focus on the clients that you have. Find ways to:
- Sell them more products or services
- Sell them more often
- Sell them upgrades and higher ticket items
- Combine the methods above
Build your career and business around clients who are excited to work with you. Fire the clients you don’t like to work with. Life’s just too short for wasting time on things that you don’t like.
27. Doing everything
One of the biggest mistakes I have made throughout my career is not focusing on one thing.
Most of us have about 1,500 to 2,000 hours of work time in a year. If you spend it on one thing, then you can get amazing results. If you splinter those hours among dozens of projects, then none of them is going to get the attention to be great.
Sure, when you are in your twenties, you might hop from one field to another just to get the feel. After you have found what really excites you, do that thing exclusively.
The key to excellence is saying “no” to everything that detracts you form your one thing.
Focus on one thing, and you will get results you can’t believe.
Give yourself a break
All the things above are technically a waste of time. But you can also consider them as entertainment.
When you are working a 10-hour days, followed by the chores at home, then after you finish you may not have the willpower to learn a new language or read a book that demands a lot of mental energy.
In this case, it’s OK to consume some mindless entertainment. Wasting time helps you wind down and relax. However, if at all possible opt for meeting friend or simply going to bed early.
Your first step to stop wasting time
There are a ton of stuff in the list above, and you can’t stop doing it all at once. And you shouldn’t. Wasting time on social media or gaming is a problem only when you spend hours on those activities. The trap we often fall in is that we think we are doing it less than we actually do.
Not monitoring your activities is how people get overweight and how “I’ll play one game” turns into an all-nighter.
The first step for you is to select one area of time wasters and work on that. For most people going on a media-diet is the best option. The news is meaningless, and when you stop following it, you free up tons of time.
If TV or the news, in general, is already what you have cut from your habits then select something else. Find something in your life that you do not like and that takes up a lot of time.
Now, select your time waster and quit it for 30 days. After your 30-day challenge decide if you want to continue or allow some of that activity back in your life.
Photo on Visual hunt