3,2,1… STOP! How To Stop Wasting Time At Work In 3 Steps

written by Dan Silvestre
Procrastination, Time Management

How to stop wasting time

Time is a scarce resource.

Yet, you live in a never-ending struggle:

You know how valuable time is, yet you cannot stop wasting it.

You spend the whole day working. But when you look back at your day, you barely see any progress. You wonder: “What have I been doing all this time? Is this why I’ve spent eight hours at the office?”

Or perhaps you take a break with the phone for “5-minutes.” Which turns into two hours. You just can’t find when to stop.

You feel terrible about your results so you try to work your way out. You wake up earlier, learn to work faster, drop other projects. But the more time you make back, the more you waste.


STOP working for the sake of working.

STOP the worthless activities you’ll regret later.

STOP dwelling on how you should use your time.

Do you want to feel in control? Spend your days working on your career, relationships, and passions by learning how to stop wasting time.

STOP! How To Stop Wasting Time At Work In 3 Steps

We live in a world of distractions. Being focused on your goals is getting more difficult by the day.

Whether you like it or not, the world has been designed to waste time. Attention is the most valuable currency nowadays and media companies spend billions to capture it.

If you don’t want to waste time, you need to be intentional with how you want to spend it.

To make sure you don’t fill your time with unproductive activities, you need to:

  1. Expose your time-wasters
  2. Protect your environment from time-wasters
  3. Create a sense of urgency

This 3-step system will ensure that you keep yourself grounded and focused on what really matters.

Step 1: Expose Your Time-Wasters

how to stop wasting time - identify time wasters

You can’t stop wasting time if you don’t know what are the time-wasters.

To identify them, you first need to know what you should be doing in their place.

If you don’t know, simply ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What are my personal goals?
  2. What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Whatever the answer is, that’s the only thing you should be doing. Everything else is a waste of time.

If you don’t know what you want, you’re unable to detect time-wasters. That’s why you need to give your time meaning.

#1 Give Your Time Meaning

When you are tackling time-wasters, you have to appeal to the emotional part of the brain. In the book Switch, the authors call it “the Elephant”.

You need to give the Elephant something to strive for. You need to give it a direction to follow.

Maybe your goal is to intentionally spend two hours a day on social media. This is a good use of your time because you made it your intend.

A waste of time would be scrolling through social media when you actually want to work on a project at the office.

Chances are that your intent is the latter.

For example:

You are struggling to finish debugging your project. You try to start, but every time you get stuck, you end up opening Reddit.

The problem?

Your goal is not enticing the Elephant part of your brain. It’s too abstract, making it easy to negotiate distractions. You need to bring emotions into the picture.

The simplest way is to bring emotions into a task is by asking yourself these two questions:

  • What do I want to take out of this project?
  • Why am I working on this project?

By answering the questions, you will start to look at boring tasks differently. Suddenly, your time has meaning.

Once you give meaning to your time, the easier it is to keep time-wasters away.

#2 Create An Activity Log

Do you know how much time you’re wasting exactly? Too much you don’t want to know?

I know how it feels. But you won’t correct what’s wrong if you quantify it first.

There’s a short and detailed way to find where your time goes.

The short one is writing a list with everything you do in a week. How long do you spend on each task? (e.g., sleeping = 8hx7days, emails = 0.3hx7days, meetings = 1.5hx2days…)

And the long method:

  1. Every hour, write down briefly what you’ve been doing and for how long (e.g., email 11:15-11:30, eating, 11:30-11:50…). It only takes 15 seconds if you keep it simple, five words max.
  2. Repeat daily for a week
  3. By the end of the week, you group the repeated tasks and count the time spent

Note: If you do a lot in one hour, you can break it into 30-minute groups. Or you can write whenever you switch tasks.

As an extra benefit, this exercise makes you aware of what you do every hour.

#3 Separate The Essential Few

The more time we have, the more we waste. And the same happens with long to-do lists.

The good news?

You don’t need to finish it every day.

