Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’ve GOT to stop wasting time!”
See if you can relate to this scenario. You wake up with a list of things you need to get done. You make your coffee and check your phone, and the next thing you know, an hour has passed. Instead of having a productive morning, you just wasted an hour looking at memes on Reddit.
Yeah. I’ve certainly found myself in this situation many times.
It’s frustrating and demoralizing to waste time when you have things to get done. And the worst part? Wasting time often leads to wasting more time, and it can be hard to break the cycle.
The good news is there are some simple, yet effective strategies you can use to stop wasting time and start doing the things that really matter.
In this guide, we’re going to lay out 11 things you can start doing today to help you regain your focus and stop wasting valuable time.
How To Stop Wasting Time: 11 Strategies
1. Figure Out Your True Goals and Desires
Many times, the reason we waste time is that we don’t have clear goals and desires that we’re working toward. When you determine what you really want from your workday, year, or life, it gives you focus and direction.
Now, I realize that figuring out big existential questions about what you want from life might be a bit intimidating, so let’s narrow it down to setting concrete work-related goals.
At the beginning of each week, map out what you want to accomplish. This can be as simple as making to-do lists with specific tasks, like cleaning out your inbox, or outlining larger goals, like finishing a project by the end of the week.
Write your goals and tasks down or enter them into whatever task management app you use. At the beginning of each day, review your goals and determine what you need to do to accomplish them.
When you find yourself wasting time, go back to your list of goals and focus on doing the next task.
2. Schedule Your Day
It may sound rigid, but scheduling out your day is a really effective strategy to help you stop wasting time. Assigning specific tasks to specific times of the day helps you stay on track and regain your focus if you start wasting time.
Of course, there will be times when your schedule has to change on the fly, but if you’ve considered how long each item will take and when you have time to do it, it’ll be easier to prioritize and re-prioritize your tasks.
Scheduling your day is also helpful because it’s a great barometer for whether you’re setting realistic goals for yourself. If you sit down to schedule your day and end up running out of space, you might need to extend some deadlines or ask for help from a coworker.
This will also help to keep you from getting overwhelmed by your workload, which is often one of the biggest reasons that people start procrastinating in the first place.
When you schedule your day, look at your list of goals, tasks, and projects. Be realistic about how long each task will take you, and consider what’s highest priority. Ideally, you should schedule your most important tasks first so that if your schedule needs to change later in the day, you still got important work done.
You can use the Freedom app to schedule working sessions for yourself, so that you can work without being tempted by distractions. Just add a working session, flick on the distraction-free mode, and get to work.
Don’t forget to schedule time for breaks to eat and relax, and be honest about how you’ll spend them. If you know you can’t resist checking Instagram between tasks, just write it into your schedule and set a timer.
3. Rise Early
When you wake up early, you have more time in the day. It gives you time to exercise, read, or work on important projects. Plus, rising early helps set the tone for the entire day. When you get up and immediately do something important, it gives you momentum for the rest of the day.
But even if you don’t spend your extra time in the morning working toward accomplishing your goals, giving yourself the time to wake up and get ready for the day will mean you’re less distracted when you’re working.
If you spend your morning exercising, for example, you’ve eliminated one possible distraction for when you’re working. You can go about your day knowing you’ve already exercised, and there’s no need to stop working to do so. (Plus, studies say exercise improves your productivity and keeps you from feeling tired during work.)
And here’s a pro-tip: if you want to stop wasting time, avoid social media and other distracting websites in the morning. Nothing is worse than reading something that stirs negative emotions or clutters your thinking as soon as you wake up.
4. Work On Your Most Important Tasks First
It’s the procrastinator’s favorite strategy — make a long to-do list, accomplish all the five-minute tasks, and then take a nice, long break. Sure, you feel good because you checked a lot of things off your list, but you didn’t do the things that really mattered.
Start by working on the tasks that will produce the biggest results for you. These tasks should be tied to your big goals and important projects. If one of your most important goals is to finish your novel, then work on that first thing. Or, if you’re working on a world-changing app, make that the first thing you work on.
Working on your most important tasks first will also keep you from that bad feeling of watching the clock approach 5 pm and knowing you still have a lot to do. Finish what’s important first so that your day is highly productive, even if you don’t touch the five smaller tasks on your list.
5. Block Distracting Websites
It isn’t your fault that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube keep you from your work. Social media platforms are designed to keep you coming back for more, or keep you scrolling for hours on end.
Freedom is your secret weapon in the fight for your attention. If you want to stop wasting time, simply create your list of distraction websites and turn on distraction-free mode. You can even create multiple lists for various workflows or projects.
By blocking websites that distract you from your work, you’re giving yourself a significantly higher chance of accomplishing the tasks at hand. You can focus on one thing at a time, making it easier to keep track of how long you’ve really been working.
