Time Management 102: Image of a father and son checking email in an airport.

Time Management 102: 3 Steps to Getting Your Life Back (from 7 typical time-sucks)

In last week’s blog post on time management, I barely got started taming time. That’s why in today’s post, I’m going to drill deeper on the subject so you can reclaim some margin in your life.

Step 1: Track Your Time.

First of all, to grab your life back from the typical time-sucks, you need to establish how you currently spend your hours. Here are two tracking options.

Keep a time diary.

Just like keeping a food journal when you’re trying to slim down, or a spending diary when you’re trying to save up, identifying where you fritter time will prove useful.

For this practice, all you need is a blank notebook or even several pieces of scrap paper. For a few days at least, from the time you rise until you hit the hay at night, note how you spend your time. Be as specific as possible. This will take some discipline since we change activities constantly during each day.

Track your cell phone usage.

Warning: The results may shock you. I know mine did. This article says the average American adult spends almost three hours a day on their phone. This article says the amount of time is more like five hours a day.

This article shows how to locate your cell phone usage statistics on an Iphone. My amount of daily phone time astounded (and convicted) me. In my defense, I coordinate social media for two different organizations and I like to check my results. Apparently, a lot.

Step 2: Analyze your data.

Once you’ve spent a few days tracking on paper how you spend your time, you’ll probably see some trends. The articles I read for last week’s post, plus my own time diary, identified a number of activities where time can get away from you.

  • Going out to eat, or for drinks, several times a week
  • Playing video games
  • Human interruptions: ie. people dropping in your office to chat
  • Watching television: weekly shows, Netflix/Amazon Prime shows and/or movies, news, sports
  • The internet: email, research/curiosity “rabbit holes,” news, sports, YouTube: shows, videos, tutorials
  • Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat
  • Cell Phone: chatting, texting (text threads), checking social media

Step 3: Implement time-saving solutions.

In order to increase your productivity–and possibly your quality of life–let’s address each of these potential time traps.

Going out to eat (or for drinks). A lot.

Within reason, going out to eat, or out for drinks, with friends and loved ones is not a bad thing. Socializing face-to-face is healthy. However, if you are using happy hours to self-medicate (with food and/or alcohol) or avoid what waits for you at home (ie. spouse, children, chores, an empty nest), your behavior may be problematic.

Not only that, when either activity—eating, drinking alcohol— is done in excess, it can lead to weight gain and money drain, at the very least.

Solution: Set limits.

For instance, attend one girls’-night-out(or co-worker happy hour) per week. Once there, consider only staying for one drink or one hour.

Playing video games. A lot.

Years ago, when our kids were little, I was kind-of-sort-of addicted to a free online game called Loop. The goal was to circle as many butterflies as possible without running out of time. I played Loop a lot. I’d tell my family I was going upstairs to the bathroom and I’d sneak in a quick game. I stayed up late at night, way after Tony went to bed, to circle butterflies.

I don’t remember why I eventually stopped playing Loop. What I do remember is how I felt when I did play. The rush of sitting down to start a game. The thrill of getting a high score. The challenge of beating my best score to date. The embarrassment I felt upon realizing two hours had passed while I mouse-circled dozens of pastel-colored butterflies.

This article includes signs (and treatments) for folks who think they (or a loved one) may have an unhealthy attachment to video games.

Human interruptions. A lot.

In your work place, is there a chatty Charles or talkative Terry? With these folks, once they step into your office, you’re bound to lose at least 30 minutes of productivity. This time-stealer has a simple solution, but some may see it as anti-social. Keep your office door shut.

With today’s open office systems, keeping your door closed may not be an option. If that’s the case, invest in an inexpensive timer. To avoid seeming like a jerk, you’ll need to have a smile on your face when you tell Mr. or Ms. Workus-Interruptus, “I’m super busy right now. All I can spare is five minutes.”

For the record, this method works on phone calls also. The key is the timer. And it’s loud nasal bleating when five minutes is up.

If you happen to work at home, as I do:

Household activities may gobble your attention and focus.

Last week’s blogpost  introduced the concept of “The Important versus the Urgent.” This represents a huge conflict for me. Somehow without sound, all my household chores call out to me, urgently. All day long. Switch the laundry. Empty the dishwasher. Check the mailbox.

If this is your situation too, consider leaving your house to do your writing, data analysis, medical charting, etc.. If the nearby café is too noisy for you, look into “co-working” situations.

Located near me is 304 Collective, an office space housing both WV MotionWorks and Melissa Rosic Photography. On a regular basis they invite “creatives and business owners” to their space in Fairmont, West Virginia, for the purpose of co-working. Perhaps there are similar options near you.

Watching television. A lot.

According to this article in The Atlantic (May 2018), the tech industry did not decimate television viewing. “Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.” That’s almost eight hours glued to the tube a day.

What’s the cure for too much TV? You could do what I did—go cold turkey. Years ago, when our oldest child was in grade school, she participated in “The Principal’s Challenge.” That particular year the challenge involved watching NO television for 30 days. I opted to join my daughter in this endeavor and it was life-changing. To this day, she hardly ever watches television.

