Blog Short #22: 5 Things That Steal Your Time

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Let’s start today with a question: “What do you do with your time?”

I ask because in truth most of us don’t know how much time we spend on any particular activity unless it’s tightly scheduled as in the case of a meeting at work. Usually we use ballpark guesses, and those guesses are often faulty because we tend to over or underestimate.

Unless you actually track your time and see precisely how you spend it, you don’t really know. You’re guessing.

Why is this important? Because time is ultimately limited in every life. We don’t know how much we have. What we do know is that in a single week, there are 168 hours, and if you sleep 8 hours a night (hopefully), you have 112 hours of waking time.

What happens in that 112 hours, and if you actually find out, will you be happy with what you find?

This blog has two parts:

  1. How to track time
  2. Identifying time-robbers

How to Track your Time

Before you set up a general process to track your time, track what you do for a full week from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you turn off the lights to sleep. Write it down. It’s a bit tedious, but it’s worth it. You can use 15 minute blocks to make it easier.

I’m guessing you’ll be surprised at what you find. You’ll get an accurate view of how much time things take, and what amount of time you spend on work, housekeeping, leisure, care-taking, chatting, resting, etc.

Now that you know how you spend your time in real numbers, what would you like to change?

There’s several possibilities. You may see ways to stack certain tasks together to be more efficient. You may also decide you need to cut down on activities that waste your time. You’ll see if you’re spending enough time on the things that are most important to you.

When you think about time, you can usually divide your usage into 7 categories:

  1. Activities that move you toward your most important goals
  2. Maintenance activities like cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, hygiene, etc.
  3. Work or job
  4. Leisure and entertainment
  5. Relationship time
  6. Sleep
  7. Wasted time

As you look over the week you’ve just tracked, try placing your activities in one of these 7 categories. You can make sub-categories if you like. You’ll also find that some activities will overlap into several categories.

When you’re done, see if you can tweak things to spend more time in the categories that are most important to you.

Now for things that steal your time.

Time-Robbers

These activities often take much more of your time than you’re aware of, and for the most part don’t give you a sense of accomplishment or real relaxation. Here’s my list:

#1 Social Media

You knew I was going to list this one, right? Scrolling through social media or watching videos on Youtube (unless you’re watching something instructive for a purpose), robs you of time you could spend on more productive activities. It can be relaxing, and maybe you want to continue doing it, but not to the extent that you do.

Make rules for yourself about how much time you want to allow for these activities, and when. To help you with this, it’s wise to remove social media apps from your phone. If you do that, you’ll automatically cut down the time spent on social media. It works!

#2 Multi-Tasking

When you multi-task, you actually take more time to get things done. There are some things you can have going at the same time like clothes in the washer while you cook dinner, and even several burners going at once. There’s an art to that.

But in general, you spend your time more wisely if you allow yourself to fully focus on one activity at a time, and finish it before you go to the next one.

If you have kids in the house, this is often difficult to pull off. But even with kids, you can structure your time so that when you have to do something, you can instruct them to self-entertain, and then follow this up by giving them your undivided attention at an agreed time later.

Structure is the key here. Try to become very deliberate about what you’re doing, and do it completely and without distraction if possible until done.

#3 Not Planning Ahead

When you don’t plan ahead, you lose time you aren’t even aware of losing. This can create chronic anxiety and overwhelm.

It’s best to keep a running “to-do” list for each day of the week. On Sunday make this list for all 7 days and spell out everything you need to do on which days. Then check your list the night before so you know what’s on your agenda for the next day. Undoubtedly you’ll move things around as other things interfere, but you’ll have a plan to start with. If you do this every week, you’ll get good at knowing how much time things take, and you’ll waste less time.

Be sure to keep your list somewhere that’s easy to access and easy to alter. I keep mine in Notes on my iPad, so I can also see it on my phone and computer.

#4 Procrastination

We all do this, and some more than others. The problem with procrastination is that when you do it, things hang over you and drain you emotionally, even if you aren’t aware of it.

If procrastination is a problem for you, there’s a lot of advice out there for how to curb it. But in a nutshell, taking action is the only way to break the habit. There’s just no getting around that. Put it on your list, and don’t allow yourself to deviate unless there’s an emergency. You can reread this blog for help with that.

#5 Digital Communication

This includes texting, emails, and to some extent phone calls. I gave this a separate category rather then lump it in with social media because it has a different impact.

Texting is a wonderful invention for quick communication. But – and this is a big but –

Constant texting creates anxiety.

Research shows this to be true. You get a text and feel like you need to reply. It becomes a demand. Sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes it really isn’t.

Same with emails. When you’re accessible all the time, there’s a sense of impending invasion even when you’re alone. Your phone beckons, and demands your attention. It might as well just call your name out loud! Even having a smart phone in view creates some distraction.

Some people get upwards to 200+ emails a day on the job! That’s horrifying! Who has the time, and how important are all those emails?!

Phone conversations can also be time-robbers. If you really want to communicate with someone and maybe catch up, the phone is great. But if you get stuck on it, you feel like a hostage.

The key is to get those modes of communication under control. You can tell your friends or family that you only check emails twice a day if that’s the case, or that you don’t respond to texts while at work, or you don’t answer the phone after 7pm in the evening. You make the rules that fit for you.

The idea is to balance your contact with those you care about with the time you need for other things, including down time. Structure it and don’t feel apologetic if you don’t want to text for hours or answer every email. Besides, there’s no real replacement for face-to-face conversation if you really want to connect.

I didn’t mention TV as a time-robber, but certainly it can be. If you’re an avid TV person, then add that to your list and track how much you watch so you can decide if it’s in your best interest or not.

All right, I think that’s it for this week. This blog was a little longer than usual. Hopefully it wasn’t a time-robber for you!

As always, I hope you have a great week, and I’ll send you a new blog next Monday.

All my best,

Barbara

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