The old saying goes, “Time flies when you are having fun!” It’s true, but time goes at the speed of light when you waste it. There are many professional and personal examples of time-wasting: Ineffective meetings, constantly checking email/Facebook/Twitter/websites, having arguments and making complaints to get your point across, watching bad television, and more. Any of these activities can make a precious hour or two vanish in an instant—time you will never get back.
What's the solution? It’s not as simple as just stopping the activity. The ways we waste time are often habits and routines. Habits and routines are our default response to moments where we haven’t made a choice about what to do next. Habits are broken when we make conscious choices to spend our time on something more valuable.
For example, if we have not made a choice about how we will start our work day, we will likely check email, Facebook and Twitter, and then an hour later make some progress on our task (and then check email, Facebook, and Twitter again).
The key to making more effective use of our time is to intentionally interrupt our routines with something more meaningful or productive. The next time you are tempted to default to a time wasting routine, choose to do something more meaningful instead. Call and thank a partner. Reach out to someone and ask them to give to your organization or buy your product. Start your project. Have the difficult but necessary conversation you have been putting off.
Fortunately, there are a number of amazing resources to help us address some of the time wasters mentioned above. Here are a few:
Effective-ize your meetings. We’ve all been in meetings that leave you wishing you could have your time back to work on something else. I strongly recommend Al Pittampalli’s Read This Before Our Next Meeting(2011). It’s only $5 on Kindle. Buy it. You will thank me later when you are working on an awesome project that will make a difference, instead of sitting in a meeting to plan the next meeting
Conquer your inbox. Organized Audrey, a consultant who focuses on organization, offers some excellent tips on increasing “email productivity” and how to tackle an overflowing inbox. She coined one of my favorite quotes, “Clutter (including email clutter) is the result of delayed decisions.” Her email advice changed my life—I no longer spend useful time wallowing in my inbox.
Go on a Facebook fast. In May of 2012 I deactivated my Facebook account and didn’t reactivate it until January of 2013. Surprisingly, the greatest benefit I derived from this experience was mental. The impulse to check my News Feed every ten minutes? Gone. The interesting thoughts I had? They were pondered, deliberated, and personally discussed with others, instead of summarized while waiting for artificial affirmation (likes and comments). I more fully experienced each moment without the mental distraction of posting it online.
Automate your tweets. If you are responsible to post status updates and tweets for your organization, use a service like Hoot Suite. My favorite feature of Hoot Suite is the option to schedule posts. In just 20 minutes I can take care of the next two weeks of posts. Now I can better focus on projects at hand without the distraction of writing my next tweet.
Have Difficult Conversations
Unlike meetings, email, and social media, this is not a time waster. Rather, it is necessary, scary, unpleasant, and incredibly powerful. Many have relationships (both personal and professional) that are sucking the life out of them, but fear having conversations to address the situation. I’m here to tell you from personal experience facing your fear is worth it and comes with great reward—fullness of life. If you need help mustering the courage to have difficult conversations or face any challenge, I highly recommend The Flinch by Julien Smith. It's free on the Kindle.
Often people make time fly by wasting it instead of investing it in fun, meaningful, productive, and life-improving activities. Time is life. Today, start making decisions that interrupt your habits. Make conscious choices that maximize fun, memories, and meaning. The fulfillment we get from our lives, work, organizations, and society depend on it.
How have you become more effective and not wasted time?