The phrase “I waste so much time” is searched for 90,000 times a month on just one search engine, and it shouldn’t be too surprising. A quick look around workplaces and schools confirms that most of every day is pretty unproductive for most people.
Waste so much time waiting
We spend time in pointless meetings, in trainings for things we already know how to do, chatting, playing games on our computers, checking facebook, and waiting—waiting on people to finish their part so we can do ours, waiting for answers so we can proceed (or not), waiting for people to show up for appointments, waiting for phone calls, just… waiting. Is there a way to make good use of our time?
Taking advantage of wait time is one of the best ways to increase the amount of work you get done in a day. Doing work while waiting at your desk/workstation is ideal, and if you find yourself here, you might like these ideas:
- Stand up. You can work up to 50% faster. You’ll also be ready to take action the moment the waiting is over.
- Use GQueues with GTD or some other system for telling you “what’s next” on your list, and knock out a few quick things while you wait.
- Use the time to leave voicemails or set appointments.
- Work on a chunk at a time. On some things, it’s best to break it into chunks of time. On others, it’s better to break it into parts or stages and work on one at a time.
To give you an example of breaking it into chunks: when I do keyword research projects (something vital to writing), it involves doing several searches to retrieve potential keywords, sorting them by several different factors and analyzing the information to determine how “good” they are for a particular client”s book/website/business. There are two ways I could break it into chunks: by time or by stage.
Using a timer to be more productive
I could set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes, gather a set of keywords, sort and analyze them, then retrieve some more and sort and analyze them until the timer goes off. Then I’d switch gears and do something else for a while.
Sometimes, it needs to be done this way because new ideas will be generated from the first batch(es) of keywords. Other times, I’m able to gather all the keywords at once and then work with them in stages. I’d do one stage, switch to something else, then come back to it and do the next stage. Either way, I use a timer.
A note about using a timer: for some, racing the clock is energizing and productive. For other people, however, it can just create anxiety and add to the stress level. It might go both ways, and be a great tool on some days, and your nemesis on others. You know your situation best.
If seeing/hearing a timer ticking is distracting or stressful for you, you could always place it somewhere far enough away that you don’t see/hear it counting down, but you can hear it go off at the end of the time period.
Break task into chunks
You can apply this chunking technique to most tasks:
- Cooking ahead
- Sales calls
- Creating reports
- Doing your taxes
You can break things into parts by time or type, or by type for a certain length of time. Take one bite and go hard at it for 15 to 20 minutes, then switch to something else for a while. FlyLady Marla Cilly uses a timer in 15-minute blocks and recommends her “FlyBabies” do the same. For plenty of encouragement (and emails) where your housekeeping is concerned, FlyLady is the go-to resource.
Drop in productivity
Any longer than about 20 minutes at one thing, and productivity drops. Eventually, you’ll be making mistakes that set you back, so it’s actually counterproductive to work for long periods on one task.
Waste so much time in line
Waiting in line at the bank, or to catch a train or bus… this is a different and more difficult situation. It’s harder to make good use of that time, but it can still be done. If you have your phone or other data device, put it to use. Send that email, write that grocery list, see what other things you need to get done that day. Carrying a book and a notebook and pen with you at all times is a good way to redeem the time. You also could crochet another granny square or two and put them back in your bag when it’s your turn in line. I once saw a woman hand stitching some quilt pieces in line at the bank. Now that is a person who doesn’t waste any time! Just be sure you pay attention to your surroundings. It’s not worth getting mugged. You could also take a totally different approach here, and use the time to relax. Meditate on a verse or saying, or just people-watch or breathe deeply.
Sometimes wasted time is caused by other people, or by situations beyond our control (23 people in line at the bank at the only time I can do this task, are you kiddin’ me?), but we should do what we can to make the best use of the time we have, whenever we can. What about the time we waste that is our own fault?
How do we waste so much time? For an answer to that, see my post on time wasters. How can we be more productive?
Determine what is and is not a waste of time for you.
Prioritize. No one can get it all done. (I hate, hate, hate this fact, but it’s true.)
Make use of wait time whenever you can.
Use productivity tools to stay on track and get more done.
AND, something I didn’t mention up there: reward yourself for a job well done.