Ever caught yourself saying, “I just don’t have the time” or “I’ll get to that after this”? We’ve all been there, feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
It’s easy to blame funny cat videos or the mountain of laundry. Or your desk that suddenly needs to be reorganized.
A lot of us equate productivity with staying busy instead of facing our biggest time-wasting problem: our habits.
If the little things are eating up your time and you’re left wondering where the day went, keep reading. This article will teach you how to spot time wasters (even the subtle ones), set attainable goals, and reprogram your routine to establish better habits. Let’s go! 💪🏽
Time is a non-renewable resource, don’t waste it
Every second that passes is gone forever. Activities like checking social media or email can seem harmless, but they can be massive time wasters if you’re not careful.
Tasks that could have been completed in an hour, for example, extend into several as you become the victim of constant interruptions and divided attention.
Beyond the immediate impact on productivity, time spent on distractions carries a less visible but far more significant cost: missed opportunities.
Every moment spent on a time-wasting activity is a moment taken away from something more meaningful. This could be a personal project, a step toward a long-term goal, an act of self-care, or investing in our most important relationships.
You know the old saying, “old habits die hard”? Well, it definitely applies to these common time wasters. Often, these poor habits are so baked into how we operate that we downplay (or completely ignore) how they’re holding us back. Which brings me to the first offender.
Or, maybe I’ll come back to it later…
Procrastination convinces us that there is always more time—another hour, another day—to complete our tasks. Chronic procrastination can lead to significant issues such as decreased productivity and increased stress, especially in students. We’ve all been here:
Sponge Bob’s dedication to do anything but actually write his essay is a little too relatable, amirite?
So if cutting deadlines too close causes us to rush, not do our best work, and perpetuate a bad habit, why do we do it?
We all have our reasons:
Turns out my primary reason was lack of structure or accountability. If I’m not accountable to someone when working on a project, you can bet on me procrastinating. I would postpone the inevitable down to the last minute and then experience a ton of stress to deliver. (source)
—Abu Qassim, Co-Founder of Bookishmate
Perfectionism, fear of failure, avoiding a daunting task—the reasons behind our procrastination usually don’t come down to laziness. Once you know it’s a problem, you can find strategies to beat it. (For starters, check out the Pomodoro Technique below.)
Scrolling, streaming, and gaming
Avid gamers may log hundreds of hours playing video games, following “streamers” who play the game, or reading content related to becoming a better player.
For example, following your favorite streamer on TikTok isn’t a bad thing on its own. If left unchecked, however, this hobby could become a major time waster. The algorithm makes it way too easy to lose yourself on the FYP and discover new games. And before you know it…boom! The day’s over.
Being intentional about your free time by practicing moderation or engaging in online entertainment at certain times (i.e., in the evening after your work day) is a good first step. Setting boundaries for how often you play, watch, or scroll can keep important tasks in the front, with hobbies being a reward for productivity.
Disorganization and lack of routine
The amount of time wasted looking for misplaced items, deciding what to do next, or transitioning between tasks can be really high when you’re not prepared.
Additionally, the stress and overwhelm that comes with disorganization can make it even harder to be productive. Having a well-structured routine and an organized workspace will help you stay on track and get more done.
How often do you use the term “just five more minutes”? What about the occasional “a nap won’t hurt, I’ll finish those chores later”?
While getting enough sleep is essential for our health and cognitive function, oversleeping can rob us of productive or meaningful activities. Establishing and sticking to a healthy sleep schedule can help us reap the rewards of restorative sleep without falling into the trap of oversleeping.
Establishing a routine, with consistent nightly sleep and morning wake-up times, is essential. Aim to sleep 7-9 hours a night. If you wake up feeling rested, then your ability to stay on task and have energy throughout the day is much greater.
3 sneaky time wasters that will keep you busy (but not productive)
Keep an eye out for these less obvious time wasters. 👀 If you struggle with being “on” all the time, watch out for these habits (they can be deeply ingrained and are often hard to break).
