By Joel Lee
I used to be the kind of person who didn’t think twice about buying a $5 Starbucks Frappuccino, a $3 pack of donuts, or a $0.99 app for my smartphone. It’s only a dollar here, a dollar there, right? But by the end of the month, my bank account was somehow drained even though I hadn’t bought anything big.
Now think about it as minutes, not dollars. It all adds up!
Keep reading to see how many of these time-wasting tasks you do on a daily basis.
1. Making Your Bed
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” — Admiral William McRaven
Many self-help gurus advocate the making of one’s bed first thing in the morning. They claim it has psychological benefits, such as starting the day with a victory, reducing clutter at home, and even building confidence. Maybe they’re right, but I never make my bed and I’m still as productive as can be so color me skeptical.
According to David Kadavy, most successful people actually don’t make their beds.
I’m obviously biased here so take my endorsement of no-bed-making with a grain of salt, but one thing nobody can deny is that it sucks up time. Five minutes every morning is a half hour every week, which is about 30 hours annually. In other words, bed-making will cost you more than one day every year.
2. Ejecting USB Flash Drives
good crappy ol’ days when unplugging a flash drive without first ejecting it would corrupt your data — even when the drive wasn’t actively being used? Well, I remember, and that’s why I’m thankful that modern USB drives don’t need to be ejected.
It comes down to the type of device you have. If it’s a USB Mass Storage (UMS) device, then yes, you still need to eject before removal, but if it’s a Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) device or a Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) device, then ejection is unnecessary and a waste of time.
Note that external hard drives should always be ejected.
3. Enabling Alerts and Notifications
These things are productivity killers. Whenever you’re “in the zone,” a single alert or notification can snap you right out of your flow. You end up wasting a few minutes reading and responding to that email or text, and then it takes a while to get back into what you were doing.
Or in the worst case, you absentmindedly open up Facebook or Reddit “just for a minute” and look up to see that half an hour has magically passed. This is the real danger to alerts and notifications — they can send you off track without you realizing it.
So turn them off! It’s better to close your email client and check it only twice a day, once at the start of your day and once at the end. Check into text messages and social media updates once every hour, for example, and read through everything in batches. Consider using Do Not Disturb mode (or even Airplane Mode).
In case you need a refresher or a summary, here’s the key takeaway:
- Multitasking is best when you can combine a cognitive task (e.g. reading a book) with a non-cognitive task (e.g. running on a treadmill).
- Singletasking is best when you need to get through multiple cognitive tasks. Trying to multitask two or more cognitive tasks will actually slow you down.
So if you want to listen to podcasts while driving or cleaning your house, go for it. But if you want to alternate between work, Reddit, and chatting on an instant messenger, then it’s going to take you longer and you’ll unknowingly waste a lot of time.
5. Writing Long Emails
Proper email etiquette can go a long way towards fostering healthy relationships with your coworkers, bosses, and acquaintances. But there’s one aspect that can save you time: stop writing long-winded emails that nobody is going to read!
Be concise. The shorter your email, the greater the chance that it will be read. Not only will you waste less of your own time, your recipients will appreciate you not wasting their time! Obviously, you don’t want to be curt or terse — keep the pleasantries, but stick to the essentials.
6. Allowing Sites to Distract You
This is probably the time-wastiest habit you have. It certainly is for me. An accidental visit to Reddit can consume anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes of my life in the blink of an eye. Other common distractions include social media, goofing off on Slack, and shopping online. So what can you do?
There are two tactics that I’ve found effective:
- Take structured breaks. Use something like the Pomodoro Technique to alternate working for 20 minutes and taking a break for 10 minutes. Knowing that you have a break up ahead can make it easier to focus on the task at hand.
- Block the distractions. If you have no willpower, you can always use these website-blocking tools to keep you on track during work hours. You’d be surprised how much more productive you can be just by temporarily blocking Reddit for 15 minutes.
7. Searching for Better Apps and Tools
I’m always on the lookout for the “next big thing” in terms of apps and tools. For example, every few weeks I go searching for new Markdown editors in case any new ones popped up recently. I also do the same for note-taking apps, email clients, text editors, mobile apps, etc.
Most of the time my search comes up empty and I’ve basically wasted hours of my life for no reason. The truth is, the apps and tools you’re already using are more than good enough and there’s no reason to go looking for alternatives.
If one day an alternative appears and you like it, go ahead and switch. But as far as always searching for the next upgrade or replacement, give it up. Spend that time elsewhere.
8. Sleeping Whenever You Want
Two effective tips that you can implement right now:
- Install f.lux on your computers. Research suggests that the blue light from computer screens can interfere with circadian rhythms and impact sleep. This app automatically filters out blue light at night time. And yes, it really does work!
- Start tracking your sleep habits. You can use one of these free sleep tracking apps. I was skeptical until I tried them for myself, and though they aren’t perfect they can be insightful. Just because you aren’t waking up doesn’t mean you’re getting good sleep.
These tips will help you sleep earlier, sleep less, and sleep more consistently, which will help you stay more alert during the day and be more productive with your time. You’ll zone out less, you’ll daydream less, you’ll have more mental clarity, and you may even be happier.
9. Always Saying Yes
You are a finite being. You only have so much energy and time for one day. If you overload yourself with too many obligations, everything will take a hit. Unfortunately, this can be a huge problem if you have trouble saying No to people who ask you for your time and energy.
Remember that your time is valuable. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be looking for ways to cut back on time-wasting, right? It may feel selfish, but think of it this way: it’s hard to help others to any meaningful degree when you’re burned out, tired, and broken. Compulsively saying Yes will ruin you if you aren’t careful.
10. Planning Everything to Excess
I’m a big planner. So much so that I will plan out even the most mundane of errands, such as which order I’m going to hit the bank, the supermarket, and the Chinese takeout. I plan my weekly meals, my daily work schedules, my creative projects, and I even plan my breaks.
Planning keeps me in control, but is often a huge time suck. A lot of what I plan doesn’t need to be planned at all — and maybe you’re in the same boat. If you’re the type to scheme and strategize every little detail way ahead of time, maybe it’s time to tone it back and start winging it a bit.
Assuming I spend 30 minutes a day on it, that comes out to 3.5 hours of planning every week or 7.5 days of planning every year. That’s a lot of time to lose over mundane tasks!
What Do You Waste Time On?
I’m not trying to say that you should never go on Reddit, play video games, write long emails, etc. If it sounds like I’m anti-recreation and anti-relaxation, that’s not what I meant at all. By cutting out time-wasters, you can spend the time you save on activities that really matter to you — and if that means playing video games, then why not?
So tell me, what are the biggest time-wasters for you in your day-to-day? What tips or tricks do you use to cut down on wasted time? Or maybe you’re okay with so-called time-wasters? Share your thoughts with us below!