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:

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.

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.

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 Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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