How to Find the Time Wasters In Your Life

Still struggling to find time to write?

Don’t despair. No matter how efficient you may think you are, you probably have some time wasters lingering around your schedule.

Find these and eliminate them, and you can free up 15, 30, or even 60 minutes to write, and as we all know, every little bit counts.

What are Time Wasters?

Time wasters are those activities, people, events, habits, or materials that slow you down, interrupt you, or otherwise cause you to turn away from your priorities.

I’m assuming one of your priorities is writing, so you can think of a time-waster as anything that takes you away from writing.

The good thing is that time wasters are completely in your control. All you have to do is find them and then eradicate them.

4 Ways to Root out the Time Wasters Keeping You from Writing

We all have unique lives and individual schedules, so your time wasters are likely to be different than mine. To discover exactly where yours are lurking, try these four tips.

1. Consider the Most Common Time Wasters

Studies on productivity and time management have found certain time wasters that are common in today’s world.

You may think these don’t affect you, but it would be wise to look again just to be sure. Find out how much time you’re spending on the following and then see if you might be able to cut back:

  • Perusing social media: even 10 minutes here and there wastes your time
  • Watching television: we often assume we watch less than we really do
  • Playing games: on your phone, tablet, or computer
  • Surfing: it’s amazing how fast the time flies when you’re surfing the net
  • Email: email is one of the biggest time-wasters at work today
  • Commuting: many of us waste countless hours driving to and from locations

How to eradicate them:

Set certain times of day to engage in these activities, and be sure to limit that time. So check your email only two times a day, and take no more than 30 minutes to do it. Or check social media once a day for 30 minutes. Allow yourself 15 minutes to surf the net on your lunch hour. If you set the intention and then be sure to follow through, you’ll free up extra time for your writing.

As for commuting, find ways to use that time productively. You may listen to audiobooks or speak notes into a recorder about your current work in progress. You can also use public transportation or carpool to allow yourself that time to work on your projects.

2. Keep a Time Diary

This may be the most effective method of discovering your time wasters if you do it right. Unfortunately, many people write down the time they spend only on major activities when keeping a time diary, but that doesn’t give you the information you need to free up more time.

For this method to be effective, you have to track every single moment of the day and night for at least a week—two is better. What you’re doing is gathering data on yourself, so it’s best if you treat yourself as a test subject, and be as objective as you can in your observations.

You can think of your time diary like a food diary. Often we end up gaining weight not because of the main meals we consume, but because of the other things we eat throughout the day when snacking or mindlessly eating. Time wasters are similar—they sneak into our time “diet” without us being fully aware of them.

Just as you would keep track of everything you put in your mouth while keeping a food diary, you need to keep track of every minute in your day and night while keeping a time diary. This is the only way you can become truly aware of how you’re spending your time.

How to do it:

  • Go by time or task: You can keep track of your time in one of two ways: either by time chunk or by the task. In the first method, you stop every 15 minutes and write down what you’ve been doing. In the second, you write down each task you do throughout the day and night and how long it takes you to do it. Just be certain to record all tasks, even watching TV or eating a meal.
  • Journal it: Simply write down how you spend every minute of the day in a journal or pocket notebook. Take it with you everywhere and commit to recording all of your activities for a week or two.
  • Use an app: There are several digital tools you can use to keep a time log but realize that many may not keep track of how you spend all your time. Some possibilities include ATracker and Evernote.
  • Use a printed template: Try the 168 hours worksheet created by author Laura Vanderkam. You can download a copy here.

3. Identify Frustrating Places in Your Schedule

Finding time wasters is not only about locating activities in your schedule that aren’t productive. It’s also about finding those activities that frustrate or overwhelm you, cause you stress, or don’t seem like they’re worthwhile in the overall scheme of things.

You can find these activities by reviewing your time diary, or even your schedule over the past couple of weeks. Zero in on those activities you either a) didn’t enjoy, or b) stressed you out.

Examples include wasteful meetings, interruptions (often from other people), things you said “yes” to but wish you didn’t, time spent with people or organizations that no longer fulfill you, or activities you feel you “have” to do, but that you may be able to get out of in the future.

Take a look at what you’ve been doing and how it made you feel, then write down those activities associated with negative feelings. Include those people who regularly interrupt and waste your time. Once you have your list, see how you can eliminate or at least reduce those activities/interactions in the future.

4. Pay Attention to Your “Zone-Out” Times

All of us are guilty of wasting time almost on purpose. We sort of “give up” on being productive and flop down in front of the television for hours, or we surf the net way longer than we know we should, or we simply stare out the window rather than attend to whatever task we were working on.

These times could signal a couple of things:

  • you’re not engaged in the activity you’re doing at that time, or
  • you’re mentally exhausted.

If the problem is you’re not engaged in the activity, ask yourself why. Do you need more of a challenge? If you’re zoning out at work, maybe you can find a way to become more involved in what you’re doing. If not, it may be time to grow into another position.

If you’re zoning out during other activities, see if you can eliminate those activities from your schedule.

If you’re mentally exhausted, that’s a sign you haven’t scheduled in enough downtime, or that you don’t have enough activities in your life that help you recharge.

Mental exhaustion is another big time-waster and a common one in a writer’s life. We need our imaginations and our mental energy to create our stories, but the brain isn’t a machine. We all need downtime to restore mental energy.

How to eradicate it:

Commit to finding the reasons behind your zoning out periods. If they’re happening at work, see if you can find out why and then seek solutions. If they’re happening outside of work, schedule in more downtime and during that time, engage in activities that help you mentally recharge. These may include meditation, walking in nature, time with a loved one or pet, music or art therapy, crafting, traveling or anything that helps you feel energized again.

Have you discovered the time-wasters in your life?

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  1. Wonderful reminder to keep a close eye on where our time *actually* goes. One thing I’m guilty of is not taking enough real breaks, so that I’m refreshed with good energy for meaty projects. It’s easy to waste 20 minutes re-reading the news (such a hazard at present!) rather than just going for a gentle stroll.

    1. Author

      Good point, Pauline. Taking the wrong kind of breaks can definitely slow us down. Planning ahead for your breaks is probably the best way to go as it’s difficult to make healthy choices in the moment. I have a few that work for me: a Greek yogurt break, jump rope break, stretching break, and “watch the weather” break. Not sure how helpful the last one is but I do like to see the weather forecast! (ha)

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