Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average self-employed worker spent 8.5 hours working during the weekday and 5.4 hours working on the weekend. Compare this to other stats that find the average American works 34.4 hours per week, and the self-employed worker works 12.5 hours longer on average than the employed worker.
Is this because the workload is that much higher? Or is it because of the temptation to procrastinate when you’re working remotely? Working from home and the flexibility to set your own schedule can breed bad habits, allowing you to fall victim to distractions.
Consider this: Proclaimed self-help gurus like Timothy Ferriss promote the four-hour workweek. Other studies have argued in favor of six-hour workdays and four-day workweeks. Results show that people work more efficiently, getting things done faster in these shorter time frames.
Maybe you do spend every hour of your day working hard to grow your business. But in reality, there’s a good chance that you waste time during the day. If you’d like to be more efficient and spend less time working, keep reading to learn how to stop wasting time.
1. Stop procrastinating by keeping track of your time
One of the best ways to see if you’re spending enough time on important tasks is by tracking your time. Tracking your hours is an effective time management technique because it allows you to see where you’re dedicating your time.
While keeping a time log may seem time-consuming in and of itself, it doesn’t have to be. After each activity, record the specific times that you worked on different assignments or client projects. You’ll find it easier to log the time than you think. You can either write the log on a piece of paper or use automated apps.
Time management expert and author Laura Vanderkam has written several books explaining the benefits of time tracking. Her premise is that we all have 168 hours in a week. Yet, some people seem to accomplish a whole lot more than others.
Seeing where your time actually goes is the key to the next steps in this procrastination-busting plan.
2. Identify your biggest time wasters
By using a timesheet, you can clearly see those pockets of time where you’re “at work,” but wasting time because you’re not actually working.
From there, you can identify your most significant time wasters. For many of us, the biggest waste of time is social media. But that’s certainly not the only rabbit hole that’s easy to fall down when you know you should be working.
If you work from home, you might be sidetracked by a dog you need to walk, laundry you need to fold, dinner you need to start, or shows you “need” to binge-watched.
And let’s not forget email: Some reports find that an average person can send and receive 200+ emails a day, which can gobble up an incredible amount of time. Email can be a particularly dangerous pitfall because it makes you feel like you’re being productive — even though you’re often not.
When you drill down into your time log, you’ll see where your time is going, and then you can decide if each action is a necessary, legitimate work activity or if it’s a form of procrastination.
3. Write a schedule every day
Many people love the to-do list and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing items off as they’re completed. While that can be an effective way to manage your day, you might well find at 6 p.m. that there was more “list” than there were hours in the day.
That’s because it’s easy to be too ambitious and plan too much without taking into account how much time each task requires. Additionally, schedules don’t account for distractions.
A better strategy is to make a schedule that shows what activities you need to accomplish and slot them into the exact period when you plan to do them. Be sure to build in breaks for yourself. Setting time limits for activities will keep you on track.
Maybe your to-do list includes scheduling a fact-finding meeting with a new vendor, sending invoices, and updating your business plan, plus three scheduled client appointments. When you start writing out those activities in blocks — including drive time to meetings, etc. — you’ll see how your day will unfold, and you won’t be tempted to waste time because you’ll want to stay on schedule.
That’s also why you should write a schedule that includes time to eat lunch, have an email break, and walk the dog. By writing it down, you permit yourself to do these activities that are important for mental or physical breaks. But by noting how much time you’ve allotted for web surfing, for example, you’ll be more apt to get back on task when time is up, rather than visiting one more website.
Additionally, considering the big picture increases the likelihood of waiting until the last minute. For instance, you’re much more apt to knock out, “Send invoice between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.” than you are “Send invoice by the end of the day.” Knowing that you’ll have a break when the task is over will allow you to focus for that specific amount of time, and you’ll win “small victories,” gaining momentum throughout the day.
4. Use a timer
One of the best ways to stay on schedule is to use a timer and vow to stay on task until the timer rings. It will keep you productively working and will also help you stick with the schedule you’ve created.
One popular timer-related productivity hack to try is the Pomodoro Technique, which is brilliant in its simplicity. You set a timer for 25 minutes and work diligently until it goes off.
Then you take a five-minute break. After four “Pomodoros” (that’s what they call each segment), you have earned a more extended 15-minute break. The technique helps keep you on task but also permits you to enjoy your short break, which can help prevent longer time-wasting sessions. Of course, you can lengthen your Pomodoros, but make sure you’re committed to doing one task for the entire time.
5. Make use of micro-moments
Was your conference call delayed ten minutes, or did your meeting end ten minutes early?
It’s easy to squander those ten minutes by checking in on social media and not focusing on the important stuff. But if you have at least three of those ten-minute blocks per day, that’s 30 minutes that you could have devoted to another task.
Try keeping a running list of short tasks that you can slot into “found” time. For example, if researching a new customer takes about ten minutes, keep a record of potential clients and spend that time reading up on their business and taking notes for your next pitch.
At the end of the week, you might have identified five new clients to contact without needing to devote an entire hour to the research. Once you start allocating these micro pods of time, it will become like a game.
6. Work on one device
Another time management tip is to work on one device at a time. Switching between laptops and phones, for instance, can slow you down considerably. When you change devices, you’re likely to have a couple of distractions. Working from one device eliminates those distractions.
If possible, take a few minutes at the beginning of a work session to gather the information needed to complete the task. Then put your other devices away and focus solely on the task at hand.
7. Slow down
In the fast-paced business world, it’s easy for you to want to try to get work done as quickly as possible. However, working quickly could actually slow down a process. The work will be littered with errors and mistakes. Sure, it’ll be done. But it won’t be done well.
This, in turn, will create a host of problems down the road. Wasting time correcting errors is frustrating and can cost the company money.
Slowing down allows you to truly focus on the task at hand. Your mind will be present in the moment. By slowing down and not rushing through something, you’ll find that your work is of a higher quality.
8. Collect yourself each hour
At the end of each hour, you should take a minute or two to reflect on the previous hour. This doesn’t have to be something long. Think one or two minutes at most — just enough time to reflect.
Even if the last hour wasn’t the greatest, you could take those couple of minutes to reflect, decompress, and gather your thoughts. Doing so can allow you to be more productive during the next hour of work.
9. Review your schedule for the next day
Before going to bed at night, take a couple minutes to review your plan for the next day. You’ll have a clear understanding of what you need to get done, when you need to do it, and how long you have to accomplish those tasks.
You’ll find yourself waking up more motivated and ready to accomplish the day’s work if you know what you’re doing first. Otherwise, you may hem and haw trying to figure out what it is you need to do. A clear plan of action will help you cut down on how much time you waste.
Learn how to stop wasting time
Figuring out how to stop wasting time can be challenging at first, but you’ll be surprised when you realize how much you can get accomplished in the extra time that appears once you eliminate time wasters.
You can move your business forward by overcoming procrastination with a time log, a schedule, and a timer. And there are always other procedures and processes like accounting software that streamline your business.
With a bit of focus and dedication, you’ll find yourself working more efficiently, giving you more time to devote to your mental health or back to your business. And you’ll help set a standard that’s easy for you to pass on to your employees.