March is time management month around here, and we’ve already explored a lot of different topics.
You may have noticed something missing.
We are 22 days into time management month and I have yet to tell you to stop wasting time on things that don’t matter.
Well…here you go.
Identify Your Time Vices
Step one in this process is identifying your time vices.
Look through your time log and find the things that aren’t bringing you value. What are the things that you are spending time on but aren’t getting much out of?
Sometimes this process is easy. Sometimes you can quickly highlight your wasted time and start working on eliminating it. Sometimes, however, it can be a bit trickier and requires some nuance.
Valuable or Wasteful?
I used to spend a lot of time on mindless TV.
I really like watching some shows and I get real joy out of well-crafted story lines. However, I was spending a lot of time with the television on just because it was the easy thing to do after a long day at work.
I needed to distinguish between those two types of television. One brought me happiness. The other was wasted time.
If I indiscriminately cut out all television, I’d be missing out on something that made me happy. If I didn’t cut any, then I’d be wasting a lot of time on something that didn’t bring me any value.
With that distinction established, I have mostly cut out the mindless television while continuing to watch my plot-driven shows without feeling guilty.
How Much Value?
Another nuance is to determine whether something that brings you some value is bringing you value commensurate with the time you spend.
I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook.
Because of the nature of Facebook I would only spend 5-15 minutes at a time on the site, but I would check it often.
Facebook does bring me some value. I am bad at reaching out to people out of the blue, so seeing what people are posting on Facebook gives me a conversation starter. I believe that Facebook helps me in maintaining relationships.
That said, I can get the full value of that in much less time than I was spending.
Instead of spending hours every day in small chunks, I can just check in once every few days. There is minimal added value to seeing something immediately after it is posted compared to a day or two after.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Our final category of nuance consists of things that are good sometimes and bad others.
Sometimes playing Panda Pop or Candy Crush (or whatever your phone game of choice is) for a few minutes is a great way to destress and clear your mind. There’s something oddly refreshing about it.
On the other hand, sometimes it is a way to procrastinate doing what you really should be doing.
In addition, even when it is a good use of time, it can get bad if you get lost in the game and spend too much time on it.
Don’t make yourself completely cut out these little “time wasters” if they serve a purpose, but don’t let yourself get carried away.
What Makes Sense For You?
Each of these things will be different for everyone.
Maybe all television is a waste of time to you. Maybe games make you really happy.
You’ll need to figure out which uses of time are valuable to you personally and which are not.
You’ll need to decide for yourself what to spend less time on and what to cut out entirely.
Spend some time thinking about this. Our instincts are often defensive in wanting to preserve the status quo. When I read productivity tips suggesting cutting out social media entirely I quickly dismissed them as inapplicable to me and then didn’t think about it further.
Actually challenge yourself. How much happiness/productivity/value is this thing really giving me?
Make a Plan
Once you’ve determined what your vices are, you need a plan to cut them back or cut them out entirely.
For distracting websites, try StayFocusd, which is a browser extension that allows you to put a daily limit on the amount of time you can spend at certain websites. You can program in different websites and different time limits, so if you want to spend no more than 30 minutes on Facebook, but up to an hour on Twitter, you can do that.
On a more general basis, try tracking your time. I found that when I spent a week writing down every time I checked Facebook, it made me self-conscious and I checked Facebook less. This is the tool that helped me kick my Facebook addiction and get back to a reasonable amount of time on the site.
If you don’t want to keep a full time log, try just logging a specific use of time. Keep a notebook at your computer or a piece of paper in your pocket to write down when you participate in your time vice and for how long.
Mindless television is a very specific problem that you may not have, but if you do, canceling cable almost completely wiped out my bad habit in one fell swoop. I still have plenty to watch with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, but having to actively select a show rather than just turning on a channel has done wonders.
Get creative. Design a solution for yourself that fits to your specific vice.
Slow and Steady
The last piece of advice that I would like to offer today is to get rid of one vice at a time.
We are often overly ambitious when we seek change and try to do too much at once. This makes us far more likely to fail. And when we fail we get frustrated and it is tempting to give up on everything that we are trying to change.
Avoid this by focusing on small sustainable changes.
Join the Conversation!
What are your time vices? Have you gotten over any? What tools or tricks did you use? Let us know in the comments!