Breaking Free From The Four Biggest Time Traps In Your Life

As an entrepreneur, author and professional speaker, time mangement is my most important practice. 

I’ve spent a great deal of effort acquiring tools that make my work faster without sacraficing quality. From software to little life hacks, I’ve found ways to harness faster-better-cheaper in my worklife. At some point, though, the only way to become more productive is to break free of the time traps that set me back.  

1.  Meetings That Should Have Been Timed Phone Calls –  I live in Los Angeles, the king of “let’s have lunch” cities in the USA.  But likely, you too get this request all the time: “Let’s get together for a cup of coffee or lunch and talk about X.”  On its face, it seems like you are only investing an hour in the actual meeting, but when you consider travel and interruption time…it usually adds up to 3 hours and ruins a 1/2 day in the process.  

The next time you receive this request, ask yourself:  Is this worth a half day of my workweek? Is this tied to my business objectives? Will a face-to-face meeting provide a unique solution to our challenges in moving forward?  If you don’t get three yes’s, then suggest a timed phone call.  Why timed? Absent a full stop (we only have 30 minutes), you can likely end up on the phone and hour…or two.  Lastly, try to schedule calls at the top or bottom of the hour, because phone tag is a time trap too. 

2.  Checking Up On Your Content – Whether you are a blogger or social media maven, it’s easy to build up the habit of “doing the digital lap” every time you sit down at your computer or boot a browser.  This is the lap you take around your digital outposts, seeing how many shares, likes, comments or gold stars you last post earned.  All it takes is one interactiion to tie you up for five to fifteen minutes.  One account of social media usage (Edison’s recent study) suggested that up to 25% of all our time spent online is done, doing this lap.  Delay gratification, and define a few times a day that you allot to content follow up. 

3. Leaving The Interruptions On – It’s estimated that it takes you about 15 minutes to recover from an interruption. A bell rings (you’ve got mail/texts or a call) and you stop what you are doing, and shift your attention to the interruptor. In most cases, it has nothing to do with your task at hand, yet you likely treat it as more important.  This whipsawing of our attention can take away a quarter of our workday, with little to show for it other than your constantly available for all comers.  Solution: Turn off all notifications, set you email pickup for every hour (or two) instead of real time and put your phone on stun.  

4. Working On Projects You Should Have Declined – This gets to the heart of Covey’s teachings: Focus on the the important, and be transparent about your capacity when other’s ask you to work on the un-important or non-urgent.  No one ever succeeded because he or she said “Yes” all the time.  Measure the number of times you say “No” and if you can show a trend upwards, you are getting the hang of pushing back.  Remember: Favors are extra-curricular activites and should be done in your off-time, at the expense of the things YOU like to do.  

This is where you need to be very utilitarian, testing every one of your commitments for a straight line connection to your objectives and desired results.  Don’t get caught up in the fuzzy math of paybacks-in-the-future.  In your mind, the future is about 120 days, and not much further.

It’s going to be hard to live by these, but if you do, you can double how much you accomplish Monday through Friday. This will give you three luxuries: The weekend, your sanity and dramtically improved performance.