When you think of productivity, you might picture a person who gets a lot of things done. When I think of productivity, I think of someone who doesn’t waste a lot of time.
I think there’s a difference in that.
Someone who gets a lot done can still waste a lot of time. They might be “on” for some of the day, but for the rest of the day, they’re consuming useless information, distracted by social media and their phones, and not being efficient with their time.
Being productive means being efficient with your time. It doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot done on your projects and outputting a lot of work. To me a productive day is efficiently using all the hours available to you, for all parts of your life that are important to you: health, family, relationships, fun, career, business, etc.
Think about just how many hours you waste a week that could be put towards one of the 5 life categories I mentioned above. Imagine how much better your life would be if you just spent an extra 3 hours a week on your health. Just an extra 2 hours a week on your wife or husband. Just an extra 1 hour a week on yourself and happiness.
So how do we do it? How do we stop wasting time?
Realize your time is valuable
I think the first step to stopping yourself from wasting time is realizing just how valuable your time, and time in general, is. Seems like common sense, right?
Don’t believe me?
Right now, you’re likely trading 5 days of your week for 2 days. Most people are working 5 days a week, to get 2 days of free time. Does that seem like a good deal to you? You give me $5 and I’ll give you $2 back. Not such a great deal, right?
And yet, billions of people trade most of their time, for a little bit of time back. It’s not rational.
Now, even if you love your job or career, and are not working for the weekend, you and many other people are looking forward to a retirement. That means you’re giving up most of your young, healthy years for a few years at the tail-end of your life, when you’re older and more tired. Tail-end years by the way, that aren’t guaranteed since you can die well before you even reach a point when you can comfortably retire.
Most people value money more than time, which is insane when we all stop and think about it.
Money is an infinite resource. Time is a finite resource.
Your time will end. My time will end. You and I can always make more money. We can never make more time. We undervalue time and overrate how much time we have.
Time = Money
If you’re someone who finds it hard to value time more than money, just think of your time as money. This perspective will really help you see how much your time wasting is actually costing you in dollars.
Think about how much time you waste per day. Actually write it down and self-audit your day.
Let’s say it’s 4 hours per day. This might include things like chores, cleaning, cooking, watching useless YouTube videos, spending time on social media, arguing with strangers online, watching crappy Netflix shows, doing a bad habit, whatever.
4 hours a day, 7 days a week, that’s 28 hours a week which is 1456 hours a year.
Now, assign a dollar value to your time. How much do you think your time is worth?
Not sure? Think about what your employer pays you for your time. Or better yet, look at the high value tasks you could be doing (working on business, freelancing, selling something, etc) and guess how much that is worth if you were to pay yourself.
Let’s even undervalue ourselves. Let’s say our time is worth $20 an hour. Realistically, if you’re reading this blog, or you’re a business owner, it’s more like $50, $100, or even more. But, so I don’t look like I’m inflating numbers, let’s say our time is worth $20 an hour.
Doing the math, that means I’m wasting $29,120 a year.
Want something even more tangible? If you freelanced on the side (writing, design, editing, virtual assistant, whatever) and kept your freelancing hustle to 28 hours a week, and charged your clients $20/hr (super low-end), you could add an additional $29k a year to your salary.
I honestly believe this is worst case scenario, too. I truly believe people are wasting much more time, and thus money, than this.
Buy back your wasted time
Interestingly enough, money is a very valuable tool when it comes to time. Money allows you to buy time.
Think about how many things we do everyday that can be outsourced to someone else, to save us time. Cooking, car/home repair, cleaning, driving, chores, etc.
Now, again, think about how much your time is worth. If you’re working on a high value task, that is worth to you $100/hr, and you can outsource a 1 hour chore for $100, that seems worth it to me. You break even on your money and you gain an hour back to invest into your high value tasks which can potentially pay dividends down the road, especially if it’s working on a business.
When we budget our income, we sometimes think about it as dividing our money into expenses/savings/fun.
But what if we took our income and divided it into expenses/saving/fun/time.
So not only are we investing money into our future/emergencies, investing money in ourselves, and paying our expenses, we’re investing some of our money into time.
Create a “time budget”. Pay for a meal plan and delivery service. Hire a cleaner. Have someone drive you or use public transit so you can be more productive during your commutes. These are just some ideas. Figure out what chores or low value tasks are taking up a lot of your precious time, even if it’s just a few hours a week, and outsource them.
I suggest trying this for a few weeks and see if it actually makes a difference. Is the money spent worth the time gained. Are you seeing a net positive outcome?
Now, when you outsource them, you want to ensure you actually spend the time you earned back productively. This doesn’t mean you spend the extra 2 hours a week on Netflix. So finally, we need to talk about discipline.
This is the hard part.
It’s probably the section you we’re seeking advice on if the article’s headline caught your attention because you have a problem with wasting time.
The truth is, there’s no real solution to procrastination. There’s only suggestions that work for some people and don’t work for others. This is because most of this is an internal struggle, and usually a symptom of something else.
If you’re constantly reaching for your phone, logging into social media, and wasting time in general, it could be a symptom of something like boredom, lack of fulfillment, unhappiness, or even something more serious like addiction or depression.
I’m not a doctor and I’m not even going to attempt to touch those things, not even with a 10 foot pole.
All I can provide are some tactical things that worked for me. I’m not perfect, far from it, but I do think I’m better at this than most of the general population.
Make a schedule and stick to it. No, seriously. Actually make a schedule. Yes, I know you’ve heard this advice like a million times, but have you actually given it an honest attempt? Have you created a schedule and stuck with it to a T for a month? Have you tried scheduling time for even the most mundane tasks like chores?
Use Trello. It’s saved my life. Otherwise, paper or pen or whatever tool you prefer is fine, as long as it’s easily accessible.
In the beginning, be very strict. As you get used to the routine and scheduling your entire day, relax and become more flexible. It’s a good practice in the beginning when trying to get used to a schedule, to follow it closely.
Eliminate distractions and go cold turkey. Most people don’t have a lot of willpower or discipline. This is why I recommend taking the extreme route and doing things that prevent you from procrastinating or wasting time in the first place.
The first thing is delete social media apps off of your phone. How many times have you picked up your phone without even thinking much about it, and tapped the Facebook app? It’s habitual and it’s done without thinking or realizing what you’re doing. It’s like we’ve become zombies.
To stop this, and also catch yourself trying to do this, delete the social media apps off of your phone to force yourself to use a browser or desktop.
Better yet, cut out social media entirely.
Wherever you catch yourself wasting time, take the steps to eliminate or limit how much access you have to these time wasters.
For myself, it was social media. I don’t have a single social media app on my phone. Not only did I find the information I was consuming useless and affecting my mood, it was robbing me of my time.
Take back control
Ultimately, what this all boils down to, is you want to take back control of your time and your life.
If you feel like you’ve been living on auto-pilot, and kind of just floating through life, I really believe some of the concepts talked about, like treating your time as money, and setting a strict schedule, can help you take back control.
It’s not easy. You will relapse. But if you’re struggling with this, it’s worth it to put in the effort, even if you struggle.
If you’re bored and want to use your time more wisely, I recommend checking out Blinkist. Blinkist takes business, productivity, and personal development books, and summarizes them into easy-digestible audio or text summaries. This not only saves you time (reading a lot of books takes a lot of time), it’s a productive way to spend down time or free time.
If you have any actionable or tactical tips you’d like to share on stopping time wasting, comment below. I’d love to read some.