Look at the activity log, and ask the following for every action you’ve taken:

  • Does it help me reach my goal?

This question filters out all the distractions. If something isn’t helping, it’s limiting you. Consider removing it.

  • What if I stopped doing it?

This exposes those tasks that look like work but don’t move the needle. If you answer “Nothing bad would happen,” they’re not mandatory. You don’t need to do them.

  • What result does it create? Is there another task that achieves it faster?

When multiple tasks create the same result, don’t treat them as tasks, but options. Just choose the optimal one and cut off the others.

Now that you’ve exposed the time-wasters, let’s do something about them.

Step 2: Protect Your Environment From Time-Wasters

how to stop wasting time - protect your environement from time-waster

Any chef worth its salt knows the importance of preparation. The last thing he wants is to have to chop onions in the middle of a busy dinner.

To avoid that, chefs prepare all the ingredients before cooking a single dish. This technique is called mise en place and it saves them lots of problems when the orders start to come in.

Likewise, your productivity will benefit a lot from preparation.

If you don’t prepare your environment for productive work, time-wasters will creep in. You have to protect your environment from them.

The most common time stealers include:

  1. Internet distractions
  2. Colleague interactions
  3. Meetings

Removing these time-wasters is more difficult. The Internet is always a temptation a few clicks away, coworkers always have a reason to call you, and there will always be mandatory meetings.

Even then, you have more control over your time than you think. Here’s how to manage the three.

#1 Become Undistractable Online

Email, messaging apps, social media. Every day, world-class PhDs are researching new ways to get you addicted. And it only takes a few seconds to get carried away.

How long does it take you to open one of these apps?

Two seconds. You get a notification and click on it. So you’re only seconds away from a distraction.

This means your brain doesn’t have enough time to think: “Is this productive or not?”

Don’t worry. You don’t need to delete accounts or block websites. Just increase the friction every time you want to use them.

  • Use websites, not apps

Apps are fast and convenient, especially for distractions. When you get a notification, it makes a satisfying sound. And it stays on your screen forever until you click on it.

Websites don’t have this problem. When you visit it the first time, they ask whether you want to turn notifications on or off. Apps turn them on by default ALWAYS.

When you open your app menu, you’re one click away from every app that can distract you.

Got it? Websites save you trouble.

Note: You can hide all the apps on your phone and keep the menu empty. To open an app, you type its name on the search bar.

  • Browse in incognito mode/logged out

When you browse something, it doesn’t just show up what’s relevant for that keyword. It shows what’s relevant for you, your demographics, and your interests.

These algorithms know how to keep you addicted. They even know what content will make you click from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

All for what? Wasting your time!

  • Turn off what you don’t use

Done with a platform? Log out and don’t save the password.

Finished the online work? Turn off the Internet.

Don’t need the phone anymore? Power Off.

The next time you get tempted to open one of them, these measures will give you enough time to think twice.

Once you control your own distractions, you’re ready to manage the ones coming from your workspace.

#2 Stay Productive With Coworkers

When you finally got to work, you don’t want to lose focus when a colleague walks by. But you neither want to be rude or antisocial. What do you do?

  • Show yourself unavailable

If you use signals, people won’t bother you unless it’s important. Headphones never fail, but you can use signs too.

Once again, the more difficult it is for a coworker to talk with you, the less likely she is to interrupt.

If you are in a position where you have to manage other people, set limits to your availability. Set times during the day when they are not allowed to interrupt you. This way, you safeguard precious hours for Deep Work.

  • Give them work

Do you know a coworker will come to your desk to chat about the day? If he doesn’t go away easily, there’s a trick to do this productively.

Just look at your to-do list. Are there any urgent tasks that aren’t that important? That’s your opportunity to delegate.

You can also invent a useless task. It’s just a productive excuse to make them go away.

Do this until they get tired and stop bothering.

  • Time your breaks

If a break ends and you’re in the middle of a conversation, you can’t just stop. You don’t want to be there, but it’s awkward to leave.

There are some tricks to deal with these situations.

