If you’re anything like me, you’re trying to make the most of your time. You realize that it’s your most limited and precious resource, and you can’t get it back once it’s gone. You’re also tired of people telling you that social media is a time-waster because you already know that. That’s not news to anyone.
What you’re trying to avoid are those more insidious time-wasters that the average person doesn’t notice, and that’s what I’m here to give you. Without further ado, here are seven ways that you might be wasting your time without realizing it.
1. Letting your fears hold you back
BAM. I told you we’re getting real with this. When you let your fears and hesitations hold you back and prevent you from taking action, rather than facing them head-on, you’re wasting time.
Time will pass whether you’re using it or not.
While you’re sitting there trying to build up courage, find an easy way out, and letting your dreams be dreams, you’re wasting time. All of that is time that would be better spent going after your dreams.
If you want to workout, workout! If gym anxiety is holding you back, I can help with that! If you want to start a business, get moving! I’m aware that you don’t have a few extra grand sitting in a bank account that you forgot about and that you probably can’t quit your job just yet, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do something. Start moving in that direction.
I know you don’t feel ready, but a big life lesson that too many people never learn is that no one ever feels ready to do the scary things. It will always be intimidating, and you will always feel more comfortable sitting on the couch and staying where you are. But if you want to live your happiest, most fulfilling life, you can’t stay on the couch. Push past the fear.
You're never going to feel 100% ready to start. When you feel 90% prepared, dive in.
Time will pass whether you’re using it or not. You will be five years older one day whether you’ve put that five years to good use or not. Five years from now, you can enjoy the results of your hard work, or you can sit there wishing you had started five years ago.
Go after your goals sooner rather than later.
When you let your fears hold you back, you’re wasting precious time. And since “go after your goals” is much easier said than done, here are a few resources to help you turn your dreams into reality:
2. Running errands on Saturday afternoons
Okay, I wanted to give you a break after that first tip with something a little easier—although I’ll definitely be dropping a few more bombs before this post is over.
But for real, weekend afternoons are the worst time to run errands. Between the traffic and the lines, you’ll likely spend more than twice as long as you need to just trying to find some new shoes for work and picking up groceries for the week.
Rather than running errands on weekend afternoons, try mornings. The earlier you get out there, the fewer people you’ll see. People like to sleep in on the weekend—but not you. You’ve got goals. If you want to leave those people in the dust, then you can’t have their habits. Hit the shops at 8 or 9 a.m. (which really isn’t that early) and you’ll beat the crowds.
If you really can’t get up by 9 on Sunday or you have some sort of other commitment those mornings, try shopping late in the evenings early in the week. Monday and Tuesday evenings are usually pretty quiet, as long as you wait until rush hour is over. Most people stock up over the weekend, so there isn’t too much competition aka other people taking up space and wasting your time.
3. Dwelling on and complaining about negative events and emotions that you can’t change
I think that we can all agree that our time and energy are limited. Why would you waste such precious resources on something as pointless as complaining?
Complaining doesn’t make you feel better.
Many people feel complaining can be cathartic for a brief moment, but complaining ultimately means that you’re devoting more time and energy to something negative than you would have if you had just let it go. The effects of your complaints don’t end when you stop complaining. You’ve strengthened your negative emotions by putting more energy into them, meaning it will take longer for you to move past the situation.
When something goes wrong, you can start to move forward with a solution or a new plan immediately, or you can waste time complaining about it, and then waste even more time getting past it because you’ve entrenched the negativity more deeply with your complaining. The more energy you spend digging the hole, the more energy it’s going to take you to climb out of it.
Consider a situation: you’re at the grocery store on the hunt for an ingredient that you need for dinner. It turns out that they don’t have it and you don’t have time to go to another store to look for it.
You could fume about it for the next hour and go home in a huff, bringing even more negativity into your life, or you could accept that this is how things are now and start brainstorming ways to tweak your recipe and create something even more delicious.
The former not only brings down your mood for the day—making you less happy—but also wastes time. You still have to eat. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity, you’ve found a reason to be negative.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. -Charles R. Swindoll
Dwelling on negative events that are outside of your control prevents you from taking action on something new and better. It takes mindfulness to recognize these moments and notice your knee-jerk reaction to get annoyed when something bad happens, but over time, as you become more mindful, it becomes much easier to quickly move past the little annoyances in life without wasting time and energy on them.
(I want to note that I’m not saying you should ignore all of your emotions. There are plenty of times when it’s valid to feel hurt/upset/sad/angry and take time to lean into and process those emotions. But those day-to-day moments that won’t matter next week? Letting them be even a blip on your radar is a waste of time!)
4. Sleeping through your potential
Mornings are prime time for getting things done.
