By Dirk Zeller

When managing your time, try to cut out some serious time‐wasters — or at least reduce the amount of time you devote to them; it’ll seem like you’re gaining one, two, three, or even more hours to your day to invest in activities and pursuits that are important to you. Here are some of the most voracious devourers of your precious time.

Failing to stop and think

When you spend too little time in preparation, you’re forced to spend too much time in execution. The time you invest in collecting, compiling, and organizing your thoughts before you begin a project pays off in time savings and in the quality of the outcome.

Not only does planning ahead eliminate problems before you start, but it also helps you imagine how you’ll perform the task. Preparation is valuable in efforts big and small. Even 10 minutes at the end of a day to review your schedule and set out the materials you’ll need is sure to increase your productivity and effectiveness the next day.

Multitasking

The scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that multitasking — ­switching back and forth between two or more tasks — is an extremely ineffective way to get things done. Researchers say that when you multitask, you’re making your brain take time to switch to a different skill set and a different memory experience.

Sometimes multitasking can’t be helped. And sometimes multitasking doesn’t affect productivity: You’re reading a book while listening to jazz and stopping occasionally to respond to your spouse who’s reading next to you.

For those projects and tasks that require your best effort, you’re better off to focus on one at a time. Here’s how to keep yourself focused on the task at hand:

Working without breaks

There’s a point of diminishing return where your focus and concentration start to fall dramatically. Too many people grind through, skip breaks, and cross that threshold. They sit and read the same paragraph over and over again because they’re tired and out of focus. They review the same report again without realizing it until they’re halfway through it.

Everyone needs breaks from routine and the tasks at hand. You should take frequent breaks but for very short durations. To achieve a true break, take a walk around the block. Leave your office and move your body. The act of physical movement connects with cleansing your brain, relaxing your mental muscle, and relieving stress. Don’t take a break at your desk; detach from the project you’re working on for at least 10 minutes.

Demanding perfection

If you’re expecting perfection from yourself or others, you’re wasting your time. Letting imperfection keep you from pursuing recreational interests or your career goals can end up limiting your fulfillment in life.

The amount of time, effort, energy, and emotion required to achieve perfection dramatically reduce production. You may invest as much time and energy to move from a 95 percent performance score to the 100 percent mark as you do to go from 0 to 95 percent. You’re much better off investing your energy in starting something new than focusing on perfection. Production beats perfection.

Worrying and waiting

Hand‐in‐hand, worry and waiting are two time‐wasters that can undermine your success and happiness in life. Worry usually comes from dwelling on factors that you can’t control. A first cousin to worry is waiting — not the waiting for your spouse to meet you for dinner, but the waiting that keeps you from taking a productive course of action.

Why not know now rather than later? If that client hasn’t called you back, call her. You’re going to find out the answer, anyway.

Hooking up to the tube

According to the Nielsen Company, the average person in the United States watches more than 28 hours of TV a week. Think about it: If you could eliminate that much viewing time, it’d be like having an eight‐day week. Just think of all you could do with 28 extra hours: read a good book, spend time with your family, take a class, start working out — and even get a good night’s sleep!

Here are some ways to wean yourself off evenings and weekends glued to the couch:

  • Leave the TV off if you’re not watching it.

  • Preplan your TV schedule.

  • Schedule no‐watch zones throughout your week.

  • Reduce the number of TVs in your home.

  • Prerecord what you want to watch and view it on your own schedule.

Surfing the Web

Nothing is wrong with hanging ten on the Internet — as long as the ten isn’t ten hours. The average per‐day time online is one or two hours, a measurable percentage spend seven or more hours a day glued to their monitors!

The Internet is incredibly valuable as a time‐saving tool. Just think how much faster pulling data and tracking down information is than in the past. But the Web is a storehouse of useless information as well. You can spend hours sifting through waves of data in search of what you really want to know, and before you know it, more than half the day has passed.

The biggest time‐waster on the Internet is social media. The best way to avoid the time‐creep of wasted time in social media is to set limits. Set a limit of 30 minutes so you don’t review every post and video that arrives in your newsfeed. Additionally, remove or block posters who are not real friends or post views you don’t want to read. This can save time as well as emotional energy drain.

Getting caught in junk mail undertow

As if it weren’t enough to be inundated with credit card offers, catalogs, and direct marketing materials in your mailboxes, now your email inboxes are slammed with unsolicited tidings, commonly known as spam.

You can take some steps to reduce the deluge of paper and electronic mail that comes your way. However, it does take a little bit of a time investment to stop this time‐waster:

  • Register to be removed from direct‐mail lists for up to three years.

  • Get off mailing lists for prescreened credit and insurance offers.

  • Sign up to reduce your catalog load. You can manage your mail by selecting which catalogs you’d like to continue to receive and which you don’t.

  • Online, install a good spam manager program. Most capture the spam mail and offer you the opportunity to view it if you choose.

Be prepared: It can take as long as 10 weeks to see a reduction in your junk snail mail. Also, be sure to enter the names of all the people in your household — as well as variations of your name and address.

Killing time in transit

Your automobile provides you with one of the most valuable opportunities. Turn your vehicle into a classroom for skills development and self‐improvement. Instead of listening to commercial radio, put your ears to work listening to motivational speakers and how‐to books on everything from personal finance to personal relationships.

Although there’s nothing wrong with listening to music or radio talk shows, when you spend a lot of time in your car, you’re better served by putting some of that time to good use.

Spending time with negative people

One way to bring down your energy level, reduce your enthusiasm, darken your outlook, slow your productivity, and drain your glass from half‐full to almost‐empty is to invest your time in negative people. The more you reduce the influence they have on your life, the happier and more productive you can be.

Do your best to minimize the time you spend in the company of curmudgeons and contrarians. Not only do you take back valuable time to direct toward positive endeavors, but their absence also breaks the dark spell over your optimistic outlook.