01 Sep 2014
How I changed my three worst time-wasting habits
I'm an incessant lifehacker. I'm always looking for ways to be more prouctive and more healthy. I'm also quite lazy, so I resort to tricks and tiny habits that make a difference, rather than the more obvious "eat less, exercise more, procrastinate less" route.
Last time I shared a lifehack I was using (real life Pomodoro timers), it seemed to resonate with readers, so here are three more I've implemented recently. These ones are all focused on cutting out time-wasting habits I'd noticed.
Email as procrastination
I don't like answering emails. I find it frustrating and time consuming that all of the emails in my inbox require mental context switching. "Batch processing" emails sounds good in theory, but in practice it means batching together lots of unrelated tasks.
Even though I don't enjoy responding to emails, it's much easier than focusing on "real" work for a long stretch of time. I realised I was using email as productive procrastination—it had to be done but I was letting my most productive hours fritter away in my inbox.
To hack this bad habit so it wouldn't take up my writing time anymore, I picked the time of day when my energy is lowest, without being too low for working. For me that's after dinner (I run out of steam for working by about 7pm, so after I eat at 5, there's only a little window of productive time left). So I made a new rule: unless it's something urgent, or all my writing work for the day is finished, I can't "do" email until after dinner. If I do stop to answer an urgent email, I stop as soon as it's done and go back to real work.
What should I work on next?
Another pattern I found was that a lot of the time I waste sitting at my desk is a result of not knowing what to work on next. I get distracted when I'm supposed to be looking at my to do list or I look at it but can't decide what to do next.
Suddenly I'm watching videos on YouTube or I've spent an hour browsing last.fm for new music recommendations.
To cut out this habit of wasting time in-between tasks, I made a new rule: if I don't know what I'm doing, I can't sit at my desk. So if I finish a task and I'm not sure what to work on next, I have to get up out of my chair while I figure it out. This has the added bonus of getting me up out of my chair for a break from sitting more often.
Conversely, if I know exactly what I'm doing, even if it's eating lunch or checking my email, I can sit in my chair as long as that lasts. But as soon as I'm done, if I don't know what to do next, I get up.
Reading standing up
One thing I do at my desk a lot is reading—articles, blog posts, research for something I'm writing. I didn't want to stop doing this altogether, but I wanted a way to keep it from becoming a time-waster that takes up hours of my day.
To combat this, I made up yet another rule (have you noticed these hacks are all based on rules? So long as you're good at sticking to your own rules, this can work really well): if I'm reading on my computer, I have to stand at my desk, I can't sit. Standing to read isn't especially uncomfortable, but it's not something I want to do for hours, either.
Making myself stand while I read ensures I do it in small bursts, and I spend more time out of my chair than I otherwise would. I tend to wriggle and stretch while I'm reading now, so it's also a good physical break for my body.
It's the little things
Tiny hacks and habits like these are really simple to implement. They take some mental vigilance so you catch yourself each time you trip up, but it doesn't take long before they become as natural as the habits they replaced. Tiny bit by tiny bit, I'm wasting less time, spending less time sitting and being a little more productive.
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