A few years ago, I spent a lot of energy on tasks that wasted my time. Things that could be automated or delegated, I chose to do myself — for no good reason.
I never questioned a meeting request, for example, even though in my office job I attended plenty where my presence was certainly not necessary. I always assumed the meeting organizer had a very good reason for asking me to be there, and (maybe because I wanted to feel important) I figured I had to be there if I was invited.
Eventually, though, I came to realize that not every meeting, or project, or process is worth the time it requires. Not only that, but we all actually have the power to eliminate tons of wasted time spent on these meetings and projects and processes really easily. We just have to notice where our time is being wasted, and then decide to stop wasting it.
What are you doing that isn’t worth your time?
Leaders are pulled in a million different directions every day. We’re often told that our most valuable resource is time, and yet many of us never stop to evaluate the many things we do every day or every week that are slowly sucking away precious minutes without us even realizing it.
These tasks are things we started doing one day — with or without a good reason — and which we continue to do not because they make us more effective, or happy, or better at our jobs, but just because we never really thought about stopping. These can be anything from weekly check-ins with a team that no longer needs your input, to repeated attempts to do work in a space or time where you know you’re not effective.
And there’s nothing worse than wasting your own time than leaving one of your most precious assets unexamined and unimproved. Than moving passively throughout your life and work, without considering: could I be doing this better? So let’s start considering.
Getting email notifications throughout the day may feel like a way to save time and be more productive. But how often are you able to *really* productively deal with that message right then, the second you are notified of its arrival?
How many seconds are lost to quickly considering that email, deciding whether to deal with it now or save it for later, and then getting back to the person or project you were engaged with, maybe even needing to rehash the last thing you went over since you missed a detail while you were preoccupied with your notification?
Lost seconds don’t feel like much, but they add up to minutes and hours throughout the day.
Similarly, software updates you keep thinking you’ll do later, but which cause you to have to click through 15 “OK” and “Update Later” boxes every time you launch a tool that also now runs slower than it did before — that’s a waste of your time.
Picking up the slack on a recurring project for an employee, because you want to avoid the confrontation of telling them they’re not doing a complete job — that’s a waste of your time.
Maybe your one little thing only takes you 5 minutes a day, but is that a good use of those 5 minutes?
Most of these little things never raise red flags as time-wasters because they waste so little time. They’re not worth examining, we think, and so we don’t examine them. But that time adds up, just like everything else, and “just 5 minutes” a day every work day for a year eventually turns into roughly 20.8 wasted hours (or 1,250 wasted minutes). You’re losing almost a full day to your “just 5 minutes” tasks every year.
So it’s worth at least examining what little things might be wasting your time, isn’t it?
Some time-wasting things we do because we don’t even notice ourselves doing them, and some we do because they feel easy or comfortable, and stopping would mean having to address that we are in a new place in our career. Many people find that when they first step into a management role, for example, that they have a hard time not doing the day-to-day hands-on work they’ve been doing for their whole career.
They spend hours of the day still coding, or designing, or writing — though their time is better spent elsewhere. Because letting go of those tasks means taking on new ones — potentially more challenging ones — and it’s more comfortable to stay where you are.
It can also mean you’re not willing to put trust in others to do the same tasks that you once did. But being a good leader isn’t about doing it all yourself, and you’ll fail yourself and your team if you cling too tightly to the things that used to define you or don’t allow others to do what they do best.
Relinquishing control is the key to building your own successful team with employees who are empowered to do their best work. Free up your time to be better at your job, and allow the people on your team to be better at theirs.
So ask yourself:
What can you stop doing this week?
Make a list of things you think you can cut out, then make a strategy for doing so. Ask to opt out of that next no-longer-applicable working session, or decide to turn off the notifications on your phone. Then do it. And stick to it. Keep examining, and keep growing.
And what to do with your new free time?
Focus more on the priorities you care about. Work uninterrupted. Avail yourself of five newly available minutes each day to sit quietly, not doing anything at all. Meditate.
Now that you’re thinking about what’s not a good use of your time, start also thinking about what really is a good use of your time. What have you been behind on? What always gets pushed to the back burner? What do you keep promising your team will happen, but just can’t seem to make time for?
Stop trying to create more time to do the things you love, and instead think about how you can better use the time you’re already working with to do more of what makes you happy.
The way you spend your time defines what your priorities are. We are what we choose to spend time doing, whether we choose actively to pursue what we love, or by passively continuing tasks, good and bad, without reflection. Stop letting time-wasting activities define your work life, and start actively choosing what gets done and when in your life.
Your challenge this week: eliminate something that’s not a good use of your time.
And let me know how it went, in the comments or on Twitter @katestull. Don’t wait any longer to take back control of your life and your time.
Kate Stull is a co-founder and content strategist at popforms, a startup building tools to help enlightened leaders and teams work better together. Her work has been published around the web, and she is best known for writing about leadership, team-building, and creating a satisfying career path. You can see more of her work on the popular popforms blog, and connect with her on Twitter at @katestull.