The pursuit of perfection can often lead to paralyzing inaction or laborious overwork. High standards can lead to dreading deadlines and feeling like our best is never enough. When perfection is the goal, we set ourselves up for failure. Which is ironic, because often failure is what perfectionists are trying so hard to avoid…
If we focus instead on making progress, we’ll be much more likely to achieve our goals, as well as free up time for new tasks.
Next up—the myth of multitasking.
This seemingly efficient strategy (which is often praised in our society) can actually lead to less productivity. Our brains are not wired to handle multiple tasks at the same time with equal focus and efficiency.
Single-tasking, prioritizing, and scheduling can help us preserve our mental energy and time. This leads to higher-quality work (and less time wasted redoing mistakes that result from divided attention).
With the best intentions, we often agree to extra tasks, projects, and responsibilities—only to later realize we’ve spread ourselves too thin.
Being aware of the problem and honest with yourself and others is key:
“If we notice we’re overcommitting or are tempted to do so, we politely and graciously acknowledge that we can’t take on more at this point,” noted Steve Haase of Hypergrowth Coaching, Inc.
For instance, if your boss asks you to write a report, and you say yes, you’ve committed to a project that deserves your time. Now if a colleague asks for help on their project with a similarly demanding timeline, and you agree to help, you’ve made things harder for yourself.
By committing to multiple projects, your quality of work and ability to complete both tasks on schedule has taken a hit. While you may want to help with both projects, deciding which one takes priority (and establishing realistic expectations upfront) can be the difference between two projects done well or two projects that miss the mark.
How to overcome time wasters and take back your time
These next steps will help you combat time wasters and make changes to create better habits and increase productivity.
Audit your daily routine and determine your biggest wastes of time
While it may not be easy to do overnight, developing a regular routine can make your work and life easier! When you schedule everything—meetings, focused work, exercise, and leisure time, for example—you prioritize what’s important and see how you’re spending your time (and how it may need to be adjusted).
After setting up your calendar and having a better idea of where your time goes, the next step is determining which time wasters should be removed from your life. Whether you decide on less gaming time or more studying time, building your ideal schedule and removing unneeded time thieves will help you be successful. Make sure you monitor and update your calendar regularly!
Set attainable goals for yourself
Be honest about your boundaries and goals.
It can be tempting to overhaul every area of your life. But ultimately, you want to make changes that last (and can help you accomplish more over time). Setting too many goals at once will only set you up for failure.
Start with one or two goals and map out how you’ll achieve them. Perhaps you have one fitness goal and one work project that you want to tackle.
Because you’ve set up your calendar and made yourself aware of your go-to time wasters, you know which activities can be eliminated and what blocks of time can be put to better use. You can then schedule time each week for both going to the gym and working on your passion project.
Even weekly necessities like chores and errands can be scheduled out to make sure they get done.
And remember, wasting time isn’t always a bad thing. Try limiting yourself to an hour or less for time-waster activities each day. Or, use your favorite leisure activity as an incentive. For example, you could reward yourself with extra gaming time after completing an important project.
Substitute time wasters with more meaningful activities
I touched on this above, but even if you don’t have a specific goal you’re working toward, it’s still possible to engage in more productive and meaningful activities with your free time.
For example, you could spend more time reading for pleasure or for your career. You might decide to take a course and learn a new skill like coding or copywriting.
You can also work on re-training your automatic responses. When you catch yourself thinking “I’m bored” and instantly (mindlessly) scroll through your phone, refer to a running list of more meaningful activities to do instead—going for a walk or calling a friend.
There isn’t a right or wrong activity, but the key is to be intentional with your time.
Master time management and stay disciplined
Mastering new time management techniques is akin to learning a new language. It may feel foreign at first, but with practice, it becomes second nature.
For example, if you put off tasks and typically complete projects at the last minute, fueled by I-have-to-get-this-done urgency, then you’ll burn out quickly.
You’ve already taken the first steps to manage your time by eliminating time wasters and reserving time in your calendar for important activities.
If you’re on the hunt for ways to stay on track, one popular time management method is called the Pomodoro Technique:
This practice includes 30 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. Your break allows you to reset and refocus for the next uninterrupted block of work time. After repeating 4 focused time blocks, you take a longer break.
You only have so much time… don’t let it go to waste