Time Wasters, First Draft

(First, very rough, draft)

“I love to (X), but I just don’t have time for it.”
“I’d like to learn (Y) but there just isn’t enough time.”
“I nev­er seem to get caught up.”

How often have you used those excus­es? There just isn’t enough time.

Actu­al­ly, there is. Even for those of us with the fullest lives, busiest fam­i­lies, and wide-rang­ing inter­ests, there IS enough time. How we use that time, though, might need to change.

Peo­ple who want to lose weight are almost always told to keep a food diary. Finan­cial advis­ers often advise those con­cerned about mon­ey man­age­ment to track every pen­ny they spend for a time. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, I’m ask­ing you to track your min­utes for the next week.

First, write down your pri­or­i­ties. Rank them. Seriously—family, work, avo­ca­tion, friends, pets, etc. Rank them.

Sec­ond, write down how much time you think you spend on var­i­ous activ­i­ties: work­ing, com­mut­ing, chat­ting, house­work, child­care, being with your part­ner, read­ing, hob­bies, etc. Now put that away ’til next week.

Final­ly, keep track of what you do through­out each day. Set a reminder for your­self each hour and just jot down how much of that hour you spent on what kinds of tasks. Write down what you accom­plished or real­ly did, not what you MEANT to do or were “fix­in’ to.” “Get­ting ready to X” is dis­tinct from DOING X.

Try to avoid chang­ing your habits because you’re track­ing them—or at least stay mind­ful and hon­est about the fact that you ARE chang­ing how you use your time.

How well do your pri­or­i­ties and esti­mates of how you spend your time match up with reality?

I’ve been pay­ing a lot of atten­tion to time wasters late­ly. The biggest things I’ve not­ed so far:

Declut­ter
Reduce the clut­ter in your life. Get rid of the crap you don’t real­ly use, clothes you sel­dom wear, books you aren’t going to re-read, and old soft­ware. The chances of you NEEDING those Win­dows for Work­groups diskettes are some­where between slim and none. And if you did, let’s be honest—you could down­load them some­where. When all that’s left is what you need or love, it’s far eas­i­er to what you’re look­ing for quick­ly and to enjoy what you have.

Main­tain
Don’t wait until you’re almost out of gas to fill up the tank. Don’t wait until there are no clean dish­es to run the dish­wash­er. Don’t let your­self run around pan­ick­ing because it’s time to leave for work or an inter­view and you don’t have any clean pants. Don’t wait ’til it’s time to leave for work to walk the dog. Don’t wait until you run out of a med­ica­tion you take reg­u­lar­ly to start the refill process. You know those things have to be done, so don’t put them off.

Rou­tines
Cre­ate them and use them. Look­ing for lost items is a waste of time. If you always put the keys on the key rack, there’s no need to look for them. If you always put your wal­let on the dress­er, it’s going to be there every time you need it.

Remove Dis­trac­tions
This is actu­al­ly the big one. Very big.

1) Don’t take read­ing mate­r­i­al into the bath­room or to the table. I’m seri­ous. You’ll spend more time than you real­ize because you’re read­ing, and you’ll waste time (you can also make your­self more prone to cer­tain health prob­lems).

2) Turn off the tele­vi­sion when you’re work­ing on any­thing. Again, it is a dis­trac­tion and it will slow you down. Turn on the radio or put in a CD if you need the noise-you won’t be look­ing at a screen, so it won’t slow you down as much.

3) Turn off the PC. Seriously—how much time do you NEED to spend sit­ting at a com­put­er? If your job involves writ­ing or cod­ing or some­thing of the sort, it’s under­stand­able that you’re sit­ting at a PC all day. But at home? Don’t even start to com­plain about not get­ting enough time with your kids or part­ners if you have that PC on all the time. Turn It Off.

