I love this quote, because it sums up the wasted time issue in a nutshell. Of all our regrets, wasted time is probably the most preventable. Wasting time can come in many forms including succumbing to bad habits, not revising bad decisions, or simply not planning ahead. Today we’re going to look at a few bad habits that steal time from us.
Briefly, let me clarify what is not wasting time: true self-care, learning/training ourselves and others, and the moments that charge and refuel us. Truly, even menial tasks are only a “waste of time” if you’re not getting value. For example, let’s talk about a highly controversial morning task: making the bed.
Making the Bed
A simple everyday task that gets a surprising amount of press and public opinion. Admiral William McRaven said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Requoted by many, from coaches to teachers to therapists, claiming a win first thing in the day provides the push necessary to conquer the balance of the day.
In my time-management studies via Google, I ran across the counter argument for making your bed, put forth by Joel Lee, which includes the calculation, “Five minutes every morning is a half hour every week, which is about 30 hours annually. In other words, bed-making will cost you more than one day every year.”
Here’s my take. In my youth, I sat firmly in the “making the bed is a waste of time” camp. Then, at some point in the dark, cold winter, I discovered that pulling the sheets and comforter neatly over the bed each morning actually makes for a warmer and more comfortable bed to crawl into at night. Why was this nugget of practical science and reasoning kept from me?. (I never did well with the “Because I said so” line of persuasion.) For me, taking those few morning minutes to improve my wind-down and comfort at night is worth it. Maybe you live somewhere that doesn’t have dark, cold winters and your anxiety levels remain unaffected by an unmade bed, then for you, Joel may be right. Take back one day a year. For me, it’s worth the warm bed. The moral of the story: everything about spending time and the value in each moment remains uniquely personal.
Much of what can be considered time wasters are habits that need to be changed. We all have a bad habit (or two) that we need to face up to, which, let’s face it, is never as easy as it looks. “I could stop…I just don’t want to!”
There are several informative resources on how to change habits. For the sake of brevity, I am going to point out the most common highlights to changing a habit. 1) Replace a bad habit with a new, good habit. 2) Have accountability and ask for help if necessary. 3) Fix, or at least address, the underlying issue that causes or leads to the habit. Wondering which habits to start with?
Three Common Time-Stealers
Bad Habit #1: Social Media
Social media persists as the biggest time-stealing culprit that we embrace, condemn, and maneuver through every day. So much so, it’s come up several times already in this article series (and will continue to do so). Social media and screen time, for personal and business, don’t have to be time wasters. Keep your grip on the minutes, don’t hand the power over to the analytics gurus who lure you to the next click.
A few tips to stay in control of your time with social media:
- Turn off notifications. Staying focused on the work (or play) that’s to be done is much easier without the ping, ping, ping of the latest tweet, headline, or friend’s recipe post.
- Set personal barriers. Facebook, as an example, is great for checking in on family and friends we don’t get to see every day. Setting times to check in, and times not to check in, leave you in control yet still keep you connected.
- Set a timer. It’s not unusual for people to complain that they go to their network of choice “for a minute” and 45 minutes later…uh oh! Set the timer. Ten minutes is often plenty of time to check in but not so much that the scroll reflex takes over. Social media has many fine points, when balanced.
Bad Habit #2: Phone in Bed
This is linked most commonly to bad habit #1 and also includes reading the news, playing a “brain game,” or even an e-book. If this habit lurks in your bedroom, bad news: it harms your sleep patterns and impairs your brain. Already, there’s plenty of long- and short-form research proving this point. One succinct piece from Psychology Today explains the top “6 Ways That Night-time Phone Use Destroys Your Sleep.” All six notes are important to your health. In keeping our focus on time-stealers, let’s skip to the last point. When you use your phone at bedtime, “You will feel more tired and less alert when you wake up.” Who’s at their most productive when they’re tired? (Answer: No one.) Sure, I get stuff done when I’m tired, but it takes longer, causes struggles, and creates inefficiencies. I’ll be talking about the power of sleep more in the next article because investing in good sleep reaps long-term benefits.
That’s OK, you may be thinking, I sleep alright, but I have to start the day with my phone. Nope, sorry, that’s not OK either. In “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist,” Tristan Harris explains how we get our brains off to the wrong start when we check the phone as our first thing. The crux being, whose voice do you want guiding your day from your most impressionable early moments? Your own? Or the clamoring of the outside world? Claiming control of your mind, your mood, and your mission should be a top priority as each day begins.
This habit, by the way, is a classic example of do as I say, not as I do.
Alright, I know scanning my phone before I sleep and as I start my day is a time/energy/well-being killer, so what to do? Let’s look back at the breaking bad habits tips. First, replace the habit. For the night, this should actually be simple. I keep plenty of books by the bedside. And the Psychology Today article also shared a Harvard study that showed people who read from a printed book instead of a screen wake up more quickly the next day. (PS, Go print!) But the morning…. My morning phone habit is to read the news first thing I wake up, before I even leave the bed. Oh dear. My advice-to-a-friend brain knows this is unhealthy on several levels. OK, let’s count this public admission as part #2 of breaking a bad habit: accountability. I mean, this is pretty public, so I’ll be back with an update on how this bad habit breaking works out and, hopefully, its stellar life-changing results! Or so. But now, back to you. I urge you to listen to your body, read up on the science, and think about breaking screen time phone habits.
Bad Habit #3: Not Delegating
If you’ve been following along, the best way to invest your time is to train and delegate. A hard habit to break is, “I’ll just do this real quick.”
My friends, when you have a capable team, this completely unnecessary time waster is also an insult to your team — and they know it. The incredibly short reminder on how to break this habit:
3) Fix or address the underlying issue. Do your people really not know how to do this task? Train them. Are you avoiding doing the important task behind it? Eat the frog. Do you get a sense of power when you do “everything?” Quit it.
2) Have accountability. Ask your team, “What am I doing that you want to learn and be accountable for?” How many pleasant surprises that conversation brings! Ask, “What am I doing that holds you back?” You may be surprised to learn that you are literally in the way of a person finishing their own job by your handling those “in between” tasks. This could break your world wide open in a very positive way.
1) Replace the habit. The new habit is simple. When these tasks come up, click forward, pass the note, follow up. The new habit is do more of the important work that YOU bring to the table. Done and done.
Sometimes we have to face up to the habits that are taking away from our productivity. Look them in the eye and pull the rug out from under their power. Changing old and entrenched habits isn’t easy, but time is a gift that’s too good to waste.