Eliminate Some Time Wasters

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought specifically about “time wasters,” those ordinary actions and choices people make that suck time out of their days without providing any major benefits in return.

I guess it’s because I’ve been largely focused less on “doing things right” and more on “doing the right things.” But with my recent post on Ways to be Smarter, and this one, it appears I’m at least temporarily revisiting this “don’t do it” mindset.

So let’s take a quick look at some ways to sidestep several of the common “time wasters” that habitually lie in wait for us:

Reject More

Among of the most obvious “time wasters” are the commitments you make that require far more time and effort than they are worth: idle conversations, inconsequential coffee dates, invitations to bush-league groups, requests for favors from people you hardly know, and so forth.

As a nice, helpful person, you have a natural inclination to say “yes” to these and other “time wasters.”

Fight that inclination.

A general rule that has worked for me is the following: If I’m too busy today or tomorrow to take time for a particular request or opportunity that happens to be scheduled farther in future, it’s safe to assume I’ll be equally busy on the day that request or opportunity finally rolls around.  So I say “regretfully, no” to it.

If you follow this guideline as often as you can, the result will be to keep your schedule far more open for what’s important.

Fight the Email / Inbox Time Suck

In the old days it was the paper-based “In” box. Today it’s made worse by the continuing influx of email and text messages. Every one of these inbound items naturally feels “urgent,” but hardly any of them are.

There are many regimes and suggestions for limiting the time you spend dealing with the email / inbox time suck, including various forms of triage, scheduling very limited time to deal with these items, using software to automate certain email tasks, and so on.

Pick your favorites, and stick with them.

The point is simply not to let every message that lands on your desk or pops up on a device grab your attention and divert you from your scheduled time with your most important efforts.    

Don’t Think

That’s a provocative headline. Obviously, I want you to think, but mostly about what’s important to your work and your life.

Where I want you not to think so much is about routine, simple, and repetitive situations. You can handle these in routine, simple, and repetitive ways that do not require you to rethink them every time they come up.

Instead, create a “flow chart” or an “algorithm” or a simple set of instructions that makes clear how to handle the particular situation. Then refer to it. Or if you can, get someone else to refer to it.

The time and energy you save by not re-thinking these routine, simple, and repetitive situations will keep your fresher, stronger, and better able to think about and successfully handle your more challenging, more important tasks and responsibilities.

Make Meetings Count

Meetings are important and often irreplaceable ways to share information, gain consensus, build buy-in, and push projects forward. But the sad truth is that most meetings turn out to be “time wasters.” Here’s why:

  • They lack agendas.
  • They start late, and often last longer than scheduled.
  • The conversations meander and double-back on what’s already been covered.
  • They tend to progress at the rate of the slowest mind in attendance.
  • They peter out rather than end decisively.

…and worse.

If you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s worthwhile to make the time you spend in meetings as productive and valuable as possible. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding as many meetings as you can, particularly when you can see they’re not going to offer much value.
  • Insisting on agendas, timely starts, and tightly followed schedules.
  • Coming fully prepared, and asking others to do the same.
  • Pushing for significant and relevant progress on whatever the meeting is about.
  • Keeping “minutes” of the meeting in real time to document the information shared, the decisions made, and all follow-up commitments.  

Sharing this “minutes” document with those who were at the meeting, and holding people accountable for their follow-up commitments, will go a long way toward making every meeting count for much more. At a minimum, it will eliminate many of the “touch up” meetings normally required to fix what didn’t get done properly in the original meeting.  

These and other ideas will help you avoid many of the time wasters that lurk in human activity, automatically leaving you more time and energy for the projects, goals, and activities that are most important and meaningful to you.

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