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Time is money, right? And how many of us are guilty of wasting it? I definitely am. Purple has to remind me every week to stop wasting my freaking time on Reddit (it’s a huge time suck, let me tell you!). But that got me thinking – what else do we waste time on? What are the biggest time wasters that prevent us from doing what we should be doing? And how do we stop?
The Biggest Time Wasters
If you want to kill time, there are tons of ways to do it. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves procrastinating for no good reason when we should be focused on getting our to-do lists accomplished.
Many times, resources regarding time management and getting things done to focus on time-wasters at work. And we are going to cover that, but first, we need to address the elephant in the room that nobody else considers. We need to talk about the ways people waste time at home, when they could be focused on improving their lives.
Biggest Time Wasters Outside of the Office
Reddit is my biggest time suck. I can spend hours just browsing through the front page, reading random stories from random people, and laughing at adorable animal gifs. Sometimes, I’ll open my browser around six or so, and suddenly, it will be seven or eight, even nine o’clock at night! Where did the time go?
The time went down the Reddit rabbit hole, that’s where it went. That time could have been much better spent writing, reading, or even engaging with my partner.
Reddit is the place I go when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to disconnect from reality. It’s a much-needed distraction from real life sometimes.
Other Social Media
Many people use other social media channels for the same purpose. I don’t technically consider Reddit to be social media, because in my opinion, it’s used to find information rather than connect with others, but I do think many of us use the platforms for similar reasons.
Many of us waste time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tiktok. Mindlessly scrolling through post after post of friends, family, and even strangers is a welcome escape from whatever we are supposed to be focused on.
A good way to avoid the massive time-waster that is the internet (Reddit, Social Media, or whatever your poison is) is to have books around. I’ve been reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and I just finished House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsk. I’ve read fiction, non-fiction, classics, new age, and other genres. By putting the phone down and picking a book up at night, I’ve read over 12 books so far this year.
Instead of focusing on small sound bites from random people, I’m broadening my horizons with books. Reading at night is a thousand times more relaxing than surfing social media (or watching TV, for that matter).
Speaking of television…
The average American spends nearly four hours a day watching TV. That’s a lot. Now I get it, sometimes we need to come home and just veg. I spent three hours watching Buffy last night. And when a brand-new show comes out that we can’t get enough of, sometimes we just have to binge the whole thing right there.
But, let’s be honest with ourselves. Four hours a day every day is a lot. That’s 28 hours a week – more than a full day! That’s three and a half full workdays per week dedicated to television. I think that makes television one of the biggest time sucks for most people.
So, what can you do instead? I know we are tired after working, and plopping down in front of the TV is easy, but there are other options. First, you can cut your cable cord. I gave up cable almost two years ago, and I don’t miss it. Now, I don’t have a random channel running all the time for background noise. I actually have to make an effort to chose what to watch. That helps prevent me from watching too much tv though– choosing what to watch is just as hard as doing something else.
Another option is to give yourself a television limit. You can either do this by time or by making sure you get your other stuff accomplished first. The time limit is harder for me….it’s hard to stay dedicated to only watching two hours of tv a day if it’s only 7 pm and this show just got good! Using TV as a reward system works better for me.
I wouldn’t allow myself to turn Buffy on until I worked on my blog for an hour after work. But by then, I was hungry, and it was time to make dinner. I wouldn’t turn the TV on until it was time to eat. By that time, I only had about two hours left before bed, so my evenings didn’t turn into four-hour television fests. Give yourself a task or two that needs to be done before the tv goes on. Then, your tv time is a reward for completing that task.
I’m not one of those people who hates on video games. I freaking love video games. I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch, and it’s freaking amazing! However, I can’t deny that it’s a huge time suck. I’m sure I’ve put over 100 hours into the game already, and I still have tons of playing to do. That’s a lot of time. I know I’ve been neglecting my blogging for it, and that’s a problem.
So, what can you do if you’ve been sucked into the wonderful world of a video game? Well, beating the game is a great option, because then it’s done and you have your time back. But, you can’t put off everything else for it.
I generally only allow myself to play on the weekend evenings. That gives me time during the week to work on my blog stuff, and the gaming is a reward for a week well done. I also make sure I at least get my two posts for Partners in Fire done per week. This way, I’m not wasting all my time on a game and I’m still getting my biggest priorities done. I know that I’m not hugely addicted to video games, and the only other game that will take my time like this is BoTW2 when it comes out next year.