For example:

Set up an alarm for the end of the break. When the alarm rings, you have a great excuse to go back to your desk and work.

#3 Get The Most Of Meetings

Meetings are one of those events where others have the freedom to talk with you. Whether it’s productive or not depends on the meeting objective and how you prepare. Otherwise, it’s mindless chitchat.

  • Avoid optional meetings

Ask the moderator. How does it affect your projects? If it’s just informational, if you’re not essential, skip it.

  • Prevent the Parkinson’s Law

It doesn’t matter if the meeting takes 60 or 90 minutes. It will probably take a bit longer than what is scheduled.

It happens with everything. If you give more time, people start to waste it.

Even in a required meeting, never feel obligated to spend the intended time. As soon as the team solves the issue, you can leave:

“Have we solved the issue we met for? Yes? I got work to do. Send me a message if anything urgent comes up.”

You’re doing them a favor. But the meeting won’t stop unless you show some sense of urgency.

Step 3: Create A Sense Of Urgency

how to stop wasting time - create a sense of urgency

Saving time with distractions only works if you use the remaining time effectively.

If you get more time than you need, you’re going to waste it. And that defeats the whole purpose of stopping to waste time.

The secret to keeping your time away from time-wasters?

Create a sense of urgency. And you do that by decreasing the time you allocate to each task.

For example:

If you have to present a report two days from now, try to finish it tomorrow. You will be much more engaged and complete the task sooner.

The bottom line:

You can’t waste time when you barely have any left. Decreasing the time you have for each task, you will be less prone to wasting time.

You can start doing it by planning your days in advance.

#1 Plan your day

Don’t just use to-do lists for tasks. You should plan your day by matching your tasks with a time slot.

Even though it’s a daily list, that doesn’t mean it should take you the whole day. So based on your schedule and the task length set a due hour for each task.

For example:

Let’s say you have three tasks of two hours each. Instead of leaving them on your to-do list, include them in your schedule.

  • 11:00 to 13:00 -> Task 1
  • 14:00 to 16:00 -> Task 2
  • 16:00 to 18:00 -> Task 3

The tight schedule will prevent you from wasting more time.

#2 Use A Minimalistic Timer

If your work has many moving parts, you may be a victim of perfectionism. You don’t want to waste time backtracking, so you try to get it perfect once.

The problem is, you’re tempted to do everything perfectly, even if it’s non-essential.

There’s no simple solution, but you can discourage perfectionism with a low time limit. You can do that by setting timers to complete a task. The most common time intervals are 25 minutes following the Pomodoro technique.

Make it short enough so that the only way to finish on time is to do the basics. Or limit your ability to undo blunders.

Later, you can polish any parts that need to be redone. But that’s faster than coming up with a perfect piece on the first try.

#3 Deconstruct Your Projects

Complex projects often are the ones where more time is wasted.

The reason is simple:

The project is so difficult that you don’t know where to start. You feel as if you are about to do something impossible. And when you are faced with such a challenge, you are more vulnerable to distractions.

But that should not be the case.

As the old joke saying goes:

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

You can deconstruct any project into bite-size tasks.

They should be small enough for you not to feel overwhelmed when you start. These tasks should take no longer than 1 hour to complete.

Doing several in a row will give you enough momentum to push through the most difficult parts without giving in to distractions.

Deep Work: Be More Effective With the Time You Have

Wasting less time is only half the battle. To ultimately increase your productivity, you have to make every hour you work count.

To get more things done with higher quality, I suggest that you pick up Deep Work.

You can only fulfill your potential when you allow yourself to focus deeply on your work.

With regular Deep Work sessions, you can increase your output without increase the time you are at work.

To start, you first need to find the Deep Work strategy that works for you. There are 4 strategies to choose from according to your lifestyle.

Then, you only need to implement it in your schedule consistently. As you get better, you will be able to concentrate for longer periods of time and get more done.

You will be amazed at the amount of work you can get done when you learn how to stop wasting time and implement Deep Work consistently.

Tags:: Deep Work

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