Convert Small Time Wasters into Meaningful Time

We have the luxury of living in an age that saves us time everywhere we look compared to say, the days of Little House on the Prairie, not to mention the centuries prior to what Laura Ingalls and her family must have thought was a marvelously modern time in history. (What would they think if they were magically plopped back into American society now?) Modern appliances, debit cards, online shopping and bill payment, and the convenience of supermarkets and restaurants everywhere, including food delivered right to our homes. Personal computers, smart phones, modern modes of travel, mass production, the internet…you name it and we’ve found ways to simplify once lengthy or impossible tasks in ways that were once unimaginable. We now have more freedom to pursue our interests and to spend leisure time with family and friends, living a generally and presumably more enjoyable life.

But have we reached our maximum capacity for saving time, giving us more of that freedom? Not even close. The future is full of promise for additional technology, but there are countless small things we can do starting today in our own lives to increase our unbudgeted time and give us more time for the activities that have the most meaning to us. We strive to improve our quality of life. But being able to identify, collect, and get the most from “found” time means that we have to understand our motivation and apply a general approach to staying open to opportunities.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION

It’s critical to schedule time to enjoy things that make you happy; that help you recharge. This is easier said than done, but it has to be a priority in order to enjoy a balanced life. But what would you do with additional free time if you had it? If we’re not clear about why we want more minutes or hours in our day, more days in our year, it’s easy to get caught up in activities that are not worth the time we give them. Or we unwittingly strive for perfection in areas that don’t require it, unaware that we’re sacrificing time that could go toward our banked “saved time.”  To remain open to finding opportunities for extra time without becoming obsessed (itself a time waster), first consider what’s important to you and why. Really visualize and imagine that extra time in a way that makes you excited for all of the possibilities it provides.

The Approach: Next, think through your current tasks or longer-term projects and consider how you accumulate even the smallest amounts of  non-meaningful time. Exactly how did you lose 30 minutes this morning or 2 hours today that held no value for you? Did attempts at multitasking keep you unfocused, making each task  take longer than it would have if you’d completed each individually? Is there something that could have been completed more efficiently with better planning or if you’d prevented interruptions? Analyzing how you spend your time is not about creating guilt over finally achieving downtime, nor should you push yourself to condense your time simply to fill it with more tasks – not at all. It’s about taking a very critical eye to your own personal time wasters – time that isn’t being used productively during which you aren’t fully present or content, learning or growing, interacting with others, relaxing, or participating in something that has meaning to you or brings you joy.

5 EXAMPLES OF COLLECTING TIME

Below are five extremely simple but often overlooked suggestions to consider as examples when you think through your own life’s activities to account for time during which you feel unfocused or disconnected from your goals or favorite activities.

1. Create and Save Your Packing List
When traveling, create a list of items you are packing, down to phone chargers, floss, supplements, whatever you like to take with you. Keep a copy of that of that list in your smartphone or luggage so that you have it for subsequent trips and so that you can add items if you realize upon arrival that you should have brought that eye mask, for example.  If you find that you never use a particular item that you seem to always drag along “just in case,” cross it off the list while it’s fresh in your mind before you head home. This list is a good reality check of what you really do and don’t use when traveling as opposed to what you think you need and use and, when left in your luggage or on your smart phone, makes a great checklist so that future packing is a breeze, taking away those frustrating moments of “What am I forgetting?” paralysis.

2. Convert One TV Show into Meaningful Time
Most of us watch more television than we like to admit, but can you think of at least one show you watch that you’re really not that invested in? If you gave up just one hour of TV per week, you gain 52 additional hours for the year that you can put toward something that has more meaning or gratification in your life. Consider this as you start adding up the number of hours you really spend watching TV versus how much time you think you spend, and think about what show or shows you’d be willing to give up for working toward a goal, spending time with family, reading, or any number of activities that have meaning for you.

3. Streamline Chores
Maintain a list of everything you find that needs to be attended to around your house. Wobbly doorknobs, a section of a wall that needs to be repainted, a piece of tile that’s chipped, air filters to be replaced, the refrigerator needs cleaned out, the lawn needs mowed, the garage organized, closets cleaned and clothes sorted through – whatever you find over a period of time that you’d like to get to at some point. These items tend to get away from us in no time and can feel like an albatross over our shoulders. It’s a relief to have these tasks checked off and to get rid of even that clutter you can’t see but you know is lurking.  When it’s time to tackle the list or even part of it, sit down with others in your household and, considering each person’s skill sets and preferences, divide up the tasks by assigning one or more individuals to each item.

If you’re short on time or skill, consider hiring a freelance handyman to take care of everything in one fell swoop. Rates can be much more affordable than many think. Ask around for referrals or call local part-time help to compare rates for the type of work you have. Consider the same for all forms of lawn work, tailoring needs, and similar chores. Weigh the cost-benefit of your time versus having someone take these chores off of you, giving you more free time to enjoy your life while employing someone in your local community.

4. The Dry Cleaner is Your Friend
Do you find yourself ironing in frustration because it takes time and never comes out as well as a fresh-pressed item from the dry cleaner?  Ironing is a dreaded chore, but one that can be farmed out to a dry cleaner, often at very reasonable prices. Again, consider the cost-benefit to you and what your time is worth, and ask around for referrals or shop around for a dry cleaner that meets your needs at a fair price. Watch for and ask about coupons. This tip also applies to tailoring.

5. Organize Mobile Apps by Content Type
If you have several screens filled with apps, you might be wasting more time than you think over the course of a month or year simply flipping around looking for particular items. Leaving your frequently-used apps on the home screen, move your other apps around so that you have like-with-like in terms of content. For example, create separate sections for storing content by categories such as social media, news-related, utility apps, games, shopping, self-help, arts/culture, etc. This trick saves flipping back and forth and then back again to find that app that was on the third page when you were certain it was on the home page.

Learn to Recognize Your Lost Time

There are hundreds of personalized time-saving tricks available to us if we simply remain aware and open to them as we go through our day. Over the next few weeks or months, consider where you feel you’re losing time, even in the smallest increments, and consider what you could do to eliminate those wasted moments and turn them into usable or meaningful time.  And don’t keep time-saving tricks to yourself. Share with your friends and family, as everyone wants a time-saving trick and they’ll appreciate your tips and be encouraged to look for and share their own.

This practice not only develops efficiency, but helps eliminate some of our mind clutter, and in the end we’re left with more moments that we repurpose for the things we value. And those are the moments that count the most.

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