12 Time Thieves

By Francisco Sáez • May 30, 2011

There are many people—and things—that make us waste our time, but often these forces have our consent to do it. Well, at least we don’t put too much effort into actively avoiding them. And that’s because we don’t value our time properly. Time is gold.

If we let the time thieves steal from our lives, we’ll fall into very negative dynamics. We’ll need more time for our obligations and we’ll have to take that time from somewhere else. We’ll have no choice but to spend less time on what we love—our families, friends, and hobbies. Not cool at all.

Some of these thieves come to us externally, and others are generated by ourselves. Some are obvious and others go unnoticed. They may steal a few minutes here and there, which will eventually turn into hours lost at the end of the week. In any case, here’s a list of some of the time thieves you should watch out for the most. You have to know what these thieves are in order to detect and eradicate them:

  1. Personal disorganization. If you don’t get organized, you will waste plenty of time deciding what the next thing is that you have to do and how you are going to do it. You should use a method for personal organization (I recommend GTD, but any system that allows you to manage yourself is perfectly valid.) Every day, spend a little time organizing your stuff and you’ll save much more time later on. Group similar tasks together and prepare a daily action plan.
  2. Unclear goals. If you’re not clear about your objectives, you cannot effectively define the work to be done and plan properly. This leads to constant changes on priorities and conflicts among them. Clearly define your objectives in the short, medium and long term, and review these objectives regularly. Separate the important ones from the urgent ones.
  3. No decisions. Putting off a decision until you have all the necessary information can provoke a crisis or a missed opportunity. Sometimes, making decisions soon is more efficient than making decisions later, with more information.
  4. Not knowing how to say no. Accepting requests that don’t contribute anything or that don’t allow you to progress toward your goals will make you waste lots of time. Here’s some help in this regard: Reasons and Tips to Say NO.
  5. Inability to delegate. If you don’t delegate your tasks properly, you’ll end up doing things that others can do better, faster, and at a lower cost. And that is a serious error.
  6. Lack of concentration. Overwork, fatigue, stress, and other factors can be very painful. Here you have 15 Tips to Stay Motivated and focused.
  7. Bad communication. Clear communication is essential when you’re accepting a job or delegating a task. Convey the needs clearly and make sure that the message arrived correctly to whoever you’re communicating with. Listen carefully. If the job is done badly, you’ll have to redo it, and your current plans will be thrown off. If the miscommunication is bad enough, a state of emergency may have to be declared.
  8. Procrastination. If you usually put off your least favorite tasks until the end of the day, they will come back to haunt you, provoking a destructive effect on your personal organization (possibly another cause of the aforementioned state of emergency.) Complete these tasks as soon as possible and you’ll avoid the stress and guilt generated by delaying.
  9. Interruptions. In addition to the time the interruption takes by itself, it takes an average of 15 minutes or so to recover the lost concentration. If you have unexpected visitors, apologize and postpone the meeting to a more convenient moment. Don’t let the boring co-worker who talks on and on steal your time. Stop them politely but firmly. Similarly, with courtesy, cut unnecessary phone conversations. Turn off the mobile phone in those moments you need total concentration.
  10. Email, social networks and instant messaging. All of these can be another source of interruption. If you keep these systems open all the time, you’ll receive notifications and you’ll be tempted to answer. Shut down these applications and block off some time every day to open them back up, empty your inbox and keep everything current. Remove all unnecessary emails.
  11. Meetings. A lot of time can be wasted in meetings, with the especially aggravating factor that many people besides only yourself are affected. Eight people wasting 30 minutes in a meeting really means four hours have been lost. First, you must assess the need for any meeting and summon only the necessary people. The meeting must be prepared properly in advance, defining the topics to deal with and setting a maximum time limit. Here’s a link with a number of good practices for conducting effective meetings.
  12. Crisis or states of emergency. They’re a mess. It all goes to hell. Most of them are caused by something that was done badly or just wasn’t done at all. Crisis must be prevented wherever possible. How? Defining objectives and tasks clearly, organizing, planning, making decisions, communicating neatly, saying no to some things, delegating properly, avoiding interruptions—in short, by not letting the thieves steal your time.

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

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