Time thieves steal time we could otherwise spend on what really matters to us. What are time thieves, and how can we defend ourselves against them?
Identifying and Defending Against Time Thieves
What things steal your time? We guard our money, our house, our car, and belongings against theft, but these are all things that are replaceable. Our time, however, is finite and irreplaceable. Once a moment, a day, or a year is gone, it is gone forever. We need to guard our time against external and internal influences that might keep us from doing the things that are really important to us.
One external time thief is interruption, such as a phone call or a drop-in visitor. Not only does it take time to deal with the interruption itself, but it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain concentration and restore productive work.
The first line of defense against this time thief is to take charge of your time and environment. You may want to move to another area where your phone and email will not distract you, or where visitors can’t drop in unexpectedly. You may want to post office hours like university professors do. You are not making yourself completely unavailable, but you are taking control of the situation so you can commit certain times to make yourself available at specific times. Realize that we can take charge of our time and manage interruptions. You don’t want them to take the best of your time and energy.
2. Clutter & disorganization
Clutter and disorganization are also external time thieves. Physical clutter can cost us time because we are looking for things as well as caring for items that we don’t really need.
We also need to organize our time, because if we do not have a plan for how and when things will get done, we won’t be efficient with our time.
We can take control of our possessions by spending time decluttering: getting rid of excess items and organizing the things that we keep. Check out this helpful room-by-room decluttering guide.
Consider where things are stored. The most convenient space should be reserved for the things you use daily or multiple times daily. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is an ancient cliché, but it’s also a recipe for efficient and productive work whether in the office, the kitchen, the bathroom, etc.
Meetings can be valuable, but they can also waste a significant amount of time. Statistics show that billions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours are lost every year to meetings. 10 people in a 1-hour meeting = 10 hours spent, so you have to ask yourself, are you getting 10 hours’ worth of value? This infographic is an informative overview of how our time can be wasted in meetings.
How can we avoid wasting time in meetings? If our attendance isn’t crucial, then perhaps we should opt out or suggest a shorter meeting time. We might try standing or walking meetings so we can keep the meeting brief. When determining whether a meeting will be worth our time, we can ask ourselves: Is it necessary? Can the information be conveyed or decision be made by another means, without a meeting? Who really needs to be there? How can we keep it focused and short? If you are the one calling or planning the meeting, these questions are especially helpful.
4. Constant connectedness
Another time thief is our constant connectedness through email, social media, and instant messaging. These create interruptions, but they also interfere with our ability to focus on deep and important work. Not only does this connectedness interfere with our concentration, it can also become very addictive. One article discussed the alarming findings from a study by the University of Maryland on social media addiction in the United States, including the estimate that the average American spends nearly one-quarter of her (or his) work day browsing social media for non-work related activities.
Another article listed 10 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health, warning us that it
- makes us compare our lives with others,
- makes us restless,
- gives rise to cyberbullying,
- glamorizes drug and alcohol use,
- can make us unhappy,
- can lead to fear of missing out, and
- often leads to multitasking.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport cites a number of books and studies that support the position that “network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.”
With this in mind, how can we balance the use of digital devices and minimize our constant connectedness so we can stay focused on the things that truly matter?
We can disconnect, at least for certain periods of the day and determine when we are most focused and productive, and when we are feeling brain dead, we can use that time to use social media, etc. When we have “deep work” to do, we can put our phone in a drawer, close social media sites, put away the noise and distraction.
It’s important that we are not only saving time for more work, but also for other priorities in our lives, such as family. Newport says he generally stays away from his computer after work, and says, “This ability to fully disconnect, as opposed to the more standard practice of sneaking in a few quick work e-mail checks, or giving in to frequent surveys of social media sites, allows me to be present with my wife and two sons in the evenings. . . . More generally, the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives.”
Following Newport’s example, we can consider a rule of no phones during mealtime, game time, or movie time.
We can think of creative ways to make time for the people in our lives. Some groups of friends who meet for dinner put their phones face-down in the middle of the table, and the first person who checks theirs has to buy dinner for the group.
We can also turn off the alerts for our social media apps and sites and set time limits for using them. We can set aside that electronic connection to make time for face-to-face connection.
We’ve discussed multitasking on the show before. If we’re truly trying to do two things at once, it often takes longer to get each task done and leaves less time for other pursuits and activities. Sometimes we even have to re-do the work because we haven’t been fully present for each task, the result and quality aren’t what we would like them to be.
To avoid time lost to multitasking we simply need to intentionally practice focusing on one thing at a time so we can give it our full attention.
Sometimes we’re our own biggest obstacle. There are many internal time thieves that can also eat away at our time and make us less productive.
Regret over past mistakes and bad decisions can cost us time spent reliving scenes from the past. This leads to negative thoughts about yourself, undermining your self-confidence and preventing you from taking steps forward in the present. This can also lead to procrastination or “analysis paralysis,” where we don’t progress at all for fear of failing again.
