Getting up and taking action is the most important step in creating change in your life, but right behind that is no longer wasting time doing things that don’t serve you. All of those hours spent mindlessly watching Netflix, scrolling through your phone in bed, or sitting around doing whatever it is that you do with your time, but don’t actually want to be doing, are preventing you from making progress toward your goals.
Now, I don’t mean that you should never watch Netflix or sit around doing nothing. Having some down time is incredibly important, and if you’re watching Netflix because that is what you actually want to be doing at the time, good for you! But if you’re scrolling through Instagram while “watching” The Office for the fourth time since October and eating chips from the bag and you know you should be studying (sorry for the call out), I have a few tactics for getting off your ass and getting moving.
I do this all the time. I’m not about to hand write these blog posts, which means that if I am going to work, I have to be on my laptop. Know what else is on my laptop? Reddit. Facebook. YouTube. So to get it out of my system, when I sit down, I’ll often go to whichever site my mind is pulling me toward, but with a limit. One Youtube video. Ten minutes on Facebook. One page of Reddit. This scratches that social media itch so that I can get back to what I need to be focused on, but without me ending up ten miles down my Facebook feed. I don’t even like Facebook, why do I scroll that far??
If you’re going with this tactic, it can be easy to just ignore that limit when you’re supposed to get to work. We’ve all had moments of “I’m just going to scroll until 9 o’clock, and then I’ll get to work” and then we pretend not to see that the clock says 9:23. That’s why I find harder limits like one video easier to enforce than “I’ll stop at 9”. If you’re going to set a time-based limit, set a timer. The sound of the timer going off will pull your focus momentarily away from the scrolling, and you can use that lapse in focus to close the tab and move to something productive.
Know yourself. If you know you’ll end up going down a YouTube rabbit hole or watching seven episodes on Netflix once you start, this strategy isn’t for you. I know I can’t eat just a few chips. If I eat one chip, I’m going to eat half of the bag, so I don’t eat chips. But if you know you can pull yourself away after a set limit, then set a limit.
Start With Something You Enjoy
Say you need to vacuum your room, but you hate vacuuming, so instead you’re sitting on the couch under a bunch of blankets mindlessly scrolling through your phone and ignoring the nagging feeling of needing to vacuum. Instead of getting up to vacuum, get up to do something that you enjoy. Maybe you enjoy caring for your plants and they could use some water and plant food. Or maybe you’re down for a face mask, or you need to take your dog for a walk.
Start with something productive that you enjoy. It’s much easier to convince yourself to get up and get to work if the thing you need to do isn’t something you’re dreading. After you’ve done something productive but fun, use that productivity-high momentum to move into the thing you didn’t want to do, which in this case is vacuuming.
Do the Time Wasters While Being Productive
I love YouTube. It’s full of interesting and inspirational content. But I can’t just sit around all day watching Youtube. Instead, I watch it while I’m doing something else. Most of my media consumption occurs while I’m folding laundry, getting ready in the morning, running, or (this is a bad habit, don’t pick it up) eating. It’s rare that I just sit and watch Youtube while doing nothing else.
You can even use that media to bribe yourself to be productive. If you have a favorite Netflix show, try only watching it while running at the gym. Only watch your favorite YouTuber while doing the dishes. Listen to audiobooks while doing your meal prep for the week. This strategy allows you to still consume that media we all love so much, while also getting things done. It’s like a reward that you get before you’ve even completed the work.
Allow Yourself to “Waste” Some Time
I used to try to prevent myself from ever doing things that weren’t productive. No Netflix, only Reddit at times when there’s no way I could be doing something more productive, no Instagram, Twitter, whatever. But I’d end up doing these things anyway, which led to me feeling really guilty about “wasting” time, when I could be using that time to do something productive.
There’s no need to be constantly doing things. We live in a society where constantly being on the go, being “busy” is the norm and is heavily encouraged. But that mindset is so unhealthy. There is no reason to constantly be working, constantly be productive, constantly be on the go.
Allow yourself some time every day to do things you enjoy without guilt. I do my best to have everything that needs to be done finished before 7 p.m. every day. After 7, I have time to eat dinner with Bennett, and then watch whatever our current Netflix love is (Jeopardy at the moment). I like Instagram, so I schedule in a few minutes throughout the day to check it.
Knowing that you have time set aside to do things that you enjoy will make it easier to avoid checking them constantly, or binging because you think you aren’t “allowed” to enjoy these things. It also allows you to enjoy them guilt-free when the time does come, since all of the chores/homework/work for the day are take care of, instead of looming over you as you try to enjoy some downtime.
If you’re into calendar blocking, actually schedule in down time specifically to use however you want. It’s easier to stay focused and work on the things that need to get done when you know there’s a break coming. Then during the break, you won’t feel guilty because you know that you already got the work done.
Put Your Phone in a Different Room
If you let me, I’ll spend hours scrolling through the explore feed on my Instagram. Like, hours. To keep that monster at bay, I leave my phone in my room when I need to get things done and am feeling extra distractible. If I have my phone with me and find it’s distracting me, I will literally throw it across the room onto the couch so that I stop scrolling (I have an Otterbox and toss it gently; I’m not responsible for damaged phones).
