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15 Ways You Are Wasting Time During the Day (And How to Stop)

15 Ways You Are Wasting Time During the Day (And How to Stop)

Do you ever feel like you just don’t have enough time? Are you always rushing from one responsibility to the next with no time for yourself? Do you just have the feeling that you are wasting time?

You’re not alone.

According to a Gallup poll, 61 percent of working Americans claim they don’t have enough time to do what they want.[1]

On top of that, 68 percent of people feel they aren’t getting enough rest (with significant crossover between these populations likely). [2]

But is this really a result of being overloaded with responsibilities? Or is it simply a product of poor time management?

In this article, we’ll examine all the ways that you’re wasting time, and how to stop doing so… starting right now.

Compensate for Wasted Time

Chances are, you gravitated to the first possibility—after all, being busy has become a kind of status symbol in the United States.

But if there’s even a chance that you’re wasting time without realizing it, you could be saddling yourself with far more hours’ worth of responsibilities than necessary on a daily basis.

Accordingly, you owe it to yourself—and the people around you—to take notice of the time-wasting habits you didn’t even know you had and start applying solutions to correct them.

You might be an effective time manager, but that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Chances are good that at least some of these tricks can help you stop wasting time:

1. Track Your Bad Email Habits

You’re probably wasting time on email without realizing it, whether it’s taking too much time to draft your messages, allowing your email threads to spiral to unmanageable proportions, or allowing unproductive contacts to interfere with your day.

We spend 6.3 hours a day checking email, so it’s almost certain that a large chunk of wasted time is happening in your inbox. [3] The only way to tell for sure is to use an analytics app such as EmailAnalytics to analyze your email habits and pinpoint where you’re wasting the most time.

Once you recognize your problem areas, come up with a plan for how to address it. For example, you might resolve to start fewer conversation threads, or set a 10-minute limit for yourself when drafting a new email.

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2. Just Say No

It’s hard to say “no” to anything, whether it’s a new assignment from a boss, or a social gathering from one of your best friends. Unfortunately, each “yes” you give is a new segment of time you’ll have to spend doing something that may or may not be beneficial for you in the long run.

Saying “no” could free up hours of your time with each instance, and as long as you’re polite and respectful, there likely won’t be any consequences. As an added bonus, saying no can empower you to make fewer accommodations, and possibly command more respect from your boss and teammates.

3. Make Faster Decisions

You spend more time in a state of indecision than you realize. You might have an internal debate over whether to start that project now, at 4 pm, or just wait to start it tomorrow morning.

You might not take action on a task because you know there’s a possibility you’ll delegate it in the future.

In any case, every minute you spend thinking about your decision is a potential minute wasted—assuming there’s no new information to consider. Aim to make faster decisions, and you’ll cut this time waste out of your life immediately.

4. Set Limits and Stick to Them

How often do you check your social media feeds throughout the day, or find yourself wandering to that mobile game you downloaded?

Chances are, you waste more time on these intentionally time-sucking apps than you know. Fortunately, there are ways to set time limits for yourself so you can reduce this time to a fixed, reasonable figure.

If you use an iOS device, you can use Apple’s Guided Access to restrict the accessibility of other apps on your phone, or if you’re on Android, you can use an app like AppDetox to set careful limits for specific apps you know to waste your time.

5. Take Plenty of Breaks

In the middle of your workday, it’s natural to think that spending just one more hour on work, rather than taking a lunch break, will result in higher productivity—but that’s not necessarily the case.

Working too long without a break will make it harder for you to focus on work, which means a task that ordinarily takes 30 minutes might take 45 minutes or even longer.

Research suggests the ideal work-break ratio is working for 52 minutes, then breaking for 17—but this is going to vary based on the type of work you’re doing and, of course, your individual preferences.

The bottom line is that you need to take more breaks throughout the day if you want to make the most of your working hours; otherwise, you’ll waste energy.

6. Flip Complaints Into Action

Everybody complains from time to time, whether it’s a cathartic venting session or a bid to gain social support for a common problem.

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Unfortunately, complaining is a poor way to spend your time; complaints generally won’t make you feel better, and won’t do anything to change the situation that frustrated you in the first place. Instead of complaining, create an action item.

For example, if you’re angry that you’re stuck in traffic, make a mental note to leave for work earlier tomorrow. If the deli gets your order wrong, opt to try a different deli next time. If your app isn’t working, switch to a different task temporarily.

7. Disable Distracting Notifications

Distractions may seem like they only waste a few seconds of your time, but research shows it takes more than 23 minutes to fully recover your focus after getting distracted. [4]

Notifications from things like email and instant message platforms, regardless of their intended purpose, will almost certainly pull you away from whatever task you’re focusing on.

Consider turning them off; you might be offline for a few hours, but you’ll get so much more done. Depending on your workplace culture, you may need to send a proactive heads-up to let people know when and for how long you’re going offline.