But video games can be a more serious problem. The puzzle games like candy crush (is that still a thing?) are some of the biggest time wasters out there. You can’t beat them. They keep on going and keep offering deals to suck you back in. I consider these to be similar to social media. Sometimes you just have to put your phone down and read a book, regardless of what you’re doing on your phone.
I might get some slack for this because I hate shopping and I’m sure others enjoy it. But man, retail shopping is such a huge waste of time. If you don’t need anything, why are you at the mall looking at clothes?
I’m guilty of this as well, though clothing isn’t my poison. I can spend hours at an office supply store or a bookstore. But why? I don’t need anything, and I usually just end up wasting money in addition to wasting time.
In order to avoid this, my best advice is to avoid the store altogether. If you’re bored and looking for something to do, wasting money as well as time probably isn’t the answer. Instead, you can go for a hike, go to a park, or check out a local museum. These things get you out of the house and have the benefit of keeping you active.
People You Don’t Want to Deal With
One of the biggest time wasters of all is people that you don’t actually want to be dealing with. These can be family members, friends of friends, or even that pesky busy-body coworker.
Sometimes, we have no choice but to deal with these people. We have to be respectful and cordial, right? But, we don’t have to let them waste more of our time than necessary. Don’t let yourself get roped into hanging out with someone you don’t really like (unless it’s an in-law or someone important to your partner – have some common sense here).
You also don’t have to waste time at an event making small talk with people you don’t like. If someone you don’t want to deal with starts engaging you, politely excuse yourself to use the restroom, get a drink, or say hi to someone else who just arrived. You don’t need to feel trapped engaging with people that you don’t want to be engaging with. It’s a waste of your time, and theirs as well. It gives them the opportunity to interact with people who actually want to be interacting with them.
Things You Do Out of Feeling Obligated
Another huge waste of time is doing things we don’t really want to do. This can be with people we don’t like (a double whammy of wasted time!) or things we aren’t interested in with people we do like.
My mom had a coworker back in California who would always ask her to help with stuff after hours. My mom, being the saint that she is, always said yes. But this woman would never return the favor, and constantly complained about the way my mom helped her. I advised my mom to start saying no. This wasn’t a friend, this was someone who was just using my mom’s kindness. Learn to say no to users.
To be clear, I’m not saying don’t do favors for people. No one wants to help their friends move, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do, and we know they’d have our back if we needed it. It’s important to build and maintain those relationships.
I’m talking about being pressured into something that everyone else thinks is fun, but you aren’t interested in. I’ve felt this way about shopping trips. All my friends were all about going to the mall, and I’m like “why?”. I went because I felt pressured to, but I didn’t enjoy myself at all, and I was bored the whole time. Even the great company of my best friends couldn’t make trying on thousands of different pairs of jeans exciting. I’m sure they sensed my boredom, and it probably would have been better for everyone had I stuck to my guns and not gone.
Instead, be firm with your no and your boundaries. You don’t have to be rude about it, you can just say something like “no, I think I’ll pass this time, but thanks for the invite” and stick with it. Then, plan something for a different day that suites your interests more, and be gracious if one or two of them aren’t into it. Everyone doesn’t have to go to every event every time.
Is it Really Wasting Time?
If you find yourself wasting too much time, it’s okay. We are all guilty of it. And if what you are doing makes you happy, then it’s actually not a waste of time.
Repeat that: It’s not a waste of time if you are happy doing what you are doing.
This applies to video games, shopping, television, and everything else we discussed above. If you are getting things done that you need to get done, meeting your deadlines and obligations with friends and family, and generally happy with the way your life is, there’s no problem! You don’t need to do anything instead! Spend your time shopping or gaming and have a blast doing it!
This post isn’t meant to shame folks for having the hobbies listed above. It’s okay to be too tired for anything other than a television or gaming night.
Instead, the goal of this is to help you identify places where you might be wasting time, and help you decide whether you’re happy with it, or whether you want to change. After, and only after, you decide that you don’t want to waste time on these activities, is when you should make changes to do something else.
