Four Time Wasters

THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH TIME if you ask most people busy people. There are always things to do and when you’ve finished your ‘to do’ list there’s generally a raft of other ‘stuff’ just waiting to be dealt with. So many things to do. So many potential issues to consider with our time.

Time is one thing that everybody gets in equal proportion; we all get the same 24 hours in our day. Some days we feel we’ve achieved a great deal, and others we don’t. When we do use our time wisely we gain a sense of peace. Yet, we often feel estranged from our core selves when we’re chasing after other people’s priorities, or simply when we don’t get time to do those things most important to us. Time for things like planning, preparation and re-creation is a key to our happiness and overall wellbeing.

Stress about time is a key issue for some. When we succumb to fear of the unknown and are left to think, “What’s coming next,” and we often find our thoughts drawn toward anticipation of the immediate future-this can be stressful; some in fact, have mild or even major phobias about time in this way. It creates all sorts of effects short- and long-term. A potential remedy worth considering could be one of exercising mind-control and having something else to occupy our thoughts to distract us from this sort of cogent reaction.

We must endeavour to balance time with our motivations; what drives us. We want to do many things that we might not have the time to do; the things that are most important to us. This will inevitably create dissonance within us as mentioned above.

So how do we optimize our time? How do we make the best use of it? Well, one thing we don’t want to do is waste our time. I recently learned of four potential time wasters. Simply put they are e-mail, voice mail, interruptions, and procrastination, and they’re certainly relevant. This is not to say any of these activities is a complete waste of time, but we need to exercise some caution that’s all.

We often get sucked-in by these things. Either we become lazy, or we want to please people, or we struggle with having the courage to do the right thing. Looking at causes for succumbing to these time wasters is worth the effort, so changes have a better chance of ‘sticking’. Change in its own right is hard-it has to be decided upon, and then persisted with for many weeks before it takes root in our lives.

E-Mail is generally considered a non-urgent form of communication. Urgent communication really demands other forms of contact, for instance face-to-face meetings or phone calls. Answer emails only a couple of times a day-we should not be spending any more than 30-minutes a day attending to e-mail, unless we have allocated extra time or have that time ‘up our sleeve’.

Voice mail is a great innovation if it is used efficiently. To protect your accessibility make sure you let certain calls (especially from unknown callers) through to voice mail, and then delay getting back to people, unless it is urgent. At times, people will be able to work things out without you needing to get involved. When leaving messages be caller-courteous. Leave your details clearly and don’t leave long messages unless it is going to help the receiver-in any event leave messages no longer than 60-seconds in length. Limit your time attending to voice mail.

Interruptions that are counter-productive are both unnecessary and untimely. Reduce these by politely challenging the situations and people who create them. Some interruptions are necessary but untimely-these could distract you from your focus on a high priority task. Bearing in mind that interruptions can cost you double-time(the time for the interruption, and the time taken to get your mind back on the original task), it is wise to quickly plan for a response later and agree that with the person concerned. The ‘double-time’ effect of interruptions is even worse when you are dealing with projects. Once interrupted, the sequence, progress, and chances of success of a project can be seriously undermined unless there is a strong focus to get back on track. The effort required to get the project back on track can also contribute to procrastination; it may be just “too hard”. Finally, don’t succumb to “urgency addiction” and treating interruptions as the first priority-this would be a good way to get stressed and reward people for sometimes doing the wrong thing i.e. high-jacking your day.

Procrastination is tragic. We all suffer some procrastination. It comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow) and has links with avoidance behaviour, particularly task avoidance. Avoiding doing things is usually caused by psychological factors like fear of failure possibly based, for example on a lack of clarity, or simply because the task might seem overwhelming, and for other reasons. Overcoming procrastination is the key. Do things that might be delayed early in the day or set a deadline and then reward yourself for keeping it.

What do we do with information then? One thing I have learned: FAD. Either 1) File, 2) Act on the information, or 3) Delete it. When ‘acting’ ensure you either reply, forward or delegate the information. It is such a relief when one gets to a point of ‘handling’ information efficiently and not allowing it (or the circumstances surrounding it) to confound you, holding you back.

Like time, information should be “for you” and not “against you”-information is your friend, not your foe.

(C) 2007 Steve Wickham

Acknowledgement to FranklinCovey (2002) Focus | Achieving Your Highest Priorities – course literature, Keeping Your Focus.