8. Maximize Your Commute

Unless you’re working from home, you’re spending time commuting every morning.

With the average commute in the United States being roughly 25 minutes each way, that probably means you’re wasting around 5 hours a week just in necessary travel. Since there’s no way to get rid of that time, your best option here is to maximize that time.

Taking public transportation could free up your hands and attention so you could focus on work on your way in (and save you money at the same time).

Riding your bike to work could save you a trip to the gym later. And if you’re stuck driving, you can take hands-free conference calls or catch up on audiobooks to make the most of every minute.

9. Skip Meetings

Meetings are prime opportunities for time waste because they include so many people, are often poorly organized, and take up a significant portion of your day.

The average worker spends a third of their time in meetings, and that time is often spent unproductively. If you spend 9 hours a day working, that equates to 3 hours a day in meetings, or 15 hours per week.

Imagine if you cut the number of meetings you attended in half, or if you reduced your hour-long meetings to 30-minute meetings—you’d instantly save 7.5 hours every week.

Turn your meetings into email updates to keep information flowing.

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10. Cut Your Losses

Human beings are subject to the sunk cost fallacy; it’s a cognitive bias that makes us reluctant to cut our losses on projects and battles that we’re already heavily invested in.

For example, let’s say you’ve spent 10 hours working on a new advertising strategy, but it’s not seeing above-average returns.

Logically, you’d be better off switching to a new strategy, but because you’ve already invested so much time into it, you might be tempted to spend even more in an effort to recoup your losses.

Learning how to cut those losses and get out early can save you countless hours—and thousands of dollars.

11. Delegate Tasks to Others

Many modern professionals are reluctant to delegate, under the pretense that training someone to do the task would take longer than doing the task yourself.

This may be true, but it’s a short-term strategy; training someone to do a frequently recurring task is an investment that will spare you from ever having to do that task again.

You may take a time loss in training today, but you’ll avoid time losses indefinitely in the future. Don’t be afraid to delegate your low-priority tasks if it means getting more time to spend on what you do best.

12. Do One Thing at a Time

Multi-tasking is demonstrably proven to harm your performance in each task you try to coordinate; in other words, doing one task at a time ends up being a more effective option.

It may seem like managing two separate windows at the same time is the most productive thing to do, but it’s putting undue stress on your brain and is probably decreasing the quality of your work in both areas.

Instead, focus on just one task at a time; you’ll make fewer mistakes, and will probably end up finishing both tasks faster anyway.

13. Declutter Your Space

Whether you manage a physical workspace or all your important files are digitally stored, organization matters.

If it takes you an extra 5 minutes every time you need to track down a piece of information, you won’t be able to get much done throughout the day.

Taking an hour to systematically reorganize your workspace will save you far more than an hour of time in the long run. And, if you’re still working with paper filing systems, consider switching to a cloud-based program; it’s hard to beat the efficiency of a digitally assisted search.

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14. Lower the Bar

The common advice is to “shoot for the moon,” aiming for high objectives to motivate yourself to perform better.

But constantly struggling to achieve these high goals could be counterproductive.

Not only will you spend time on tasks that aren’t optimized for your own abilities, you could end up damaging your own morale when you don’t achieve them; after all, the real secret to happiness is setting modest expectations, both for yourself and the people around you.

Setting lower, more achievable goals will help you use your time more effectively, and allow you to set more realistic timelines.

15. Mind Your Phrasing

When you claim that you’re “busy,” you probably aren’t thinking about all the tiny responsibilities that make up your day, or all the optional tasks you elect to take on (either unwittingly or out of habit).

Changing your phrasing can help draw your attention to these micro-time wasters. Instead of saying “I’m too busy” for a given task or opportunity, say, “that’s not a priority for me right now.”

It’s a subtle psychological trick that will help you realize where your own priorities lie, and draw attention to the daily habits and routines that are taking up more time than you notice.

Are you really too busy?

You’re the one setting your schedule.

Reclaim Your Time

Many of these strategies require you to change a habit, or make new ones, which isn’t easy no matter how committed you are to solving your time-waste problem.

Fortunately, improving your awareness of these problems is half the battle, and any steps you take to improve those problems are going to have a measurable effect on both your productivity, and your work-life balance.

If you’re having trouble getting started, start with just one of the tips above and try to optimize your working style to improve it over the course of the next week.

There’s no shame in a gradual approach, and it might ultimately be better for helping you retain positive habits. So stop wasting time today; you’ll be much better off.

Featured photo credit: Pexels.com via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Gallup: Americans Perceived Time Crunch No Worse Than in Past
[2] Mental Floss: 68% of People Don’t Get Enough Rest
[3] Huffington Post: U.S. Workers Spend 6.3 Hours a Day Checking Email
[4] Inc.: It Takes 23 Minutes to Recover from a Distraction

More by this author

Anna Johansson

Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

It’s 6:00 am. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.

You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive as possible.

Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break.

