Resisting the Time Suck

I usually have an idea of what I want to accomplish once I get home from work. It goes something like this:

  • Practice yoga.
  • Get some writing done.
  • Make a fabulous, healthy dinner.
  • Work on my business.
  • Read something thought-provoking.

But I never seemed to accomplish all I set out to do. Sometimes I’d accomplish none of it. Other activities would get in the way, and my evening would go something like this:

  • Check e-mail (for the 40th time that day).
  • See some Facebook updates in my inbox.
  • Log on to Facebook to leave my oh-so-clever comment on my best friend’s page. (“She is going to LOL when she reads this!”)
  • Check out some random person’s page who is friends with my friend.
  • Check out random person’s blog, which they haven’t updated since last year.
  • Remember that I hadn’t checked my blog feed since this morning.
  • And on and on.

An hour and a half would pass by, and I’d realize that I wasn’t going to get as much done as I had planned. I’d start to practice yoga, but with my head full of e-mails, social media posts, and random bits of information, my practice wouldn’t be as fruitful. Eastern traditions refer to this as the “monkey mind” that jumps from one thought to the next, and my monkey mind would be swinging in the trees. This led to a somewhat dissatisfying practice, which made me want to speed it up because I was unable to focus.

Then, instead of making dinner, I’d eat some yogurt and granola and flip on the TV (you know, only planning to watch while I ate dinner). Eventually I might make it back to the computer and read a couple of things pertinent to my freelance work, but then I’d be derailed by checking out that-site-about-that-thing. After awhile I’d realize it was late and decide to hit the hay.

No satisfaction
I wasn’t satisfied with this routine. I wanted a good yoga practice. I wanted to get ahead on my writing work and to spend an hour or so cooking something wonderful. I wanted to feel like I was making headway on my freelance business and to sink my teeth into a good book every night. Out of five things I wanted to do, I’d actually do only one or so, and I wouldn’t even do that one thing very well.

I figured that the problem was starting the evening with activities that were real time sucks, like e-mail, Facebook, and blog feeds. After that, it was even more likely that I’d watch a little TV or surf the net for “just a few more minutes.”

I decided to test my theory. The next day I came home and resisted the urge to “quickly check” anything online. Instead, I rolled out my yoga mat and had a satisfying practice. Afterward, all I wanted to do was to make a big salad, and that’s exactly what I did, sans TV shows. Later I sketched out an outline for an article and brainstormed some new leads, and eventually made my way to bed. I only got through three pages of a book before falling asleep, but all in all, I had my perfect evening, accomplishing what I wanted. It felt good.

Identifying time sucks
I have a lot of irons in the fire right now, especially compared to just one year ago. Juggling these things isn’t easy, and I’m sure most of you can relate. If you have kids, you’re probably 20 times busier than me. We can wish for more hours in a day, but we’re only going to get 24, so it’s up to us to decide how we want to spend them.

Everyone has a different way of wasting away the hours, but I’ll identify some common ones. In the online world, there are countless time-sucking activities, such as:

  • Checking e-mail excessively
  • Seeing what’s new on Twitter
  • Reading Facebook updates
  • Reading blogs that don’t deliver much value
  • Browsing retail sites
  • Playing games
  • Watching funny YouTube videos
  • Clicking on random articles on StumbleUpon
  • Tagging and grouping your Flickr photos
  • Googling your ex

Time sucks aren’t only found on the internet, though. Offline, activities that can suck your time include:

  • Unimportant chores
  • Watching TV shows you don’t even like that much
  • Reading junk mail
  • Video games
  • Opening the refrigerator door and staring at the contents
  • Thinking about unimportant things, replaying conversations in your head, stressing out about future possibilities that may or may not ever happen
  • Organizing your iTunes files
  • Unproductive or negative conversations

It’s also worth mentioning that another time suck is struggling with disorganization. If I want to go for a run, but I have to spend 30 minutes looking for my other tennis shoe, that’s a frustrating waste of time that might derail the run all together. Also, I want to point out that many activities on these lists are not inherently bad, unless you’re doing them at the expense of something else that would be more satisfying to you.

Battling the time suck
If any of those time sucks sound familiar (and they do to me), there are ways to circumvent time suckage.

  1. First, try not to get sucked in the first place. If your tasks don’t involve the internet, don’t go online. If they don’t involve the computer at all, don’t open your laptop.
  2. If you do need to go online or use a computer, don’t go to unnecessary sites. I am much more productive when working online if I close my Gmail tab.
  3. If there isn’t a show on that you really like, turn off the TV.
  4. Commit to doing one thing on your list for just 10 minutes. You know how this works. After 10 minutes, you usually want to do more.
  5. When you feel yourself being sucked in by mindless activities, ask yourself if you spent the last hour as you intended. What did you want to do with your time, and if you didn’t do it, what can you do now?

Number five is powerful because it focuses on the positive, letting enjoyment and good feelings affect your activities instead of making the evening one big to-do list. I know I’ll feel better after my yoga practice, and that gets me on my mat. Afterward, I’m encouraged by that success to spend the rest of the evening mindfully.

Avoiding time sucks is not something you accomplish once and for all. There will be days when you come home and waste three hours watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs. (No? Just me?) It’s a daily choice, but a worthy goal. When you are mindful with your time, you can accomplish more of what’s important to you.

Readers, what time sucking activities have I left out? What do you do to avoid them?

J.D.’s note: This really reminds me of the book I’m reading right now (The Other 8 Hours by Robert Pagliarini). It’s all about avoiding time sucks. Any interest in a review? It also reminds me of Trent’s post yesterday about meeting goals.

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