What to do Instead
If you’ve decided that you’re wasting too much time, there are things you can do instead. I already recommended picking up a book habit. Reading helps you learn new things and think about things from new perspectives.
You could also learn a new hobby or skill, or spend more time engaging with your family and friends (the ones you actually want to spend time with!)
Some folks want to use their free time to start a business or pick up a side hustle. Although I don’t believe anyone should have to hustle 24/7 to survive (our hustle culture is pretty toxic, IMO), if you’re bored and could use the extra income, it’s worth considering.
The point is, there are a lot of things you can do when you are bored that aren’t just giant time wasters. What you ultimately decide upon is up to you.
Time Wasters at Work
This wouldn’t be a financial independence blog if I didn’t think work was a waste of time, right? I know, I know, we have to go to work. We need the money (at least I do!). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a waste of time! I could be doing so much more with that forty hours per week! I’d be having adventures, traveling, writing, reading, beating BoTW, working out, creating masterpieces…I’d accomplish so much! But instead, I’m stuck inside an office.
Work itself isn’t actually a waste of time. I know we need money, and in our current system, we exchange our time and labor for money. But, there are way too many jobs that require us to be there for forty hours per week when we could get our jobs done in a fraction of the time. That’s where the waste of time comes into play. Why did we decide that we need forty hours? If the work is finished, why can’t we go home?
There are also quite a few things at work that distract us from getting things done and being productive in the workplace. There are some productivity tips that will help you deal with the biggest time wasters at work.
Are you stuck in meetings that have no point? I have four or five pointless meetings every week, that’s four to five hours of my week wasted.
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. If the boss says you need to attend, you need to attend. And, if you’re getting paid for it, it’s not a total waste. But, if you have important deadlines to meet and need to focus on the task at hand, talk to your boss. They may allow you to skip the meeting to meet your other obligations.
Another option is to multi-task. If the meeting is online, have it on, and work on something else while you’re sitting in. This only applies to meetings that you don’t have to pay attention to – sometimes your presence is enough, and sometimes you just have to give an update at a certain time. If this is the case, you might be able to focus on something else for the majority of the call.
Imagine that you just sat down to your work computer to focus on your report. Your energy levels are high, you are focused, and you are ready to knock this task out.
Then Mr. Gossip Face peeps into your office. A most unwelcome interruption. He wants to talk about the latest workspace gossip, the rumor mill, what Bill and Susy might have said about him the other day. This colleague wants to suck your time away.
I know that we need to be nice and professional. But we also need to get work done. If this happens to you, politely tell Mr. Gossip Face that you’re busy and can’t talk at the moment. Walk him out of your office if need be. Set another time to engage with him (if you so desire), like lunch or a coffee break (outside of your office so he can’t corner you!
It’s okay to be polite yet firm in setting boundaries with coworkers and ensuring they know that you need to focus on your work.
Busy body coworkers aren’t the only interruptions you will face at work. There are phone calls, emails, meeting notifications, and all sorts of things that can come up during the workday.
There are a few things you can do to avoid interruptions. First, you can wear headphones in the office. This way, people will think you can’t hear them and are less likely to bother you unless something really important comes up.
you can also put a do-not-disturb on your door or your email. The one on the door will prevent people from barging in, and the one on your email will reduce distracting notifications from bothering you.
Busy work is a huge waste of time at the office. It increases our workload and prevents us from focusing on our important tasks.
One of the best ways to avoid busywork is through delegation. If you have junior team members or are a supervisor, find out if you can delegate some of the busywork. This can be especially useful as a developmental tool for junior team members – what seems like busy work to you might be a new project for them that they haven’t had experience with yet.
If you can’t delegate, try time blocking. This is a time management tool that helps you focus on a certain task for a set amount of time. Set aside two hours for busywork, and try not to get distracted. Focus on completing it so that the rest of your time is available for important things.
A final thing you can do is make a list. It won’t reduce your workload, but it will help you set goals and prioritize the most important tasks. The busy work can probably wait until after you completed that big project with its deadline approaching.
Stop Wasting Time and Start Getting Stuff Done!
We all waste time, and sometimes it’s okay. Remember that time well spent is never wasted!
But, sometimes wasted time is just that. It’s time to identify the places where we waste time, and make changes to our routines to avoid them. You can get more done and live a fuller life when you stop wasting time on things that aren’t important to you!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.