Lots of activities we think of as time-wasting aren't that at all. Facebook might be an important way of getting some down-time in a busy day. Chatting at the school gate builds a community, while waiting for the GP at least can give you time to catch up on a book.
But lurking in your day are probably pockets of truly dead time. Time-wasters that have no benefit at all. Things that result in nothing but frustration, stress and disruption to your plans. And they slip in so easily, you probably don't even notice you've fallen victim to them.
1. Losing things
Have you spent a few minutes today searching for a pen here, a document there, gym kit or black shoe polish? Just 15 minutes a day adds up to a mind-boggling 7.5 hours of lost time in just a month. That's over 12 working days a year you could save by knowing where things are.
Lost things usually fall into two categories: important things you need infrequently (passports, financial papers, the neighbours' spare keys), or things you use all the time, but in different places or out of the house or office (gym kit, gloves, client notes). Either way, you need a system to store them.
How to fix it
Note anything you use frequently you've had to look for more than twice. Give it a fixed home, and make sure everyone else knows it. If necessary, label the box, the file, the shelf or the peg, so no one has any excuse. If it's decluttering you need to start with, take a look here at the two secrets behind every succesful clear-out.
For important but irregular things, take one area every month and create a system. Maybe it's putting instruction manuals into labelled folders, or designating a drawer for passports. Within a few months you'll know where everything goes, so you can store and find anything quickly.
2. Taking too long over small decisions
Ever procrastinated over a £2 birthday card or what kind of vinegar to buy? Agonised over over whether to have chicken or sausages for supper, or 15 different kinds of subtly different travel insurance? If so, you've almost certainly wasted time on something where the result didn't justify it.
A big reason we find making decisions hard is being tired or overwhelmed. Put too much stress on the brain, and it refuses to play ball.
How to fix it
Notice the kind of decisions that you struggle with, and the time of day. For instance, if you're delaying all your important decisions about your home life until the evening, it's not surprising if you're going round in circles. Try setting aside some time at lunchtime, or get up earlier one day a week, and work through anything you need to make tricky decisions about.
In addition, remind yourself that marketers deliberately make you feel that a wrong decision has huge implications. It doesn't, usually. Try to work out what you need from something, and settle on something that does the job, rather than the best of all possible options. If that feels fundamentally odd to you, here are a few ideas on what's going on.
If this is you, you'll find more ideas here to reduce your stress levels by making better decisions.
3. You don't have the right kit
Improvising might be great when you're stuck in the outback, but in daily life it's just a time-eater. It takes a lot longer to chop vegetables with a blunt knife, right? And even then, it's difficult to get the result you want. But it's easy not to notice how much time you're losing until you get that sharp knife or a food processor, when you suddenly realise how much quicker and easier food preparation is.
How to fix it
Observe yourself going through the day, and notice where you're losing time by not being able to do something efficiently. Maybe it's not having enough file dividers for you to find things easily, or a broken shoe-lace that keeps getting tangled. Are you wasting time sorting white and coloured laundry when two baskets would mean it was already done, or would new razor save you time in the morning? It might be more subtle: if you're getting knee problems from using old trainers for your morning run, make new ones a priority, and avoid the time and expense of sorting out joint problems.
Lots of fixes are small and cheap, and you'll get the benefits immediately. If it's a bigger thing, put it on your wish-list, for when people ask you what you'd like for a present, or to save up for.
Once you start becoming aware of where your truly dead time is, you'll probably get more frustrated about it. But if you can convert that frustration into motivation to change the way you organise things, you'll start finding you have hours more than you ever realised to use for the things that make your life better, and you healthier and happier.
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