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Are These 7 Bandits Stealing Your Time?

One of the most frequent excuses I hear for not journaling is, “I don’t have time.” It’s more likely that you don’t make time. Ever notice how your workload and activities expand to fit the space they’re given? Like goldfish that grow as large as the bowl they’re in.

Maybe some of your activities need a smaller fish bowl.

I’m not about labeling certain activities as a waste of time or a judicious use of time. However, I am all about making conscious choices. I don’t let external circumstances dictate how I spend my time. This means each day is filled with activities I put there on purpose. I try not to start any sentences with, “I don’t know – I just ended up ___________.”

I’ve been known to work my butt off for 10 hours straight on a Saturday and then consciously spend a good chunk of Sunday sitting on that same butt reading a book. I plan my work time – and my relaxation time. That means I get everything done and I don’t feel guilty about zoning out with Mario Bros. and a bowl of popcorn for three hours on a Tuesday night, should the need arise. (And it does arise.)

Time Flies When You’re… on YouTube

We’re going to do a bit of investigative journaling here. For one week, track how you spend each hour of your day in your journal.

If that feels like a ridiculous amount of work to you, at least track one weekday and one weekend day. But for best results, a full week really gives you the most information.

Recording how you spend your time is eye-opening. When dieters record everything they put in their mouths, they suddenly realize where the extra 20 pounds came from. Crumbs do have calories, believe it or not. And 20 minutes wasted on YouTube three times a day really does add up to an entire hour.

Don’t make any judgments – just make your list. This isn’t about guilt or penance. It’s about choice. If you choose to spend an hour on YouTube a day, then choose it consciously, willingly, and without excuse. What we’re trying to ferret out is the time wasters – the hour you didn’t realize you were spending on YouTube. The hour you’d really like to use more productively.

So write it all down. And keep it to yourself. We don’t need any input from the peanut gallery on our choice of daily activities. Especially if we’re already a little concerned about how we’re spending our days.

Steal it Back!

Below is a list of notorious time sucks, followed by suggested solutions to steal back some of your time. Use some of these newly freed hours to write in your journal, okay?

Editorial aside: I can be X-TREME OCD! about organization. So if some of this seems totally over the top to you, consider it a buffet – take what you want and leave the rest. This stuff works well for me, but your mileage may vary. My recommendation is you give it a shot before deciding if a change is right for you.

1. Television

Here’s my gripe with TV: it never ends. You can sit down (perhaps even consciously) to watch the news at 5:00 and before you know it, it’s 10:00 PM and you’re still sitting there. You might not even remember what you watched. You certainly didn’t plan on watching it. It was just there.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but TV networks have gotten very slick about blending one program into the next. Now they even start the next episode while the credits are rolling on the previous one. You’re not even tempted to take a bathroom break.

Also, for every hour of television you watch, you waste 15 – 20 minutes watching commercials.

I don’t watch television. There’s a few shows I enjoy (I’m a big fan of Law & Order), but I get them on Netflix or iTunes. This means I can choose when to watch, for how long, and there’s no commercials. You also have to get up and consciously click “Next Episode” if you intend to spend another hour watching.

If you’ve got shows you’re crazy about, how about using TiVo or a similar device to record them and then set aside downtime to watch them? You’ll save time without commercials, and you won’t be sucked into whatever’s on next.

2. Looking for lost items

I used to spend half an hour looking for my cell phone or keys every morning. It was crazy. Then I decided to get organized. Knowing where everything is and putting it back at the end of the day has streamlined my day and literally saved me hours a week.

The solutions are simple, like hanging a key hook next to the front door. Or putting a basket on the entryway table for sunglasses, phone, wallet, and loose change you deposit when coming inside. See if there’s an easy way to organize yourself so you don’t waste time looking for things you need every day.

3. Facebook

It’s easy to lose hours upon hours Facebooking your face off. My suggestion? Decide on a time frame in advance and set a timer. If one hour seems like a reasonable amount of time for you to spend, set the timer for 60 minutes and dig in. The timer will remind you that you’ve got other things to do besides “Which Beanie Baby are You?” quizzes and Mafia Wars.

