Don’t be a time-waster

We sit on a continuum between waste and productivity when it comes to time and personal effects-management. And some of us could definitely pull up our socks, particularly if it’s adversely impacting our health, finances and other people’s lives.

Typical time-wasters do the following:

  • They attempt too much at once;
  • They can be unrealistic about allocating time;
  • They procrastinate;
  • They are poor listeners;
  • They make lists and schedules they don’t follow;
  • They are unable or unwilling to say “no”;
  • They do not prioritise;
  • They are poor at delegating; and
  • They tend to be disorganised.

Are messy, disorganised people time-wasters?

Some old habits need to be set aside before sorting out time-wasting solutions. For a start, a messy desk is not an infallible sign of a sloppy-thinking person. S/he could be high-functioning, with powerful priorities and acute awareness of where everything lives, who simply hasn’t or won’t get around to clearing space. S/he likes it that way and as long as everything is done well, why should you or anyone else interfere?

The same goes for the fidgety “time waster” who constantly moves from task to task – some people accomplish more when they do a little of everything and keep going until everything is done, amazingly all on time. You blink and wonder how, but such people operate to the beat of an unconventional drum.

If on the other hand, a person can never find anything, s/he inconveniences and drives colleagues mad, and needs constant reminding about appointments, tasks, deadlines and competing demands, it’s obvious some self-management is essential.

Many time-wasters don’t intend to waste time – they may genuinely want to contribute.  But after a while, people reject their contributions, because they create such mess and static all about them, and few want the complications.

How to help a time-waster or help yourself!

Time-wasters certainly won’t “spark joy” in such circumstances but that’s no reason to toss them on life’s scrapheap.

You can help a time-waster to get it right first time and discover the self-perpetuating pleasure of task-completion by:

  • Set realistic priorities from urgent to less urgent, considering certain tasks that can be done simultaneously with other things;
  • Allocate times in which to do tasks, particularly (say) a quiet time once a day to sort desk, check diary, pay bills, update records, maintain social and family obligations;
  • Some time-wasters can improve time management by allowing a little extra time between tasks, the better to get from A to B on time;
  • Determine what to do well and most easily, get them done first and clear the path for trickier jobs;
  • Focus on completion by choosing optimum times of day to finish top-priority tasks (some people are best very early in the morning; others are late night-owls);
  • Allocate specific blocks of time to answer calls, emails, and do follow-ups in order of importance;
  • Recognise and minimise interruptions and distractions and stay focused;
  • Learn to say “no” carefully and to offer alternatives. This is important, because a mere “no” is not helpful (and many time-wasters believe they are inherently helpful);
  • Avoid needless socialising. Usually time-wasters take up too much time – they want to blah on forever. Save it for the weekends or allocate the catchups to a good half hour coffee first thing before work, or jogging/cycling at lunchtimes. “Less is definitely more” but that doesn’t mean what’s said isn’t valuable;
  • Waiting times in queues, on public transport (etc) can be used productively to answer emails, return calls (providing you find a quiet enough setting). Equally, the time can be used to meditate a little, and clear the mind; and
  • Practise listening without speaking – this tells the time-waster more of what the other party actually wants and helps reduce the potential for compounding tasks.

The above measures may feel annoying for time-wasters.  However when busy people gradually tick priorities off their list, they feel proud and productive.

By re-directing the tendency to generate unnecessary excess and even confusion, you can help time-wasters get hooked on systematically achieving goals and monitoring their progress. They will “spark joy” in themselves and others in less time than previously imagined.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.


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