And with the syncing feature, you can block time-wasters on multiple devices at once. Sure, you can set time limits on your phone, but maybe your true Achilles heel is typing “i” in a laptop browser tab and autofill leads you to an hour-long scrolling session on Instagram.
Freedom’s device syncing capability allows you to really hold yourself accountable, no matter what devices you’re using, and gives you every chance of truly focusing.
6. Do Low-Value Work At Specific Times
As noted, it’s important to plan on doing your most important work first. That said, there are certain low-value tasks that have to be done at some point. If you never go through your inbox, your coworkers will eventually come looking for you.
That’s why it’s important to schedule low-value work throughout your workday. Low-value work is tasks that do need to get done, but may not contribute to your larger goals for the day. It could include things like processing your inbox, responding to less important chats and text messages, etc.
You can use these low-value, low-energy tasks to your advantage. Since they cost less of your mental and physical energy, they can offer a great break between tough workflows while still keeping you productive. When you’re tempted to waste time, instead switch over to something that’s low-value instead.
Other good times to schedule low-value work are around times with high potential for distraction, like right before lunchtime or right before the end of the day. Give your brain a small break while still being productive and accomplishing your to-do list for the day.
7. Do Deep Work
Deep work is the opposite of wasting time.
The term was coined by Cal Newport and describes the work done when you’re deeply concentrated on the task at hand for an extended period, without distractions.
During periods of deep work, you’re completing meaningful and important work. You’re not working on the low-value tasks we described above. You’re giving all your focus and attention to the task at hand.
Deep work is essential to productivity because most important tasks require long periods of concentration. As a web developer, for example, you can’t expect to get a large amount of meaningful work done in less than an hour.
Schedule periods of deep work at the points in your day when your mental and physical energy will be highest.
8. Set Deadlines
Setting deadlines for yourself can be incredibly helpful if you want to stop wasting time. If you ever stayed up all night studying for a test or working on a project, you know the power of deadlines.
Start by creating deadlines for your most important tasks. That way, you know exactly how long you have and how much time there is in your schedule. Then work back from the deadline to determine what you have to do each day to finish on time.
It can also be helpful to set deadlines for items that don’t have an inherent time sensitivity. Even though there’s no deadline for making your doctor’s appointment, for instance, it’s a task that can easily fall through the cracks for weeks if you aren’t careful.
9. Manage Your Energy
One of the biggest reasons we waste time is that we don’t manage our energy well. Every task requires a certain amount of energy, and we often fail to plan our days according to our rising and falling energy levels. What’s more, we often just plow through the day, not giving our brains and bodies space to rest.
The problem is that you’re not a machine. You need to approach your day with a realistic understanding of how much energy you have and the energy required for the tasks in front of you. Then you need to map out your day so that what you’re working on matches your energy levels. For example, if you know that you usually crash in the mid-afternoon, don’t plan on working on any intense tasks at that point.
Taking breaks is also vital to managing your energy levels throughout the day. No matter how focused you are, your brain will reach a point where it needs to rest.
Stepping away from your computer to take a walk, work out, or have something to eat allows your brain to recharge. What’s more, you’ll probably find that after your break, you’ll come back with new ideas and a solution to the problem that’s been bugging you all day.
10. Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management strategy that forces you to focus for short bursts of time and then take a short break.
It works like this:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- During the session, work on one thing only without distraction
- After the session, take a five-minute break
- After four sessions, take a 25-minute break
This technique is proven to improve your focus, help you solve problems faster, and increase your productivity. What’s more, it helps you stop wasting time because you’re hyper-focused during each session.
Keep in mind that although the Pomodoro Technique is a strict 25 minutes, you work in shorter or longer stints if that works better for you. The key is to take frequent, short breaks to recharge your mind and help you focus.
11. Do Activities/Hobbies That Truly Enrich Your Life
Perhaps the worst part of wasting time is feeling like you’ve wasted an entire day doing “nothing”. It’s not just that you didn’t get any work done. You didn’t even do anything particularly meaningful or enjoyable.
Doing meaningful hobbies and activities is a great antidote to wasting time. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on your phone, spending time with friends or reading a great book, or working out.
Plus, when you do activities and hobbies that enrich your life outside of work, you will be more productive in life in general. Doing something you love makes you value your time, which causes you to be more intentional and careful with it.
If you are doing enriching activities, you won’t spend your whole day distractedly thinking about all the other things you could be doing. Instead, you’ll know that you can and will make the time to go snowboarding, do yoga, read a book, or practice sketching.
Stop Wasting Time and Start Doing Awesome Stuff!
If you struggle with wasting time, don’t feel guilty. That won’t help. You’re human. We all waste time.
If you want to know how to stop wasting time, channel your feelings of guilt into more constructive solutions. Reclaim your time by working on important things that will make a real difference in your life. And if you find yourself mindlessly wasting time, don’t beat yourself up.
Just refocus your attention and get back to it.
Now get out there and do something awesome.