How to Stop Wasting Time (or Believing that You Are)

stop wasting time

A reader asked a great question: how might she stop wasting time? She gave me permission to publish an edited version of our correspondence below.

Q: Now that my children are back in school, how can I make the most of my time? I can easily spend an embarrassing amount of it reading the newspaper on my iPad and getting caught up in other stuff online. When I’m not online, tasks like grocery shopping, picking up after the kids, and preparing dinner can eat up a good part of my day. I feel I’m wasting time … and wasting away.

A: Thank you for taking the time to write to me and being so candid.

To be honest, I could have written what you wrote. There are so many hours and days that I fritter away, it is truly embarrassing. I, too, am a sucker for those links to “related articles you might like.” I, too, have looked up from my laptop at the clock only to discover that I spent two hours online searching for the perfect lightweight cardigan for my daughter (which I never found).

But, are all of the tasks you mentioned truly wastes of time? Or are you undervaluing the work you do?

After speaking to many women, I learned that we are not alone. This happens to the best of us. Everyone falls victim to believing we are “wasting time.”

Two things you can try

Here are the tips that have worked for my clients and me:

First, cut yourself some slack. No one can operate on full blast all the time. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone needs to take breaks. Believe it or not, self-compassion, not self-criticism, can motivate you to change. Tell yourself, “Well, that was not my best moment; my next one can be better.”

Second, take stock of your worth. Because so many women undervalue their work at the office and at home, they tend to exaggerate the extent of their time-wasting. To assess yourself more accurately, try one of the following writing exercises:

  • Recall the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Imagine what would happen to the world around you if you didn’t exist. What would your partner, children, parents, siblings, boss, co-workers, and friends have to do? What would life by like for each of them?
  • Pretend you are to be replaced by a cyborg. (My daughters and friends all know that much of my free time early last spring was hijacked by Cinder of the The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer.) Outline the instruction manual that programmers would use to create the cyborg’s operating system.
  • Write a job description for each of the roles you have. How much money would it cost for you to hire staff to do what you do?

The real question to ask yourself

Most importantly, instead of asking what you should be doing instead of your alleged time-wasting activities, ask yourself, “What am I withholding from this world?” or “What gifts or talents am I hoarding?”

Asking these questions may sting. Some of you will know immediately what gifts or talents you are not sharing with the rest of the world and may feel a little guilty about it. For others, the answer won’t come so easily. It may take a little time to rediscover the talents that you deem worthy of sharing.

But rather than dwelling on the sting of guilt or not knowing, do something small.

It’s easy to find a need. So many people need help or even just a little encouragement. You may be able to find an opportunity with a non-profit through a website, like VolunteerMatch.

But just as charity is not the only way to give, volunteering is not the only way to share. The key here is to reveal more of your inner core to the world. If you have an idea, test it out. Do you like to sing? Try singing around your family and friends. Enjoy baking? Surprise a neighbor with a yummy treat. If you’re funny, send out a weekly joke to a few friends, or tweet it. Got a tip about something useful, write a product or service review. If you take good pictures, share them.

Not only is giving a key component to success, it is associated with a number of health benefits. My clients and I have also found that sharing provides a buffer for those times when we do slip. In that way, when you do find yourself slacking off or falling into the depths of the online world, you may not feel so bad or be so hard on yourself if you’ve shown compassion elsewhere in your life.

If you try one of these tips, or if you have a question you’d like me to answer, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.