Kill 5 Time-Wasters, Master Time Like A Ninja

You may delay, but time won't - Benjamin Franklin
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Modern society has become rich in resources but poor in time. We are busy people: busy with work; busy with school; busy with commitments; busy with procrastination; busy with perfectionism; busy with distraction; busy with fear and worries. Can you relate to any of this?

Busyness and lack of time often stems from poor habits and time management. Work, school and commitments are often lamented, when time is actually lost due to culminations of the little snippets of distractions, procrastination, worrying and eventually fatigue. As a result, our goals and dreams gets doomed into being forgotten and placed in a drawer that would never be opened again; we’ve become too busy being busy. And regret when it is often too late.

Don’t fall into that trap – the trap of being perpetually busy but getting nowhere.

What’s Preventing You From Achieving Your Goals?

Here are five time-wasters that impedes the aspiring ninja, martial artist and traceur from achieving his/her goals.

You may delay, but time won't
You may delay, but time won’t – Benjamin Franklin

1. Procrastination

  • Do you underestimate the time needed to get a task done?
  • Do you overestimate the time left to complete leftover tasks on your to-do list?
  • Do you believe that performing a task when you’re not in the mood is inefficient?
  • Do you wait for motivation before starting a task and believe the task should be enjoyable to do?

If most of your answers are ‘yes’, you are a procrastinator. Procrastination involves delaying the completion of tasks for a later time, often in preference for more pleasurable tasks or activities.

Studies have shown that long-term procrastination can lead to depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. If you procrastinate common tasks, you give less time for yourself for self-development. You keep telling yourself: later, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and so on. But the right time never comes. You will end up losing trust in yourself and remain in stagnancy as opposed to your peers.

If procrastination means putting off work and assignments for distractions like checking Facebook and watching videos for hours, time is being wasted on not working on your goals. However, putting off work reports or school assignments, and choosing to be instead productive with your goals, does not count as procrastination. Some people just prefer to work on reports closer to the deadline.

Do this: Don’t wait for a better time to complete a task. Procrastinators wrongly believe that the process of completing the task should be enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be. The task/work just has to be done. So, go ahead and cry about it, whine about it or sigh about it, while you are doing it.

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionists need their work to be flawless and end up aggressively pursuing impossible standards till the last minute. Sure. There is always room for improvement. But sitting on the same project and looking through it for weeks till the deadline, even when it’s complete, is a waste of time.

Perfectionism can lead to depression (according to Ed Beckham, Ph.D. and Cecilia Beckham) and burnout. With students or working professionals, this presents a huge issue because significant amounts of time (up to the deadline) is spent on trying to perfect your work. Honestly, this is also where a bulk of time that is being wasted. Furthermore, it is unhealthy to set unrealistic expectations and feel like a failure.

So, do you indulge in excessive checking, rewriting reports to perfect them, avoiding starting on a new goal and so on? Don’t!

Do this: Have reasonable plans and standards, then stick to them. The moment the work meets those standards, stop. If you feel the need to improve it, wait for some time and do something else while waiting. You will get a lot more insights (through fresh perspective) by forgetting the work and looking at it later.

3. Multitasking

Attempting to complete a few tasks at one go decreases mental performance and increases stress.

While multi-tasking can work for rote tasks that don’t require much thinking, findings by Helene Hembrooke and Geri Gay indicates that multi-tasking affects performance and memory recall. Productivity is lost by 40%, while IQ is dropped by 10%, when multitasking (Bergman, Harvard Business Review).

So, are you saving time by researching scholarly journals for three assignments at once? How about using social media while attending to work? Not at all. Switching back and forth between tasks takes 50% more time for each task and increases errors also by 50% (John Medina).

Imagine just how much time you can save by killing this habit.

4. Interruptions and Distractions

It took workers 15 minutes to shift back into their work productively after being interrupted (according to New York Times). This does not include the time taken to deal with the interruption.

Some of these interruptions include: phone calls, text messages, social media notifications, colleagues asking questions, chancing upon an interesting video while doing research and so on. Without setting boundaries and ways to deal with interruptions, you can lose up to 28% of time in your day (based on Basex Report’s statistics on knowledge workers).

Does saving up to 6 hours of your time sound appealing? It should.

Do this: Set boundaries for yourself and consolidate email and message checking. Train your colleagues to consolidate their questions and give them a time that you will get back to them at (if it is not urgent). I’m sure we all know people who come to the desk every 30 minutes to ‘clarify’ work. If you’ve found an interesting video or article while researching your paper, save the link in your bookmarks and look at it later.

5. Mental Fatigue

Another issue that many people fall prey to is to cram in consecutive hours on the same task. There is a limited amount of time that your brain is working productively, after which, it begins to tune off.  You’ve spent four consecutive hour on the same report and are feeling mentally-fatigued, yet you continue working on it at snail’s pace. As mentioned before, with diminished mental capacity and loss of focus, it takes you much longer to complete a task.

An auditor ex-colleague shared her insight that it takes her one hour to clear a specific section of her work when not tired but it takes her three hours instead if working overnight. Not to forget, you end up getting easily distracted when fatigued.

Do this: Take a break. This is the time you should deals with the distractions you’ve turned away or saved on your browser, or simply switch tasks. Take a power nap if you have to.

Conclusion

So, in summary the five common time wasters are:

1. Procrastination

2. Perfectionism

3. Multitasking

4. Interruptions and Distractions

5. Mental Fatigue

Most of us are victims of at least three time-wasters. Honestly, I was am guilty of all five.

Kill these time-wasters (or at least get some under control). You will definitely restore at least one hour of your time that has been stolen by these time-wasters. With that extra hour, you will be able to work on the goals you’ve set.

In the next part of the series, we will explore more tips and tricks to steal time. This series is based on my experiences, insights and research, combined with inspiration from Timothy Ferriss and Stephen R. Covey (authors known for their respective masterpieces, The 4-Hour Workweek and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).