4. Commuting

Changing how you get to work daily is clearly a bigger task than hanging a key holder next to your front door. But really – how much time do you spend commuting? Is it worth it? People have different expectations and comfort levels when it comes to commuting. Some folks consider under an hour to be a decent commute.

Others enjoy having an hour on the train to read or decompress. If I were able to take public transport, I might enjoy that as well. But Seattle has no subway, and I get violently sick on buses (or any other moving vehicle). So if I want to get somewhere without vomiting excessively, I have to drive. Or walk.

For the past 15 years, I’ve had a Three Mile Rule. I’ve never lived more than three miles from my workplace. I need to be able to walk to work. Last year I decided living on the beach was worth the extra drive time. That lasted six months. Then I moved back across town because I couldn’t swing the commute. My tolerance for wasted time is very low. I was unwilling to lose an hour every day sitting in traffic.

Your comfort level may be different than mine. But you might want to ask yourself if you’ve consciously chosen this arrangement. What could you do with an extra hour or two a day?

5. Multi-tasking

I know multi-tasking is all the rage in the workplace, but it’s a really dumb idea. We have enough distractions these days without trying to do two things at once. Half of the time it takes to complete a task is often claimed by setting up and getting into that “mode.”

For example, paying the bills requires you to get your check book, some envelopes, stamps, boot up your computer, open your browser, get your calculator, login to your bank account, etc. If you had five bills to pay and you did it throughout the day, you’d be wasting an enormous amount of time by jumping back and forth between tasks.

Group like with like. Do all your bills at once. Make all your phone calls at once. Answer all your emails at once. And when you’re doing something, focus solely on what’s in front of you. You’ll get it done faster and more effectively.

6. Mail (email, snail mail, junk mail, spam)

I get really pissed off about junk mail. More pissed off than is probably socially acceptable. But it’s such a waste. A waste of my time, a waste of paper, a waste of resources. I’ve registered myself on the “do not contact” list, and I’ve requested electronic correspondence from all my utility companies and financial institutions. Then I put a recycling bin right next to the front door for the junk mail. I don’t even read it. Dump it straight in there, or into the shredder if it’s got my address on it.

Spam in your email inbox is just as bad. I use Gmail for a million reasons, the spam filters being one of the main ones. I get almost no spam delivered to my inbox in Gmail. It all goes in the spam folder where it’s automatically deleted after 30 days.

I also make liberal use of filters to categorize and file email as it comes in. Items to be read at my leisure are automatically filed into their respective folders, skipping my inbox all together. That way, when I decide I’ve got an hour to read e-business newsletters, I open that folder and read them. I don’t have to stop ten times a day and make decisions about items arriving in my email inbox.

This may sound super anal-retentive. And it is. But I also get a lot done and have a reasonably clear mind most days. It’s worth the effort, trust me.

7. Unplanned/unproductive phone calls

Part of the problem with incoming, unplanned phone calls is that they’re almost never convenient. I prefer email because I can read it when I have the time and attention to spare. It doesn’t interrupt me.

I try to only have talky phone conversations with folks I don’t get to see regularly. I like to make all my social phone calls on Sunday afternoon. I talk to my parents and long-distance friends then. I try to call everyone around the same time.

Other than that, I don’t use the phone much. I never really understood those phone calls that meander on about whatever, with no point and no end in sight. I’d rather use the phone as a tool to make actual plans for face time whenever possible.

Track your time for a week and have a look at how you spend your days. Are there any changes you can make to free up some time for self-care activities like journal writing? Brainstorm some ideas for improvement in your journal. You’re worth scheduling around.

If you’re still convinced you can’t eliminate any activities, read 20 Ways to Find 10 Minutes for Journaling and do some scribbling on the toiley.

Post any time-saving epiphanies in the comments below and share the wealth!

One comment

  1. You are right on with all the points you made. I really like my Gmail too for many of the reasons you mentioned. Also like what you said about the phone. Email is so much better most of the time and save the phone for immediate communication is needed. Gabbing on the phone wastes my time. Enjoy your blog.