You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them, because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.

The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything properly.

You wish you’d find a reset button, so that you could start your day from all over – with a different strategy.

What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before and you felt you were on top of your tasks.

However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to do list also contained tasks which were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.

The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.

Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.

But you know what – these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness …

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What People Are Wrong About a To-Do List

Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

How much time did you actually spent on planning your day – was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?

If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.

When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to do – and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.

The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.

Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

Components of a Good To-Do List

When I talk about a good task list, I consider these characteristics to be part of it:

Balanced

The task list contains both important and less important tasks. Let’s face it: although we all would like to work on just important tasks ( e.g. goal related ones), we have to take care of the less important tasks as well (like running errands, taking care of your household or other everyday stuff).

Enough Flexibility

What happens when you have planned a task, but you are unable to take care of it? Do you have a plan B in place? If not, try to figure out the alternative action you can take in these scenarios.

Time for Transitions

Understand that transition times also eat your time. Make sure that when you plan your task list, this time is also included in your plans. Adding some extra buffer between tasks will make your list more flexible and realistic.

Not Too Many Tasks for One Day

Giving you an exact figure on how many tasks you should have on your daily list is difficult. It depends on your situation. But I’m willing to say that anything between 5-10 tasks should be enough for a day.

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Understand that certain tasks are very quick to take care of, so it’s easier to include more tasks on certain days. Just make sure that there are also important tasks on the list so that you are able to move on with your bigger projects.

Shield of Protection

Build a shield of protection around your task list, so that as few tasks as possible can land to your list and that the number of items on your list won’t increase during the day.

In the first case, try to eliminate the sources for your tasks. This is done by reducing your commitments and limiting the projects you have. The fact is that the more commitments (or projects) you have, the more likely they are going to end up as tasks for your daily list.

In the second case, make your list a closed one. I learned this concept by reading Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. In order to create a closed task list, all you have to do is to draw a line under the last task on the list. When you have done this, you are not allowed to add any new tasks to your list during the day. This ensures that the number of tasks is actually decreasing as the day goes on.

How to Create a To-Do List That Boosts Your Productivity

To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:

1. Eliminate the Tasks

Go through your commitments and decide if you really need each one.

For instance, I was an active member of our local computer club in my hometown, but then I realized that I don’t have enough time for that activity anymore. Although I’m still a member of the club, I don’t participate in its activities anymore. This has eliminated the tasks related to that commitment.

2. Take Your Time to Plan the List

Don’t rush creating your task list – spend some time on the planning phase. If required, “isolate yourself” for the planning part by going to a separate room in your home (or even going outside your home). This way, you can actually think the tasks thorough before you enter them onto your list.

Try to spend at least 15 minutes with your list when you plan it.

3. Move Important Tasks to the Beginning

When planning your day, make sure that the important tasks are at the beginning of your list. This ensures that you get those tasks done as quickly as possible.

For instance, as a blogger, I make sure I have the content creation tasks at the beginning of my list. As soon as I wake up, I attack those tasks immediately and they get done before I go to work.

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4. Track the Recurring Tasks

You might have recurring tasks on your list, but do you know how much time they take to accomplish?

If you don’t, make sure you do some time tracking to figure it out. This helps you to plan your day better, as you know how much time a task takes and if there is a certain time slot in your daily schedule, when the task could be executed.

5. Batch Similar Tasks

Look at your list and find out if there are similar tasks that you can batch-process. This way, you can get certain tasks off your list faster and easier.

6. Define the Tasks in More Detail

Don’t just include a task like “build a website” on your list; make sure you have broken the task to smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to take accomplish them.

7. Do Some Prep Work in Advance

Make sure that you prepare for certain tasks in advance.

For instance, I write the outlines for my guests post on Sundays, so that it’s easier (and faster) for me to start writing the actual posts when I wake up. With a little bit of prep work, I speed things up and make sure tasks get done when the right day comes.

8. Automate the Maintenance

Naturally, you could use a pen and paper approach to your task list, but try to take advantage of technology too. In fact, try to find a tool that takes care of the maintenance of your task list for you. My preferred tool is Nozbe, but there are other task management applications that you can try too.

9. Know Your Task Types and Your Schedule

Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:

What else do I have on the schedule?

This question refers to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are traveling, make sure that your list reflects to this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you get only a fraction of them done.

Is the task a gatekeeper?

This question asks if the task is blocking other tasks to be executed.

Every once in a while, we might have a task, which has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then you can take care of the sequential tasks.

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When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.

Do I have icebergs on my list?

This question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).

Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, much more manageable chunks.

Is the task distraction-proof?

This final question asks if the task is distraction-proof. Not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.

For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof and I can take care of them – even if I don’t have my full attention on them.

The Bottom Line

If you still have a hard time of achieving your daily tasks, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.

No one is perfect and we can learn from our mistakes.

It takes a bit practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better!

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Featured photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly via unsplash.com

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