The daily stream of time management advice (Get up even earlier! Use a tomato-shaped timer to cram in more! Check/don’t check your electronic devices!) may create the impression that external factors are the greatest obstacle to productivity – the friend who talks and talks, the meeting that drones on far too long, those pointless errands assigned by a boss or family member. While external events and other people’s actions undeniably consume time, the worst time vampires are of our own making. Here is a list of the top “in-your-head” time wasters and a few ways to address them.
Getting Stuck in Perfectionist Ideas
Over-analyzing and applying perfectionist standards can consume vast amounts of energy. In some cases, perfectionism actually causes procrastination: Why should you even start if you can’t get it just right? Endless fine-tuning ruins fun and can turn even the most joyous occasions into a bothersome chore. Worse yet, you may be passing up precious time that could be spent moving on to the next steps or new opportunities. To avoid remaining caught up in familiar patterns of self-criticism or recycling the same thought process over and over, make note of all situations in which “good enough” is just that. Also take a moment to note whether your expectations for other people match the expectations you have for yourself. Do you ever check what shoes other people are wearing or whether they make mistakes in their yoga routines? Trying to be flawless is not only extremely energy-intensive, but also makes life boring.” The less we worry about meeting impossible standards, the more gets done.
There are lots of reasons for saying yes against our better judgment, but the chores, projects, favors or social occasions you can’t or don’t want to decline can easily create resentment. Feeling disrespected then becomes a double time vampire: You’re spending your time doing something that is not a priority and you’re berating yourself for not being more assertive. Becoming better at saying no frees up your time for other endeavors and allows you to focus on the things that truly matter to you.
Exceeding Your Bandwidth
Whether at work or in social situations, be mindful of the most important things on your to-do list before enthusiastically committing to more. If you’re like me, you get excited about shiny objects. I have learned to literally sit on my hands when there is a call for volunteers, especially when I am passionate about a cause. Before taking on more (and then obsess about “doing it right”), I visualize the consequences of new ideas: Sure, I’d love to learn more about woodworking, but do I really want to spend two more evenings a week away from home? It’s fun to try new activities, but they must pass the realism test before I can add them to all the other things I’m already trying to accomplish.
Taking on too many commitments at once can lead to poor performance across the board, not to mention guilt and stress. The inevitable multitasking will cause a lot of dropped balls. It’s much better to commit to a few activities and learn a lot about them than to flit from one thing to another and make few contributions in the process.
Trying to Fit In
This one may come as a slight surprise, but it strikes more often than you’d think. Doing or agreeing to things simply because you think it is what is expected of you or what you should do, can be a huge waste of time. If you tend to have the “disease to please“, it is particularly important to check with yourself, “Is this something that’s important to me? Is this something I need or want, personally?”
No matter how hard you try, you won’t fit in with groups of people whose priorities aren’t a good match for yours. If you’re not into sports events or after-hour drinkathons, why force yourself to attend? The same time could be spent with people who actually have something interesting to say or getting some outdoor exercise. There is no gain in “keeping up with the Joneses.” Most likely, the Joneses are as breathless and confused as the rest of us.
It’s a good idea to routinely think about good and not-so-good uses of your time. Get off the bandwagon as soon as you realize your time could be better spent on more productive efforts.
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