We’ve all had days like this: After running late to work, we get caught by that chatty co-worker for a half-hour only to return to our desks to do some online research and end up down the YouTube rabbit hole. The morning’s shot. It’s going to be another late night to make up for the lost time.
It doesn’t have to be that way, says Gilbert, Arizona, time management expert and life coach Steve Chandler, author of Time Warrior—and you don’t even have to swear off social media to gain back control. Mastering the hours in your day comes from a deeper level of understanding and confidence. Here are five ways to take back your time.
Track your time for a few days, noting how you’re spending your hours and on what tasks, Chandler says. And don’t fudge the numbers. The only person to whom you’re accountable is you. As you begin to see how your days typically shape up, observe what really has to be done during the course of your day and what you’re doing because it’s a habit or because someone asked you to take on a task, but it wasn’t really necessary. Then, you have the insight to break patterns, he says.
Contrary to popular belief, Candy Crush isn’t the biggest time-waster out there. The biggest issue is not being clear about what you have to do, says Maura Thomas, creator of RegainYourTime.com and author of Personal Productivity Secrets. When we don’t have clear direction or information, we waste hours trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing during our day.
When you find yourself pausing, you’re more likely to procrastinate or avoid the task, while finding ways to distract yourself. Instead, when you find yourself stuck, get information from your manager, colleagues or other essential resources for greater clarity. If a task is so large it’s hard to see where to begin, break it down into smaller steps that make more sense, she adds.
Think about your day as if you leave tomorrow on a long cruise with no Internet connection. What do you do? What do you delegate? What do you ditch? Suddenly, you’re hyper-aware and more efficient because the stakes are higher, Chandler says. You’re not spending time on things that don’t need to get done.
If your morning ritual is to grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and answer email and check in on Facebook, that may be what you need to do to "warm up" and ease into each day, Chandler says. Social media and other online activities are only problems if they’re getting in the way of getting things done, he says. Be honest with yourself about how much time you’re spending there and whether it’s a tool or a time-suck.
Chandler says the biggest time waster of all is trying to please people at the expense of your own productivity. Attending meetings you don’t need to attend, taking phone calls you don’t need to take, and fielding tasks that don’t need to be done all in an effort to get people to like you can eat hours out of every day, he says. Learn how to say "no" graciously without worrying that someone won’t like you, and you’ll reclaim large blocks of time.
"Most of our time-wasters result from a courage problem, not a time problem," he says.