The times we are living in are great because we are able to accomplish so much in so little time. But time is something we never seem to have enough of. Day after day it feels like we are trying to hold time like water in our hands,  it is simply running through our fingers. The task lists are getting longer and longer and with every new task you pile on, you seem to get further from getting anything done. There are two truths you have to realize. The first is: You will never get everything done. But the good thing is you don’t need to. To succeed you have to get the important things done (also see Simple Secret to Efficient Time Management).

The second truth is: You are wasting time! Just admit it. You can do much better, but you have to finally start to be honest to yourself. Please read on, I have listed a couple of ways how we cheat ourselves into wasting time.

Being upset

Yes, that is right. I mean it. We spend too much time being aggravated about small issues. You may have the attitude of an Nepalese Monk and nothing can irritate you, but  I presume then you wouldn’t be reading this post. In our lives there are so many reasons to be upset and I don’t mean serious problems. You have every right to be bothered and distracted by life changing problems, but these aside think about what was the last time something bothered you.

  • “I shouldn’t be doing this.”
  • “Instead of talking, he could have worked on the presentation already.”
  • “We all know why she is wearing this dress today.”
  • “Of course he wants last minutes revisions, like always.”
  • “She has no clue, how did she get that position?
  • “If my computer was better I would already be done.”
  • “I really don’t like this program.”
  • “Why is is always so hot in here?”
  • “Took my parking lot, unbelievable.”
  • “Great, and now I can spend the entire afternoon on the phone.”
  • etc.

These are just examples, but having such discussions with yourself or others, who are not involved only takes away energy from you. You make yourself feeling inferior and passive. You can tackle a problem by addressing it to your superior, delegate it or suck it up and just do it. When you think a task should not be yours to do, while you are already working on it, then are not 100% focused and thus you are wasting time. The same is valid if something happened that you did not like: Either address it, set a reminder to address it another more favorable time or take a break to get over it, but a job half done is a job not done at all.

Not having breaks

Without a break you soon reach the point where you are just hanging in there. And this means, you are wasting time! For example thinking we save time by having lunch at the desk, can easily result in us checking emails or answering the phone. This is not a break. We also all love these lunch meetings. I love them too. You can do business and have food, how great is that.? But that is not a break it is work. When I eat at home not much comes between me and my pizza.

Even more so for days off. I know we like to make everyone believe we are indispensable. Unfortunately, we are not. Everyone can be replaced and every task can be done by someone else. The only currency here is time. Don’t do your job only half and then say “If you have questions, you can always call me or write me an email. The hotel has free WIFI.” Do it so that there are no questions. I know there are some things that may come up while your are gone, but you can try to anticipate them and let people know who may be able to answer them for you in your absence. Admit it, you keep checking your emails because you want prove they still need you and the company would be doomed without you. They are not, sure it would be more convenient with you, but they’ll survive. You can make clear that you are always reachable for emergencies only and if it makes you feel better, go and check your emails once a day.  Getting some emotional distance between you and your work can be very refreshing for short and longer breaks.

Trailing off

Everyone researching anything on the Internet knows how easy it is. This moment you were looking for the best venues for the next meeting with the Seattle branch and the next you find yourself scrolling through the menu of this nice little seafood restaurant next to the convention center. This makes you remember to check out reviews of this new Italian in your neighborhood. What were Gnocci again? You can post the question on Facebook or ….
Hey, admit it: You are on a break right now! You are wasting time!
We are also wasting time when are trying to accomplish too many things at once and forget the priorities. For example when we forget to anticipate the unexpected. “On the way to the post office I only wanted to buy more of these folders we need next week, but then I had to ask if they had them on stock and then it took the guy forever to reach the other other branch. I finally got them but when I arrived at the post office they were already closed.
We don’t have mean intentions, but whenever we are not fully committed we like to trail off and waste time.

Stalling because you don’t like it

Not doing something because you don’t like it doesn’t make it go away. Doing it later doesn’t make it more fun. For example if you are avoiding a difficult conversation you will be distracted every time you see the person and feel bad unless you had this conversation. Get it over with. Have it the next time you see this person. No, better. Stop wasting time, call, and set up a meeting now!
Getting rid of these roadblocks will give you a feeling of victory, a sense of accomplishment and send you on your way with a boost.

Not asking for help

False pride, not wanting to show weakness, the fear someone else could get the credit or simply the perception of knowing it all, are few of the many reasons why we are not asking for help. But the realization that you need help and the action of actually asking someone for help are what distinguish the successful from the ones who , well, keep treading on the spot. We also often don’t want to ask for help because then we may end up being depending on someone else for the completion of our task/project. Thus, don’t give away substantial tasks, but still put a realistic and relative tight deadline. This of course works best if you can deliver something in return that takes you less time as it would take you to do what you ask for.
And don’t be too shy to follow up. It is way less complicated than it sounds. I once had to complete an application for a royalty free license to use part of a product from a collaborating firm. Everyone in our group had trouble understanding the legalese on the form and we weren’t really sure what to do. Our legal department was covered in work and the back and forth with the other firm’s legal department stretched on forever. Looking back it sounds quite silly, but that is exactly what we often do. We don’t take the right action and thus waste a lot of time. Only after I got over myself and asked a co-worker who I knew had gone through the process before we got it finally right. It took him only a glance at the paperwork to see that we were handed the wrong form! But I was too proud to ask him initially.


You don’t have to be a robot,  but realizing and admitting when you are wasting time will make you be more focused and accomplish more.
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