Some people are just born with a prolific work ethic and a deep capacity to get things done. But most measly souls are doomed to be distracted and led down rabbit holes and into pointless pursuits at the slightest whim.
That’s how it can seem if you’ve ever tried to take on the arduous and counterintuitive task of managing your time.
Although some have got a lot to offer, many time management techniques can seem to take up more time than they actually save, or simply just provide a more organised way to see how you’re continuing to waste your time.
This is because no matter if you have all the time-saving notebooks and planners and checklists and apps out there, they’re pretty much useless they’re accompanied by a shift in attitude.
The good news about this is that time-wasting is not an incurable defect that can only be temporarily suppressed by technology and sheer willpower. Rather, it’s something that can be learnt with a few simple shifts in your habits and thinking.
1. Realise there’s no right way to use time
Shame is not a great proponent of change. And so, if you’re feeling ashamed of how much time you’ve already wasted, it’s unlikely that it’s going to help you do anything about it.
So rather than lamenting over times lost, it’s much better to prob and question why, in fact, was it such a waste of time? By the very definition of the word waste, it’s an opinion that’s grounded in the idea that there was a better way your time could have been spent.
Okay, so now instead of shame for wasting time, that leads you to shame for not having done the million other things you could have done or for procrastinating and spending too much time unproductively.
Naturally, from here the questioning goes to so why did you choose that task in particular over others and why wasn’t the result satisfactory? This is a much more useful and productive way of thinking. By asking such questions you can discover things like maybe it was the wrong task, that maybe you were tired and should have taken a nap instead, and maybe the biggest waste of time is thinking about how much time you apparently wasted.
2. Get clear on expectations and outcomes
So much time is wasted by just ploughing into the next task or activity without considering whether it’s the right thing to be doing and what’s going to be achieved as a result of it.
There’s no problem with this approach when there’s no limit to your resources or your goal is to simply chill out or foster creative thinking, but it makes little sense when your goal is to make the most of your time.
A lot of the wasted time comes when there’s a mismatch between different stakeholders expectations and outcomes. For instance, you may be working according to one brief or set of values, and your manager or client may be working toward something completely different.
Not only will taking time before every task and activity to ensure there is a mutual understanding and clear expectations lead to quicker turn arounds and save tonnes of time and effort, it may also improve relationships and encourage more fruitful projects and results for everyone involved.
3. Avoid the A for Effort Mentality
Depending on your line of work and role, there may be many things you do a regular basis that, because there’s no copy and paste system in place, every time you do them it’s like starting afresh every time.
A lot of time can be wasted here for perfectionists and creatives. No matter if it’s a work of art, a whitepaper, an email, a presentation, or an architectural plan, they want to do their best and something original every time, and so automation and outsourcing is seen as nothing other than the devil.
This idea is predicated on the belief that hours of time invested as a default leads to the best outcome. A sort of “A for Effort” mentality. This may still stand in some outdated office blocks and boardrooms, but among any businesses and individuals who value actual work and results over the illusion and appearance of busyness, it’s all but dead.
To overcome this long-standing belief takes active effort to switch to a results-orientated mindset. The ability to do this depends on how well you can implement automation into your work routine, reuse and recycle material you know well, get clear on expectations and clarify outcomes in your organisation, and integrate progress-centred strategies that actually work such as bullet journaling and timeboxing.
It sounds a lot of extra work, but it’s really just rearranging what you already do so that you can get the same amount done whilst just wasting much less time.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, spirituality, and everything in between.