An article on Sharon Teitelbaum’s Work-Life Sanity Blog shares some life-saving ideas for dealing with those nagging regrets and reminders of past mistakes (read her article for the details on each of these tips):
- Clean it up.
- Talk to someone (for perspective).
- Face the accusations head on and defend yourself.
- Push the thoughts away and replace the negative with positive.
Once we’ve processed the emotions that come with a negative experience we can turn our thinking and ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?” Learn the lesson from your mistake and then let it go. Check out episode 28 of The Productive Woman: Failure Isn’t Fatal: Starting Well, Starting Over, for more help on this topic.
Another internal time thief is doubt—especially self-doubt. Doubt is defined as “lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities,” or in other words, second-guessing every decision. If we doubt our own opinions and priorities, we might let others set our priorities instead of using our time in a way that’s valuable to us. Jim Rohn has said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” It’s okay to say no to opportunities and plans that do not align with our personal agenda and aspirations.
In many cases there is no one right decision. We need to make our decision and go with it.
One writer has said, “It’s often our confidence in and commitment to our decisions that determine whether they are the ‘right’ ones in the end. When faced with a difficult decision, ask yourself which option you’ll be more motivated to make succeed. Instead of getting stuck over-analyzing a problem to find the best solution, use your time and energy in coming up with a concrete, actionable plan to make your decision succeed.”
We can take small steps, and set interim goals, to help build our confidence toward making confident decisions. One idea to help with this is to start a list of things we have done well, and good decisions we have made. This will help us overcome feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty.
Another internal time thief is comparison–in other words, measuring ourselves by what other people are doing or how they are doing it. Sometimes we try to live our life based on the image we have in our minds of how or what somebody else is doing. Studies have shown that women are more prone to this comparison trap. In this article, Alyssa Westring, PhD, talks about the impact of “social comparison” on our self-esteem, and therefore on our productivity, noting:
“Not surprisingly, those who engage in more comparison to others feel worse about their work-life balance. Perhaps more surprisingly, these individuals also report worse physical health symptoms and greater intentions to leave their jobs. There is a clear price to be paid for comparing ourselves to others, and social media makes it exceptionally easy to do so. Given that women are significantly higher users of social media compared to men, it’s also likely that women are doing more of the comparing than their male counterparts.”
This comparison trap can be emotionally damaging. An article entitled “A Simple Guide for ALL Women to Stop Comparing Themselves to Others” discusses the destructive power of comparison, and is worth reading.
So how can we stop the compare snare? This article and the Simple Guide article mentioned above offer ideas for how women can stop comparing themselves to others, such as knowing who you are and what you want, building your own lane and staying in it, and practicing being grateful for who you are and what you have.
4. Guilt and shame
Guilt and shame are also key players in eating away at productive time. The difference between the two is that guilt is regret about something we’ve done, and shame is more related to who we are. Both are destructive and interfere with our ability to make rational decisions. We might fill up our time doing the things we think we should, or the things we think will make up for some “failure” on our part, instead of the things that really matter.
When we start to feel guilty or ashamed we first need to recognize it and how it might be driving our decisions or activity. We need to forgive ourselves of our weaknesses and move on. Extend grace to yourself and give yourself permission move forward on the things that matter.
One last internal time thief is perfectionism. If we continue to work and rework a project without ever completing it, then we are also wasting time. John Perry, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford, has said, “Perfectionists aren’t people who do something perfectly. Perfectionists are people who fantasize about doing something perfectly.” Instead of just getting it done, we waste time thinking about how to do it perfectly. Perry goes on to say, “At its core, procrastination represents shoddy treatment of the one person who should matter most to you: the future you.” We lose time trying to achieve something that isn’t really possible.
The concept of the minimum viable product is prevalent in the software world and we can apply it to our circumstances. We need to make something that basically works and let people try it and then refine the product or idea. We need to learn to just get started and be okay with releasing and sharing something that is less than perfect with the world.
Time Thieves Can Be Stopped
To defend ourselves and our time against these time thieves, we need to become more aware of how we are using our time and how we are using it on things that are less valuable. Use a time tracking app or a chart to keep track of how you are spending your time. Use your time for the things that matter most to you. Have a plan in place and do the 3-5 things that are most important to accomplish that day and schedule a time to do those important things first. Be kinder to yourself because beating yourself up won’t make you more productive.'Beating up on yourself for your mistakes does not make you more productive.'Click To Tweet
What do you think?
Have any of these time thieves been stealing time from you? What time thieves did I miss? How do you defend yourself against the external or internal time thieves? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue of time thieves. Share your questions or ideas in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or feel free to email me.
Helpful Resources and Links:
- Be Careful With These 12 Time Thieves
- 4 Ways of Keeping Time Thieves at Bay
- Our Family Place: Dealing with time thieves
- Eliminate time thieves
- Arrest the Time Thieves Effective Time Management
- LeapZone | Branding & Business Ideas for Entrepreneurs » The Eleven Biggest Time Thieves Of All Times!
- 6 ways to beat the time thieves | Women Unlimited Worldwide
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