12 Time thieves to avoidAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Behaviors, situations, and environmental elements that make us waste our valuable time are usually called time thieves.
External time thieves are those that come from outside and we cannot prevent them from appearing, such as phone calls, messages, meetings, and all kinds of interruptions. The fact that these time thieves are beyond our control doesn’t mean that we can’t control their management. We can manage them and minimize the damage.
Internal time thieves come from our own behavior and way of doing things: habits, personal organization, lack of planning, etc.
It’s very easy to blame your poor productivity on external time thieves, but the truth is, if you’re wasting your time, you have a self-management problem.
It’s true that there are many people and situations that waste your time, but mostly they do it with your consent. At least, well, admit that you don’t try too hard to avoid them.
If you let time thieves run rampant in your life, you can get into a very negative dynamics. You’ll need more time to attend to your commitments and you’ll have to get it from somewhere, so you’ll have no choice but to spend less time on what you love, your family, your friends and your hobbies. And you don’t want that at all.
Some time thieves are obvious and others go unnoticed. They take away a few minutes at a time, which at the end of the week turn into hours. Either way, you need to know about them and make the effort to detect them so you can think about how to eliminate them.
Here is a list of the most important ones:
- Lack of good personal organization. If you don’t organize yourself properly, you will waste a lot of time deciding what you are going to do next and how. Organize yourself effectively with Getting Things Done (I always recommend GTD as a personal organization system, but any system that allows you to manage yourself is perfectly valid). Take a little time every day to define your work and you’ll gain a lot of time later on. Plan, group similar tasks within the same context and prepare a daily action plan.
- Unclear goals. If you are unclear about what your goals are, you won’t be able to define the work to be done or plan it properly. In addition, priorities will constantly change and generate conflicts. Clearly define your short-, medium- and long-term goals, and do this periodically. Separate the important from the urgent.
- Not making decisions. Waiting until you have all the information you need to make a decision can lead to a crisis or a missed opportunity. Make decisions as soon as possible; in most cases it’s more efficient to decide without having all the information. This way you have a starting point, and you can make corrections along the way. Indecisiveness only generates anxiety and confusion.
- Not knowing how to say NO. Accepting requests that don’t bring you anything will waste a lot of time. Here are a few reasons and tips for saying no.
- Inability to delegate. If you don’t delegate properly, you will end up doing things that others can do better, faster and at a lower cost. And that’s a big mistake.
- Lack of concentration. Obviously, overwork, fatigue, stress and other factors can take their toll. Here are 17 tips to stay motivated and focused.
- Poor communication. When you accept a job or delegate a task, there must be clear communication. Convey your needs clearly and make sure the message has gotten through. Listen carefully. If the work is done poorly, it will have to be modified or redone, and that will mean breaking your current schedule and going into a state of emergency.
- Postponing tasks indefinitely. If, on a regular basis, you procrastinate on the tasks you like the least, they will end up coming back with a destructive effect on your personal organization (causing the aforementioned state of emergency). Do them as soon as possible and you will avoid the stress and guilt generated by procrastination.
- Interruptions. In addition to the time taken by an interruption itself, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain lost focus. If you have unexpected visitors, apologize and try to postpone them to a more suitable time. Politely and firmly cut off your time-consuming colleagues (there are always some). Likewise, politely cut off unnecessary long telephone conversations. Switch off your cell phone at times when you need maximum concentration.
- Mail, social networks and instant messaging. These can be another kind of interruption. If you have them open, you will receive notifications, go check them and feel the urge to answer. Close everything and plan two, three, or four times a day when you go in, empty your inbox and leave everything in order. Delete the emails that you don’t need and only generate noise.
- Meetings. They usually waste a lot of time, with the aggravating factor that they affect many people. If 8 people waste 30 minutes in a meeting, that’s 4 hours of work lost. First of all, always evaluate the need for the meeting and call only the people involved. Meetings must be properly prepared beforehand, defining the topics to be discussed and setting a maximum time limit.
- Crises or states of emergency. They are madness. Everything goes down the drain. Most of them are the consequence of something that was done wrong or not done. How can you avoid them? By clearly defining goals and tasks, organizing, planning, making decisions, communicating clearly, saying NO to the unnecessary, delegating correctly, eliminating interruptions… not allowing them to steal your time.