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If you’ve been following me for a while now, you’d know that I heartily encourage people to stop wasting time and get work done. But I also know that it isn’t quite that simple. Because if it were, we’d all be productivity Gods.
Most of us are time wasters. Admit it. There’s no shame in that. There are all these shiny distractions waiting to take us away from what we’re supposed to be doing. I mean, it’s so much easier to just scroll through Instagram than sit down and finish that report or write that blog post.
So it’s not that we don’t waste time; but it’s a question of how we can sensibly spend time that I am going to share today.
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Today’s tips are going to be explained in the context of blogging, but any of these tips can be used by anyone, whether you’re working or not; whether you’re 20 or 50; whether you’re a parent or not. The key here is to know what to look for, how to be mindful and what to do to overcome the time wasters.
Tip 1: Put Time Fillers on the Calendar
Why do we waste time? Because we don’t think of time as valuable, not in the actual sense of the word. We assume we have enough hours in a day to get everything done.
But how often have you woken up thinking that and then gone to bed feeling, ‘Wow, I got nothing done today! What a waste!’
That’s because whenever we have time off or a few minutes to take a break, we spend those minutes scrolling social media, watching TV or reading the news on the phone. Right?
Time Wasters. Right there, you have the time wasters.
So here’s what you need to do: Identify time fillers and put them on your calendar.
Time fillers are the alternative to time wasters. Pick a useful hobby or activity that you can do in 15-minute slots. This could range from reading a book, meditating, going for a brisk walk or stretching at your desk after a long meeting.
Just thinking of these time fillers is not enough. Put them on your daily calendar.
A calendar that actually shows you the message ‘Read a book at 11.30 am’ will be the trigger that you need to do it, instead of idly picking up your phone. Keep the calendar handy. I prefer a small notepad for my daily calendar, instead of my phone. I keep this at my work station.
Tip 2: Set an Intention every hour
Humans are capable of intense, deep and prolonged useful activity. The deeper you work on something, the easier it becomes and the more productive you feel.
But you also need to take a break at the end of deep work to recharge yourself for the next sprint.
At the start of every hour, set an intention. This is just a mindful, quiet affirmation of what you need to do at the end of the hour.
It could be something as simple as , ‘Breathe for one minute at the end of the hour.’
Or it could be something which requires more effort such as, ‘Take a walk around the block after you’ve finished this task.’
Announce this intention to yourself and yes, if needed, put it on the calendar. I especially liked every single thing I read about this in Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’. It’s a MUST-READ for people today!
When I sit down to work on a blog post, I first make a mental sketch of what has to be written. Next, I add a skeletal set of bullet points.
Finally I write the post. Initially, this would take me around 4 hours, from start to finish. But, over time and with deep work and that mindful intention to take a break every hour, it’s now down to about 2 hours in total.
Tip 3: Keep your phone in another room
Research has shown that almost on instinct, we tend to pick up our phones 80 times a day. That’s a ridiculous amount of time to be spent picking up a device!
Some people prefer to turn off the Wi-Fi when they are working or putting their phone on airplane mode to avoid disturbances.
I prefer to put my phone in a room different from the one I am working in. That’s because if I don’t see the phone, there is no temptation to pick it up and scroll through it in moments of idleness.
Plus, if people do need to reach me in a hurry, they can get through to me, and I just have to walk to the other room to take the call.
Setting your phone in another room is the perfect solution to avoid wasting time.
*Psst: I also dislike typing or texting on the phone because of the small screen and the havoc it wreaks on my wrists. Setting the phone aside is a great way to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome or Repetitive Stress Injury. Take it from someone who’s suffered. (twice!)
Tip 4: Keep a book /diary handy
If you must keep something within arm’s reach, make it a book or a diary.
The good thing with a book is that it is the perfect time filler when you are feeling burnt out or exhausted from too much work.
Every time you have 5 minutes to kill, pick up a book and read a page or two. The advantage is that your mind is sufficiently relaxed to get back to work once you’re done.
On the other hand, picking up the phone or scrolling through social media has the opposite effect of overloading your brain with information when you actually need to take a break.
If you’re feeling particularly conscious about the book you read taking you away from the task at hand (I know books can be addictive), then try the alternative: Use a diary to jot down some thoughts.
Note taking and diary writing have proved to be useful in helping alleviate stress. Writing things down by hand also helps create focus for the jumble of thoughts in your head.
Every time you feel like you’ve hit a roadblock, take a minute to jot down your thoughts. The result is that you haven’t wasted time. You’ve used those few minutes to bring clarity to the task at hand.
Tip 5: Keep a timer for social media
Social media is everywhere and it’s kind of hypocritical of me to say ‘Delete your social media accounts’, considering that I owe a lot to this space.
But there IS a way to use social media without wasting time.
i) Set a timer for each platform. For instance, Instagram has recently introduced the ‘Activity’ tab to show you how many minutes you spend on the app. At the end of the allotted time you set for yourself, a message pops up saying you’ve used up the time for the day.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean you will log off immediately, take it as an alert and a reminder that you’re wasting time.
Each time you feel tempted to over-step your allotted time, ask yourself this question:
Do I want to be a consumer of content or do I want to be a creator of content?
ii) Only access social media AFTER you have completed your important tasks for the day.
Have a blog post to write? Finish that first.
Have a work deadline? That takes priority.
Need to run an important errand? Make that happen.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. The notifications stay right where they are, whether you access them first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.
Now it’s your turn to make this work for you.
a) Pick any one of these tips and try them for a whole week.
b) At the beginning of the week, start tracking how much time you are spending on time wasters.
c) Substitute with the time fillers and tell me if you notice a difference in productivity at the end of the week. Deal?