If your immediate reaction to that was, “Abby, I’m a night owl. I hate mornings!” I want you to ask yourself one thing: are you productive at night? And I don’t just mean when there’s a deadline looming. On a regular night where you don’t have any plans and have the freedom to decide how to spend your time, do you use that time wisely?
If—even without any looming deadlines—you find yourself setting goals, being creative, working on personal projects, and getting things done once the people around you have gone to sleep, then this tip isn’t for you. You can skip to the next one.
But if you claim to be a night owl, yet are spending your evenings watching Netflix and scrolling through Instagram, we need to have a talk.
I used to stay up super late every night. Usually until 3-4 a.m., if I could get away with it. I loved nights, but I wasn’t doing anything with them. I was just staying up late because I didn’t want to go to sleep yet.
As soon as I started getting up early, I also started getting so much more work done and making much faster progress toward my goals.
Being a morning person isn’t determined by whether you like mornings or not—it’s determined by whether or not you can be productive at night. If you’re staying up late but not making any progress toward your goals, you might be a morning person.
You’re less prone to getting distracted in the morning. You’re less likely to be interrupted by other people who need your time because most of the world isn’t awake yet. Once you get past those first few minutes out of bed, you’ll likely have way more energy and drive to get things done than you do at night after a long day of work.
If you’re agreeing with everything I’m saying but still a little hesitant about making a change and embracing mornings, you might like The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Morning Person, by an Ex-Night Owl, as well as 3 Essential Steps for an Intentional and Productive Morning Routine.
5. Going into your day without a plan
Back in tip #2, I pointed out that just a little bit of strategic planning can save you hours on your errands. Now imagine if you did this with your entire life.
When you wake up each morning without a plan, you give yourself the opportunity to waffle and procrastinate. Should you work on your book first? Or spend 20 minutes on Twitter wondering if anything interesting happened last night? When you aren’t on a schedule, it’s way easier to choose the latter.
By scheduling out your days ahead of time, you not only make sure that you’re using your time as efficiently as possible to get as much done as you can, but you can put real effort into making sure that all of the things that matter to you get taken care of.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has set a goal like “read more” only to never have space in my days for it. This happens whenever I’m not taking the time to plan ahead. Tasks expand to fill the space that they’re given. If I give myself two hours to write a blog post, it takes two hours. If I give myself four hours to write the same post, it will take four hours.
You have way more time than you think, it just needs to be used wisely. Visually mapping out where your time is going shows you what you’re working with and allows you to move events around so that they make the most sense—like running errands early in the morning.
6. Multitasking/Jumping from task to task
While we’re on the topic of calendar blocking, I want to bring up batch working. Batch working just means that you’re grouping similar tasks together and focusing solely on those.
Multitasking slows you down. The human brain isn’t capable of multitasking, so all you’re doing is quickly switching between tasks, meaning you never get fully focused on one thing. It’s inefficient, and you waste a lot of time.
Focusing on one task at a time allows you to produce better quality work faster than you would if you tried to jump between multiple tasks. If you’re writing, write. If you're cleaning, clean.
Try to work in blocks of at least 25 minutes so that you have time to get focused and settled into that task for a while before switching to something else. Many people prefer to work in even longer blocks—an hour or more—because they feel that allows them to focus best. Find a length of time that works for you, and stick with it.
Switching between tasks takes time. Rather than dealing with a few emails, then cleaning the kitchen, then checking a few more emails, then cooking dinner, it would be a more efficient use of your time to check all of the emails, then cook dinner, and clean up while it’s in the oven. Even if it only takes you 30 seconds to settle into your new task, that adds up when you’re doing it dozens of times per day.
7. Letting research be a substitute for action
This ties right back into #1. It doesn’t matter how much you know if you never do anything with that information. Knowledge is not a substitute for actually getting up and taking action to make your goals reality.
I spent years endlessly researching all the ways that I wanted to change my life, but I didn’t actually do anything about it. I just continued to find more and more ways to plan and execute and focus and work hard, but for years, I didn’t implement a single one, so my life stayed exactly as it was.
Change only happens when you turn your knowledge into action.
You can easily waste days, months, or years researching when you don’t need to. I know that you don’t feel ready; you feel like you need more information because you don’t know everything you need to do a good job.
First of all, perfection isn’t real. You’re never going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Second of all, your first attempt is going to suck no matter how much research you do. Accepting that is going to make everything easier. You’ve got to get through that crappy first attempt before you can get to your half-decent 50th attempt.
I’m not saying to dive in totally blind. A little bit of research is always a great idea, but it’s not a substitute for action. Sometimes our brains like to let us off the hook because we feel like we’ve done something by researching, but researching how to go after your goal is step 0. At some point, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to move on to step 1 and take action.
It doesn’t matter how much you know if you never apply any of it.