Whatever it is that you find distracts you, be it the phone, the tv, snacks, the cat, put it in a different room. If there’s no way to separate yourself from the distraction, like Youtube when you’re trying to write a paper on your laptop, set up a website blocker. Focus Mode is the Chrome extension that I use. It allows me to set up a list of blocked websites and whenever I want to focus, I just turn on focus mode and it prevents me from reaching those websites. Even though all I need to do to get to those websites again is deactivate focus mode, the five seconds it takes to do that forces me to admit that I’m being distracted and makes me less likely to deactivate focus mode.
Do whatever you can to physically separate yourself from your distraction. Bennett, as much as I love him, is a distraction. In fact, he’s a distraction because I love him. When I need to get to work, I’ll let him know that I need to focus and find a quiet place away from him to get things done.
Maybe you do have a bit of time to kill, but at 6 p.m. you need to start cooking dinner or at 10 p.m., you need to go to bed. Set a reminder. Set seven reminders, each five minutes apart and each a bit more aggressive. Or in each one, put a reason why doing that thing you need to do will improve your life. Or write down an aspect of the life you’re working toward that you can’t wait to achieve.
If you have twenty minutes before you need to be out the door and headed to the gym, set a reminder in fifteen minutes and one in nineteen minutes, each telling you how good you know you’ll feel about yourself once you’ve gone to the gym. Put pictures of your dream house, or your dream job, or your dream vacation in the reminders. Remind yourself of your Why.
By setting the reminders, you allow your mind to zone out for a bit and enjoy your down time, because it knows that there’s a reminder that will prevent you from wasting too much time. By filling the reminders with inspiration, not only will you be more motivated to actually get up and take action when the reminders pop up, but the act of creating those reminders puts just a pinch of excitement in the back of your mind that your brain can play around with while you’re off scrolling through Reddit.
Focusing on what you want to achieve and how great it’s going to feel to achieve it will help to pull you forward. It’s much more difficult to take action when it’s been weeks since you’ve thought about why you’re taking these actions.
One hour of writing earns you fifteen minutes of watching YouTube. One hour at the gym earns you another episode of Parks and Rec. Getting up to cook yourself a healthy meal instead of ordering Chinese food again earns you a guilt free scroll through Twitter. Rather than dicking around on the internet while knowing in the back of your mind that you need to get something done, know that the internet will still be there when you get back, and use it as your reward for getting that thing done.
When you do get back to the internet, you can enjoy it with a clean conscious, because whatever it was that you needed to go do is already done. Enjoying the internet with a clean conscious and an empty To Do list is much more pleasant than trying to hide from your responsibilities by scrolling as far as you possibly can down your Twitter feed. Your responsibilities can still find you at the bottom of your Twitter feed.
I more or less trick myself into getting out of bed every morning. In my mind, it takes me twenty minutes to get ready and out the door. Realistically, I know from experience that it’s about twice that. So if I need to leave for the gym at 7, and I’m still in bed scrolling on my phone at 6:15, I tell myself that if I get up now, I can get ready and get right back in bed at 6:35, which gives me twenty-five more minutes of phone scrolling time. So I get up. And I get ready. And 80% of the time, I end up needing that entire forty-five minutes to get ready, so it’s a good thing that I got up when I did. But the other 20% of the time, I actually do get to get back in bed to chill for a bit before I head out the door, and those few minutes of chillin’ are amazing.
This tactic isn’t totally a lie. I’m not really tricking myself because I know if I’m efficient with getting ready, I really can get back in bed and scroll on my phone for a while. The problem is that most of the time, I’m really inefficient at getting ready, so I need that extra time. By telling myself that I can get back into bed if I get up and get ready now and knowing that sometimes that’s true, it gets me out of bed and prevents me from being late.
This strategy can be used in other ways. If you’re constantly late because you convince yourself that the twenty-five minute drive to work only takes fifteen minutes because sometimes traffic is light and you really do get there in fifteen minutes, leave twenty-five minutes early and promise yourself that you can pick up a coffee at the cute little coffee shop beside your office if you get there ten minutes early. Then on the days that traffic is light, you get coffee. On the rest of the days, you’re on time to work.
Another way to apply this is to decide you can watch another episode of whatever you current Netflix show is after you finish writing your paper. Realistically, if it’s 7 p.m. and that paper takes 5 hours to write, you won’t actually have time to watch more Netflix after, but tell yourself you get that reward anyway. And sometimes, the work will go faster than you expect. Or you’ll work faster than normal because you know there’s a reward waiting. Often, you won’t get the reward because there isn’t actually time for it, but the key here is to get that reward at least some of the time, so you can continue convincing yourself that if you get up and get to work right now, you’ll have time for more interneting later. It has to be possible to get to the reward sometimes.
As with taking action, avoiding mindlessly wasting time takes practice. Don’t beat yourself up for spending longer than you wanted to watching YouTube or scrolling Instagram. These things are intentionally made to be addicting. Implement these strategies as often as you can in order to work toward less wasted time, but don’t expect to stop all time wasting overnight. That takes much more willpower and self control than most people (myself included) have. And that’s okay. Taking consistent, little steps in the right direction is what’s important. And remember that time that you enjoyed wasting is not wasted.