4) When you’re work­ing at a PC, work. Don’t have email or a brows­er with LJ or a game open on your PC. Don’t give me that BS about mul­ti­task­ing. It does­n’t fly. I’ve timed peo­ple who claim to work best while mul­ti­task­ing, and they don’t. If you’re writ­ing, keep the word proces­sor or text edi­tor open, and noth­ing else. Don’t let your­self be seduced into “research.” If you MUST research some­thing, give your­self a set amount of time to do it. Then close the web brows­er again.

5) If you need to be some­where at a par­tic­u­lar time, don’t sit down at a PC. Get show­ered and dressed and have every­thing ready to go, then sit down to print out your direc­tions if you must. If that’s why you’re at the PC, though, don’t open your email or any­thing BUT what­ev­er you need for the direc­tions. No “quick check” of your email or LJ. You’re fool­ing your­self, and you know it.

6) If you have an instant mes­sag­ing pro­gram open, you’re like­ly to use it. That would be fine if you had noth­ing else to do, but if you want to accom­plish any­thing, it’s divid­ing your atten­tion and wast­ing your time. Change things so that they do NOT open auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Give your­self a cer­tain peri­od of time a day to check in with IM friends. Open that soft­ware then, and close it after­ward. Use a timer or some­thing to stay aware of the time.

7) How much of what you receive in your email is impor­tant? Seri­ous­ly? Prob­a­bly not a whole lot. I get hun­dreds of mes­sages a day, and at the moment I can’t think of any­thing *impor­tant* that I’ve learned in an email in a very long time. I get one or two urgent mes­sages a day regard­ing the vol­un­teer work I do, but that’s it. The rest could wait. Eter­nal­ly, if necessary.
—Use fil­ters and oth­er tech­niques (I like Spam­Cop myself) to keep spam from wast­ing your time.
—Use fil­ters and sep­a­rate email accounts for the rest. I use one email address for all mail­ing list traf­fic, and sort list traf­fic to sep­a­rate fold­ers to read when I have time. I assume that any­thing sent to the address I use for mail­ing lists isn’t impor­tant or urgent, and I’m right 99% of the time.
—Unsub­scribe from lists that aren’t tru­ly valu­able to you.
—Give busi­ness asso­ciates an email address that you ONLY use for business.
—Give close fam­i­ly and friends an address you use SOLELY for them.
—Ask ALL your cor­re­spon­dents not to send you any­thing but per­son­al messages—not chain let­ters, for­ward­ed prayers or arti­cles, or jokes, but just actu­al mes­sages THEY WRITE about what’s going on with them. Take your own advice.

8) What does LJ add to your life? Do you spend more time read­ing or writ­ing? Think about it. If you start­ed your jour­nal as a JOURNAL, but you spend more time read­ing or com­ment­ing on oth­er peo­ple’s jour­nals than writ­ing on your own, it’s become a time sink for you. Drop LJ com­mu­ni­ties, RSS feeds and “friends” that don’t add sig­nif­i­cant­ly to your life.

9) How much of the infor­ma­tion you take in each day is impor­tant? I am an infor­ma­tion junkie and I am the first to admit it. I could eas­i­ly spend all day “research­ing” or ran­dom­ly surf­ing around read­ing var­i­ous arti­cles that catch my eye. Do I need to do that? No. Are there oth­er things that are more impor­tant? Absolute­ly. Look at your news­pa­per and mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tions as well as the time you spend watch­ing, lis­ten­ing to, or read­ing the news, and re-eval­u­ate that in terms of your own priorities.

Read­ing, watch­ing TV, LJ, email, online chat­ting, ran­dom surf­ing, and games are fine when it’s time to do those things. It’s all too easy to let them take more and more of your time and ener­gy, though.

NOTE: Don’t give me any guff about ADD. That’s an excuse. I will accept that it’s more dif­fi­cult for a per­son with ADD to avoid being dis­tract­ed, but I refuse to accept any excus­es for NOT reduc­ing dis­trac­tions. Peo­ple with ADD have even more rea­son to pay atten­tion to these things!

Cyn is a proud Mommy & Mémé, professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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