As much as we’d like it not to be true, our time and energy are limited.
We are mere mortals with finite resources and the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has. So staying productive and keeping sane means occasionally taking inventory of how we’re spending our time. And where we’re wasting it.
In scrutinizing your own recent activities, see if you’ve fallen victim to any of these 10 common time-suckers:
1. Attending meetings
Meetings can be magical.
You brainstorm internal strategy, collaborate with clients, and pitch prospects. Sometimes you walk out of a meeting inspired, focused, and ready to accomplish big goals.
But then there’s that meeting that has absolutely nothing to do with you . . . but you’re there anyway.
Or that meeting that drags on for an hour-and-a-half with no clear agenda when it could have been tackled in 15 minutes . . . or with nothing more than a quick E-mail to relevant parties.
Or the half-day meeting with a prospect who turns out to be a terrible fit for your business 5 minutes in.
Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, do your best to skip the unnecessary meetings. Create or request an agenda. Pre-qualify your prospects. And create an atmosphere in which everyone respects each other’s valuable time.
2. Handling correspondence repeatedly
It seems obvious, but you waste at least twice as much time fiddling with papers or E-mails on multiple occasions instead of dealing with each one exactly once.
The solution? Touch your physical and electronic mail only once.
Choose a time when you can examine your stack of mail or your newest E-mails, go through each one, and decide on the next action for each. Even if you’re not prepared to take that action immediately, you’ll move along each and every one of your messages.
3. Saying yes to everything
How often do you view an invitation as a summons?
No matter how overbooked you are, how much you need a break, or how little you want to participate in an event, you feel compelled to go . . . because someone asked you.
It’s the third birthday party in a month for one of your friends’ kids. It’s the bachelorette party that’s two hours away after a long week at work. It’s the elementary school committee that you’d be “just perfect for.”
Learn to say “no, thank you” or simply “no” when saying yes would add unwanted strain to your family’s life instead of bringing you satisfaction.
4. Engaging in low-ROI activities
What’s the return on investment you get from your time?
If you’ve never thought about the ROI associated with each of your day’s tasks, it’s an eye-opening experience. How much value do you receive for the ways in which you spend your time?
Paraphrased, the 80-20 Rule says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. That sounds awesome!
Of course, the flip side of that is that the other 80% of your time yields only 20% of your results. Therein lie your low-ROI activities.
So take a look at how you spent your day or your week. Was that meeting worth the time you invested in it? What about the time you took to write that E-mail? Make dinner? Hang out with your kids?
See about identifying your own low-ROI activities and diminishing or eliminating them.
5. Agonizing over decisions
Do you succumb to analysis paralysis?
Instead of spending your time making a decision quickly, you get stuck in weighing your options . . . and never acting.
Sure, there are some big decisions in life with which you should absolutely take your time.
But most decisions we face have an incredibly minor impact on our lives. Even better, most of them are reversible if you do change your mind later.
Don’t like the meal you planned for this evening? The piano teacher you selected? The Internet provider you went with? Feel free to change your choice!
Instead of spending your time stuck in over-researching and under-deciding, choose to make a good-enough decision wherever you can, and move on with your life.
6. Suffering from imbalance
Imbalance is impossible to sustain.
Every once in a while, you may need to throw yourself into your work or a family crisis. But living a lopsided life long-term takes its toll on your emotional well-being, your health, and your productivity.
You can’t take care of your responsibilities or other people when you are running on fumes.
So it’s essential that your everyday life includes a variety of activities and clearly defined breaks — time when you allow yourself to be “off.” (Yes, it can be so hard for moms to find that time and even harder to give yourself permission to take it!) Before you feel yourself starting to lose it however, give yourself time for sleep, adult conversation, peace and quiet, and even blissful alone time.
7. Bouncing between activities
Constantly breaking your focus is an excellent way to get absolutely nothing accomplished.
You start an E-mail, check your Facebook feed, talk to a friend, go back to the E-mail, . . . and you have to re-read everything you’ve written just to re-establish your train of thought.
Instead of jumping around, batch your activities. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish in a block of time that’s devoted solely to a single task.
8. Being instantly accessible
If an invitation seems like a summons to an event, a ringing phone or incoming text can certainly present itself as a demand for a response.
But it’s not.
If you’re batching your tasks, it’s likely that the moment of an E-mail’s arrival in your inbox is not necessarily your chosen E-mail communication time.
So let it wait. Unless you’re ready, willing, and able to deal with a particular communication in that moment, contend with it later. When you can give it the focus it deserves.
Give yourself permission not to be a slave to every E-mail, phone call, text message, or knock on your door.
9. Wasting your time on relationships that have run their course
This one’s tough for most of us. Sometimes it’s simply time to let people go.
It’s usually not because of a major falling-out but more often than not because you’re both in different places in your life. And often the other person has already let you go. And you know it.
Maybe you have a childhood friend whom you haven’t seen in 20 years. You still take the time to send her handmade Christmas cards every December. But you haven’t heard from her in at least a decade. Perhaps it’s time to trim your card list.
Or you have a paid, professional mentor whose advice was key to your early years in business. You schedule monthly chats to discuss your strategy. But your experience now makes your mentoring sessions wholly unnecessary. Perhaps it’s time to shake hands and move on.
10. Overlooking the big picture
It’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of life. To get so focused on each emergency or chore that you nearly lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
And if you get bogged down in the necessary stuff that clutters your schedule, you tumble into the trap of forgetting to do the things you actually want to do!
The solution is to match your activities to your goals. Focus on your big-picture goals, ask yourself how everything you do ties into one of those goals, and be fully aware of which goals are being lost in the shuffle.
Which time-suckers have cropped up in your life? How have you overcome them?