I watch a little more television these days. For my husband’s sake. Because watching TV is Tony’s favorite way to wind down in the evening, lately he and I have found shows we both enjoy, such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” A few times a week we watch 1-2 episodes after supper.

If excessive television viewing is a daily struggle for you, try setting limits.

Only watch television on the weekends, or Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Or limit yourself to an hour or two a night.

If a drastic cut terrifies you, try tapering. Once you know how many hours of TV you watch a week, decrease it one hour per week, and do that every week until you get to a healthier amount of viewing.

Surfing the internet. A lot.

If dealing with email is a huge time-suck for you, here’s what the experts recommend:

Schedule one time slot during the day when you deal with email.

Otherwise, the constant checking and responding to various messages, will a) take up a ton of time and b) destroy your focus.

Some highly productive people recommend NOT checking your email early in the day. Because of its ability to destroy your focus. Think about it. One snarky, bossy, or critical message has the power to sabotage your mind for at least a day. And an unexpected big announcment–good or bad–will surely distract you.

Stay focused and/or set a timer when you Google. 

Whenever you Google information–perhaps for your job, maybe about your health–be careful you don’t wind up, hours later, down a one-thing-leads-to-another rabbit hole. This can happen due to your own curiosity, or thanks to lots of click-bait images in the sidebars and at the bottom of articles. If this is your frequent experience, set a timer.

And then there’s Dr. Pimple Popper. Don’t Google her. Because you can’t un-see that. If you do…. Oh, dang! You just did.

Also beware of YouTube videos, channels, and tutorials. Trust me, the how to master the smokey-eye tutorial will point you to the 10 Best Drug-Store Mascaras video, which will lead to the …

Adorable animal videos can be like crack, too, with all the kittens, baby otters, and goat yoga. Their snuggly cuteness can kid-nap the best time-management intentions.

Social media: posting, commenting, scrolling through (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat). A lot.

Three solutions can help with this behavior.

Schedule a time each day to check all the platforms you love. During your mid-morning coffee break. Right before lunch, maybe. Or sometime between 1-4 pm. For some reason that afternoon time slot is very popular for social media.

To make sure, “five minutes” doesn’t turn into 45,

Use your inexpensive timer to remind you when to get back to work.

Finally, I recommend you:

Turn off the notifications on your phone (or desktop computer) for ALL social media platforms. Email too. Because the siren’s call of a notification “ping” is extremely difficult  to resist. Science backs me up here.

According to this article in The Guardian, “’Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph,’ he (Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook) said, ‘we… give you a little dopamine hit. Facebook is an empire of empires, then, built upon a molecule.’”

Know why we love those dopamine hits? That same article tells how Wolfram Schultz, a professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University, ran a series of experiments on rats “…which showed that, inside the midbrain, dopamine relates to the reward we receive for an action. Dopamine, it seemed, has to do with desire, ambition, addiction and sex drive.”

“Checking” your phone. A lot.Incessantly.

According to this 2018 article in Variety.com, “On average, American consumers now check their smartphones an average of 52 times each day, according to the U.S. edition of the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey from Deloitte.”

Lord. Have. Mercy.

Shocked by the results of my own “cell phone usage” statistic last week, I’ve been trying a couple tricks. And they’re working. Thank God!

Leave your phone in another room.

Cell phones, even if you place them face-down on a surface or turn off the volume, are incredibly distracting. When I write in the kitchen, I’ve been leaving my phone in our entry-way. This has greatly reduced my phone-checking behavior.

Limit “checking your phone” to every 30 minutes.

This has been a great additional step for me. I’m training myself to only look at my phone on the hour and the half-hour. On occasion, I’ve even gone longer.

Last week when I wrote my blog post, my phone was in our foyer, and because I was engaged and fascinated by “deep work” (Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.) I was doing, I didn’t check my phone for over two hours.

I’m embarrassed to say that not checking my phone for two hours felt like an incredible accomplishment, a victory.

Chatting and/or texting. A lot.

Without discipline, chatting on the phone can take up significant time. Here’s a novel idea:

Just because your phone rings, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.

Look at the screen and determine whether this call can wait or not. Often when I’m writing and someone calls, I wait a few minutes then send a text. “I’m working right now. I’ll contact you when I’m done.”

Whenever my mother was bored, she phoned me a lot. So much so, I had to stop picking up. By not answering her calls during my work day, I “trained” Mom to call me after 5 pm. If it was an emergency, she knew to leave me a voicemail.

Texting often seems like a time-saver. In reality, a singular text can become the equivalent of an hour-long conversation.

Come up with a polite text-exit phrase to use, a text-boundary, if you will. Something like, “I’m going to get off here now. I’ve used up enough of your time.” Or, “I’m starting supper now. Have a good night.”

How to exit a group-text. Group texts can be a ton of fun. Or they can be super annoying. If it’s not enough to turn the volume off on your phone, there are ways to exit the group. Click here to find out how to do it on an Iphone or Android.

All right, friends, my time-management crash-course is over now. I hope you learned as much as me!

Dear person who requested a post on time-management: Thank you. I needed this. 

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