Whether or not reading this article is a worthwhile way to spend your time depends entirely on whether you decide to take something away from it.
All but the most fortunate of us have occasionally felt like we could have better spent our time better or in some other way.
For some of us this occurs every so often, while for others it’s rather frequent. In any case, we’re all liable to feel regret over the inefficiency of the past.
Hardcore advocates of time efficiency are often quick to say something to the effect of, “People who say they don’t have enough time don’t realize how much time they really have.” While that does sound rather condescending, they do have a bit of a point.
But we can stick it to them by using their methods anyway.
Set Your Goals
The most important step is to know what you ought to be spending your time on.
Most of us don’t waste our time doing nothing, so much as we spend it accomplishing the wrong things or on frivolous achievements. Running a million miles won’t mean much if you went in the wrong direction.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s something you’ll be happy to have done once you’re done with it, even if the actual act of doing it wasn’t as enjoyable.
Most people want a sense of accomplishment rather than passing pleasures, but we go for the little hedonistic things because they’re easier to get and pay off faster. But stay focused and you won’t give into temptation.
Realize What’s Important
If you aren’t waiting on a specific email, you don’t need to check your inbox right now. What’s almost as hard as cutting out the unimportant things that give us temporary pleasure is cutting out the things we think we enjoy because they’re a force of habit.
Unless your ultimate goal is to make a living on social media, you probably don’t need to be on it very often.
This may mean completely reevaluating your life and all the little things that don’t seem like they waste time until you see them add up.
You might find it necessary to drastically reduce your consumption of guilty pleasures like television and the Internet, vices like tobacco or alcohol, or even the entire concept of sleeping in late. You may also find a way to continue accommodating these things in your life anyway.
But with everything you do, you need to consider whether the utility you get out of it is worth it.
Ask for Help
If you aren’t making progress simply because you’re stuck, reach out to someone who can pull you out of the mud.
Always solving your problems by yourself is a nice idea, but in reality, none of us are Superman (as far as I know). Asking for help could very well be both the easiest and hardest solution to reducing wasted time.
Make a Plan
This is a next-level step that will (ironically) take some time itself, but those who do it swear by it.
If you map out what you want to accomplish in a given timeframe, you’ll likely find yourself more compelled to get it done. This can be anything from a meticulous hour-by-hour schedule for your upcoming week, or it can be grabbing a sticky note and writing down “I want to accomplish X, Y, and Z today.”
For even better results, tell yourself, “I will accomplish X, Y, and Z.”
Record Your Time
An even more advanced step than planning time in advance is to assess time afterwards. If you keep tabs of how long you spend doing any given task – and for maximum efficiency, this really ought to include every little thing down to the minute – you can start pointing to specific actions you think were wasteful and strategize for avoiding them in the future.
Once again, you’ll be spending time to save time, but it will all pay off if you make the most of it.
Everything in Moderation
Quality over quantity is the name of the game. If you want to work toward being a better multitasker because you want to be that kind of person, then by all means go for it.
But I would be derelict of duty not to mention that the time-saving experts insist focusing on one thing results in better outcomes than juggling many things, and slow and steady really does win the race. Do a lot of good work instead of a lot of mediocre work.
You know what, though? There’s a time and place to accomplish nothing. Part of that is taking a break to recharge and assure you don’t burn out. Sometimes we all need to sleep, eat, and just breathe.
But also, take a little bit of time to enjoy yourself. Engaging in non-constructive activities you genuinely enjoy can be fine as long as it’s not impeding your life.
After all, if everybody became hyper-focused on their work and never indulged in recreation, entire sectors of the economy disappear: the tourism industry, film & television, and sports all rely on us needing an escape. All work and no play makes Jack lose touch with reality.
If you’ve been grinding away for hours at something that won’t pay off for a while, take a bit to do something you’ll enjoy now.
But keep it reeled in, don’t lose track of time, don’t get too hooked on it, and whatever you do, make sure it’s something you’re actually getting something from and not just something you think you enjoy.
Stop Regretting Wasted Time
You won’t be able to be 100% efficient with your time; none of us are that clever or powerful. There will be traffic jams and power outages, illnesses and emergencies, chores and obligations, and work done that we later decide wasn’t worth it. But the worst way to waste the present is to spend it in the past.
It takes a special kind of person to never, ever dwell on past mistakes. But for the rest of us, we worry about mistakes of the past because we’re afraid they can happen again.
That’s why we try to learn from our mistakes. It’s easier said than done, of course, but we need to try, or we’ll keep worrying about the failures of our past, and then we rob ourselves of our futures.
This may seem counterintuitive after the “assess how you spent your day” step, but we can’t allow ourselves to waste time regretting wasted time from over a week ago.
Part of this is telling yourself that these “wasteful” activities were necessary. This doesn’t mean lying to yourself, but reevaluating how you perceive things. You didn’t move forward in life after cleaning the bathroom or sitting through a work meeting, but they were necessary acts to maintain a life where you can make the best of the time you can control.
The other part of this is acceptance. Fleeting moments are part of life and the human experience, and there are probably workaholics out there with the opposite anxieties, Googling tips on how they can finally chill out for once. We all want to feel fulfilled in life, but what you find to be fulfilling is unique to you and you alone.
So go look at a sunset if that’s what you really want to do. Go to a party; or send goofy pictures to your friends; or re-watch that one Internet video again, the one that can always make you laugh like nothing else can. If it’s something you think will add to your life experience, do it.
After you’re done doing that, take a moment to ask yourself a very important question. It’s not a loaded question; you may answer yes, or you may answer no, and this writer has no bias for how you answer. But for this article to help you in any way, you need to form your opinion to this question and plan accordingly:
“If a moment gives you pleasure, is it truly wasted?”