7 Moments Of Wasted Time In Your Day And How To Fill Them

Losing bits of time here and there can wear you down. Here’s how to make the most of the time that slips away.

7 Moments Of Wasted Time In Your Day And How To Fill Them
[Photo: Flickr user Keirsten Marie]

Even if the big pieces of your life fit together well, wasted bits of time can feel as annoying as a leaky faucet. Some of these leaks can be blamed on others, and some are self-inflicted, but either way, no one can make more time. Losing minutes in drips and drops can wear you down. Here are some common time leaks, with short- and long-term solutions for plugging them.


1. Waiting For Phone Calls To Start

Short-term fix. Always assign yourself a project of the day to work on that can be broken down into small chunks. It can be professional (decluttering your desk; unsubscribing from newsletters you no longer read) or a personal one (getting 10,000 steps–you can pace around your office), but you’ll be amazed how much you can get done when you chip away at it five minutes at a time.

Long-term fix. If it’s a one-on-one conversation, always offer to be the one initiating the call. That way, it starts when you want it to start. As for conference calls, try to push them to one portion of the day, ideally the lower-energy mid-afternoon slot. That way a late-starting call isn’t sapping time that could be better spent on focused work.

2. Waiting In Line At The Coffee Shop

Short-term fix. While everyone else is looking at social media, consciously use this time to read something edifying, such as poetry or a thought-provoking article you’ve saved to read later. Better yet, get your head out of your phone and practice the fine art of small talk with the person next to you, or think through your goals for the day.

Long-term fix. Invest in a good coffee maker, good coffee, and any add-ins you like. Over time, making your coffee at home will save minutes and money. Brew a pot while you’re in the shower, get a good travel mug, and you can shave at least five to 10 minutes off the morning routine.

3. Getting Distracted After An Interruption

Short-term fix. After people get interrupted, they tend to repeat a cycle of behaviors that get them back into work mode. The cycle often involves a check of email and favorite websites, and that can take 10-15 minutes, easy. If you get interrupted, or interrupt yourself, note exactly where you were and challenge yourself to start right back without the transition cycle. If the last interruption was less than 30 minutes ago, the news will not have changed much. You don’t need to check the headlines again.


Long-term fix. Structure your life for fewer interruptions. Working from home one to two days a week can help with this, as can office quiet hours, when everyone agrees to buckle down. Time management expert Laura Stack suggests coming up with a visual signal (flags, goofy hats, whatever works in your work culture) to indicate that now is not a good time for interruptions (see 4 Strategies To Make Your Office A Place Where People Can Focus).

If all else fails, come in a little early, when the office is quiet, to crank out anything requiring focus. That way you can go with the flow the rest of the day. Also, be proactive about planning in breaks. Much social media wandering is about the brain needing to disengage. If you don’t give your brain a real break, it takes a fake one. Scheduling a 15-minute walk at 3:00 p.m. is probably a better strategy.

4. Spending Too Much Time In The Car

Short-term fix. While lots of people use time in the car to make calls, this isn’t safe (even with a hands-free device). Instead, use car time as me-time, and listen to great podcasts or audiobooks. When you pack your bag the night before, pack your listening material on your phone, too.

Alternately, use this time to practice difficult conversations or presentations. No one can hear you, so it’s a great time to talk to yourself (and unlike a two-person phone conversation, it’s easy to stop talking if driving conditions turn hazardous).

Long-term fix. Stop doing errands. Just about everything can be ordered online, and your time is worth more than the shipping costs. As for the commute, try time-shifting it to avoid traffic. Take the first meeting of the day by phone from home, then drive in to work. A trip that takes 45 minutes at 8:30 a.m. can often take 25 minutes at 9:45 a.m.


5. Hitting Snooze

Short-term fix. Sleeping in eight- to 10-minute chunks is the worst of all worlds. You’re not getting up, but your body doesn’t get much benefit from this sleep, either. Instead, set your alarm for the time you actually intend to get up, even if that’s 10 minutes before you need to be out the door. Enjoy every last minute of deep sleep until then. To be sure, you’ll be late to work, but you will be if you hit snooze until then, too, and in the no-snooze world, at least you’ll be well-rested.

Long-term fix. Going to bed earlier is how grownups sleep in. If you get to bed on time, you might wake up before your alarm, and be able to drift in and out of sleep. This natural snoozing is infinitely nicer than the snooze-button version.

6. Taking A Long Time To Get Out The Door

Short-term fix. Keep anything necessary to get out the door (keys, shoes, umbrellas, bags, kid backpacks, and sports equipment) in one spot by the door. They don’t have to be neatly organized, but they do have to be there.

Long-term fix. On weekends in particular, taking a long time to get out the door is a symptom of indecision. Whole mornings can be lost in the dithering of deciding what to do and then mustering the energy to do it. Instead, think through your weekend before you’re in it. If you have a rough plan, you won’t spend all of Saturday morning deciding to go to the gym. You’ve already decided, and now you’re good to go.

7. Watching More TV Than You Meant To

Short-term fix. Use your DVR for everything on traditional TV, even shows you plan to watch close-to-live. The key benefit is not forwarding through the commercials (though that is nice), it’s that you’ll have to make a conscious decision to keep the TV on after your show is done, instead of just sliding into the next thing.


Long-term fix. Once the TV goes on, it’s really hard to turn it off. This is particularly true if you’re watching a binge-worthy series. While many shows are quite good, you probably don’t want to spend your whole life watching other people’s lives. So choose a few nights per week not to watch anything at all. Read, do a hobby, or chat with the people you live with instead.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at