How can I trim the waste from my day?

by Sam on May 4, 2010

One-Minute Answer: By never saying, “Where did I leave my keys?”


This is week three in our examination of the five classes of time: (1) doing routine stuff, (2) reacting to crises, (3) wasting it, (4) doing what you ought to know not to do, (5) or acting wisely. Today we look at the inexcusable behaviors that waste time.


Each of the other pesky classes—1, 2 & 4—is more defensible than this one. Most routine tasks are necessary; many crises cannot be avoided (as you learned last week); and misguided activities often seduce us (as you’ll see next week). So you’ll have few excuses for lost keys after reading this week’s advice.



Five-Minute Answer: Wasted activities consume time without justification. They send you back over old ground. They fritter away blocks of your day on matters that add nothing to your effectiveness. They block you from your goals.


Twelve classic timewasters are identified in the left column of the table below. The remedies for each of these scourges are to the right. You already know to do many of them. The challenge is to value time highly enough so that you take them seriously.


The Time Wasteland

Waste Trimmers

“Oh no; here he comes.” Some people who don’t have enough to do, and who love to gab, circle like office vultures looking for prey. They may say, “Sorry to interrupt you, but…”

Before he finishes the sentence say, “For you I’m interruptible. Let’s make it 4 o’clock this afternoon. I’ll have 15 minutes. See you then.” Be kind, but firm. There’s a good chance he won’t return.

“Where’s that Post-It Note?” One of the worst habits of the human species is writing phone numbers and other vital records on little slips of paper that you hunt for later.

If you have a smart PDA take advantage of an “app” that will record notes; otherwise, immediately put the data in your computer or where you can reliably retrieve it.

“My pen’s got legs.” Where are the keys to your car? Where are those glasses you set down? Your purse? That jump drive? Your cell phone? Favorite pen? Money clip? A book?

If it takes five minutes a day for such searches, you’ll spend over 2000 hours of life thus engaged. Consider the advice of Professor Solomon.

“I can’t afford this delay!” A meeting is held up for late arrivals. You wait outside your boss’s office. Traffic was brutal this morning. The next thing you need to work on hasn’t been delivered. Ten people are ahead of you to pay at the cafeteria.

There’s often little you can do to shorten wait time. During delays, except in vehicles that you’re driving, whip out that PDA and respond to an email, check your afternoon appointments, or refresh yourself with an onboard game.

“I’m supposed to be where?” A slip of the finger can easily cause a false entry on electronic calendars that puts you in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

Always verify that appointments you believe you entered into your electronic calendar are where they should be. Confirm engagements the day before.

“I’ll remember that.” How many times have you taken a phone call in your car verifying an appointment? Practicing good safety, you delayed entering it on your calendar, and forgot later to record it.

Stop the car, and notate the appointment or use the voice record feature on your PDA to describe the commitment.

“I’ll get to it.” Procrastination is a time waster. It takes effort to think about what you’re avoiding, to work around it, and to explain to others why it’s not being addressed. Blowing off a deadline makes more work later.

Begin each day by attacking what you don’t want to do. Start on new tasks within 24 hours of committing to them. Contract with an accountability partner who’ll regularly ask, “What’s the one thing you’re putting off?”

“Why am I here?” You don’t need to go to every meeting or event to which you are invited.

Contrast the value of attending every meeting or event with how you could alternatively spend that time.

“Where is that file?” Over my career as an author I’ve had to totally rewrite the equivalent of at least three book chapters when I failed to save work or accidentally deleted it.

Save your files; save your files; save your files. Store each special project on its own jump drive.

“It doesn’t take much more time.” Most people have mastered 25% or less of the efficiencies that their favored piece of software offers. You waste time performing operations your software will do for you.

Register for an intermediate or advanced course on the software on which you most depend for productivity.

“No! Not the blue screen of death!” There are two kinds of PCs—those that have not yet crashed and those that have.

Invest in a system that will continually back up everything on your computer.

“This is fun!” Goofing off and daydreaming is actually therapeutic and energy building, but carried to an extreme will cost you.

Schedule breaks and fun into your workday, but guard against overdoing it.


Did You Know? A recent study revealed that American workers waste up to 25% of their day on the job frittering away time on the Internet, engaged in personal phone calls and texting, socializing with coworkers, and the like. Most of the items in the table above weren’t even mentioned in the study! Include them, and one might guess that as much as half of the work day could go up in smoke.


Enough Said: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” ~Benjamin Franklin


Next Week: We’ll attack the last drain on your day with the question, “How can I shrink the misguided portion of my day?”

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