7 Daily Time Wasters and How To Get Your Time Back

No matter what job or business you have, time is always a critical resource. And most of us could use a little more of it.

Do you know how much time you waste every single day?

It may not be much, but it probably adds up over the long run. For those of you looking to improve your system, here are 7 common daily time drains and what you can do to get your time back.

#1 — Slow or Old Technology

Most of the people reading this post work on a computer for 6-10 hours a day, sometimes even more. Web work, design, programming, writing — no matter what it is, we’re all very dependent on our tech.

What this means is that even the tiny slow-downs add up over time. You know that stupid little orb you like to hate? Well, you’re justified. It could be costing you anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours a day in productivity. And that doesn’t even count the potential for catastrophic failures.

The simple solution to this is to buy good machinery, and get professional help tweaking if you need it. Make sure you’re set up the best way possible, and protected from major failure. Yea, I know it’s expensive. But how much is your time worth?

#2 — Interruptions and Distractions

It’s a known fact that every time we get interrupted or sidetracked our brains need a certain amount of time to get back into the original activity. Sometimes this can be a minute or two, other times it can be a lot longer.

What this means for you is that you need to to isolate yourself from distractions, and make sure you can spend some quality time alone with your work. For more on this topic check out this post about discipline.

#3 — Burnout / Afternoon Slump

On the other side of distraction, there is the problem of working for too long on a single project. Usually after an hour or two you’ll get to that stage where nothing seems to make sense anymore, maybe the screen goes a bit blurry — we’ve all been there.

The key point in this situation is that you are no longer able to be productive, and you’re wasting time.

So what’s the solution? Take a break, take a nap, and walk away. This might seem like you’re wasting more time this way, but what harm is a 20 minute nap in the face of a completely unproductive afternoon?

#4 — Email Addiction

This is one time waster that has been talked about many many times before, so I won’t go into it in too much detail. In summary, email is a necessary tool for client interaction, but it can also be a big distraction if you are checking it too frequently. So, don’t spend too much time with your email.

Check this article out for lots more details and debate about the subject.

#5 — Bad Use of Transportation

Even for computer-geeks and web-workers, going places and running errands is still a necessary part of life. While there may not be any way of avoiding it, you can at least make sure that it takes up as little time as possible.

One way to cut down on transportation needs is to group all of your errands together into a single trip. That will cut driving/walking time and give you more time to focus on work.

The other really good tip is to do all of your ‘transporting’ during hours you aren’t normally working. It’s important not to interrupt your daily schedule and to respect your work time. You’ll undoubtedly need to defend this time from other people, too.

#6 — Pseudo-Difficult Decisions

Some decisions seem really tough, borderline impossible even. Do I launch my new site with a green and gray color scheme or with a green and brown one? Is this really the best slogan, or should I go with the original?

The truth of the matter is that most of these decisions are impossible to get right — because there is no correct answer, and there is no way of knowing the correct answer. What’s worse, most people (myself especially) can easily spend hours, days, or weeks making these decisions.

If you’re serious about getting your time back, and becoming a lot more productive, you have to keep a careful watch for these time-draining decisions — and learn when to just pick something and move on. As Dave Navarro has said to me on more then one occasion, is this really the most important thing you could be working on?

#7 — Excessive Chatting (Phone or Otherwise)

Talking on the phone is another necessary evil of conducting business that frequently becomes a time-wasting problem. The reason it becomes a problem is either you or the person on the other end wants to talk too much about the wrong things. Email is great for hammering out details, the phone is great for back-and-forth discussion — but you have to draw the line.

In my daily business I use the phone for discussions with clients (aka selling) or for things that need a short and quick answer. For most other things, asynchronous communication like email is by far the better method. Then again, sometimes chatting on Skype or Twitter can be just as bad as the phone…

The solution to all of these problems is to be aware of how much time you spend chatting, and to make sure you limit it appropriately. Socialization is a good thing for freelancers, but you just have to be careful about how much.

Ironic Bonus #8 — Reading Stuff Online

The wonderfully ironic part about any online productivity article is that reading too many things online is a huge time waste. So, how do you make it work?

The important part is to get your information, interact with people, and get out (meaning don’t read everything on the internet). If you can limit your focus strictly to blogs and resources that are really valuable to you, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Oh yeah, and you can’t just read the stuff either, you have to actually put it into practice.

What are your biggest time wasters? Have you found a better solution to any of these problems?


  1. says

    I’m guilty of all of these at one time or another. Currently I’m trying to limit myself on internet time as it can certainly be addictive, and before you know it you’ve wasted an hour or two doing nothing at all.

  2. Ryan says

    The Ironic Bonus #8 is what takes most of my time… Oooops, I’m doing it again by reading this article, but I’m going to comment and get back straight to work :)

  3. says

    @Ryan — the important thing is just to focus on a few blogs, or a few sites, and then limit your time. This isn’t about abstinence, it’s just about being productive. Learning is a good thing, wasting time is bad. As long as you’re only reading things that are actually useful, and limiting how much excess time you spend, then you’ll be golden :-)

  4. says

    Nice article Mason,

    Incredible shot description of each point. Nice writing !!

    I’m usually stuck with #4 , #7 & #8….. I know it’s Time Wasters but can’t help it ;)

  5. says

    @DKumar — Thanks! 4,7, and 8 are definitely tough for those of us who are at a computer all day…

    @Nat — Haha :-) You caught me, I was rearranging some of the numbers, and forgot to cahnge them. All fixed now…

  6. Adobe Girl says

    Wow-I’m 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. Getting better, though. #8 is the toughest because there is just so much to take in and I used to spend WAY too much time reading gossip blogs, myspace, etc. Now I make sure to spend that time on industry related blogs, tutorials and videos because at least then I’m learning something.

  7. says

    Ah, you irresistable blogs and the timesuck you provide. You are a temptation during the day, that is for certain. But it is about limiting and corraling some of these time wasters into productive breaks. I read feeds twice a day in chunks, read email a few times a day in chunks, and try to group all the little things that distract me in similar time segments. Most of the time it works until my bad brain takes over and convinces me it won’t hurt to check in on Freelance Folder in the afternoon…

  8. says

    Funny that you mention old technology. i couldn’t figure out why my computer was so darn slow until i finally investigated how much RAM i had. my computer is great and speedy, but after installing CS3, it bogged down. i spent around $300 on RAM, and now my machine flies! what a production boost.

  9. says

    I also find that reading blogs is my largest time waster. Usually I just disconnect from the internet when I need to focus. It prevents me from having a one click hit of information.

  10. says

    Many distractions are about, but my number one has to be instant messaging, I no it sounds stupid but because of the work load, I can’t see friends as much as I possibly would like, so it is a simple way to communicate with them, and I am hooked on them, so its hard to say no. But also I have the same problem with email, I have to check this a few times and hour, and obviously this adds up over time.

  11. says

    I read feeds twice a day in chunks, read email a few times a day in chunks, and try to group all the little things that distract me in similar time segments. Most of the time it works until my bad brain takes over and convinces me it won’t hurt to check in on Freelance Folder in the afternoon…

  12. says

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this
    blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


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