The reason I research productivity is simple. I think that a productive life equals happy life. But we insist on wasting time, which makes it hard to live a productive life.
Also, if you’re more productive than average people, you’ll advance faster in your career. You learn more. You do more. And eventually are rewarded more.
And when I talk about productivity, I talk about being effective. Because productivity doesn’t suggest that you get the right things done. It just means you get a lot of stuff done. But that’s not what matters.
Effectiveness, however, refers to getting the right things done.
And if you want to do your job well, earn money, live a meaningful life, or learn skills, that is what matters the most. Otherwise, you just run around in circles. You might appear busy, but you won’t achieve anything meaningful.
In other words: It’s easy to do useless work. Work that doesn’t bring you closer to the outcomes you desire. That’s a pure waste of time.
Results matter the most.
Practically, that means this: You might work for 50 hours a week, but if you don’t experience any growth personally, emotionally, financially, you’re not effective.
People often ask me, “where do I begin?” To answer that question, I want to share one exercise that I teach in my productivity course, Procrastinate Zero.
It’s an exercise that I picked up from Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. To me, Drucker is the first and best thinker when it comes to effectiveness for knowledge workers.
Many of the books, articles, productivity tools, and productivity apps you see these days are all in a way influenced by Drucker, who essentially invented the term personal effectiveness.
What you will find next is a simple exercise from The Effective Executive (which I modified slightly to make it easier) that you can apply to stop wasting time.
Step 1: Know Thy Time
I often hear people saying: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I keep procrastinating.”
My question is: “Do you know thy time?”
If you don’t measure your time, it’s tough to stop procrastination or improve your productivity. Because if you want to manage your time better, you have to know where it goes first.
Your memory is not sufficient. If I asked you what you were doing exactly one week ago at this time, would you have an answer? There you go.
How do you know your time? Keep an activity log.
Before I even have a real session with clients, I often ask them to keep an activity log for two weeks. An activity log is exactly what you imagine — an hour by hour record of what you’re doing throughout the day.
The specific method you use for your activity log doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you want to keep a record for at least two weeks. Preferably, you want a whole month of recorded activities.
I just keep a pen and a notepad on my desk and every hour I write down the time and what I’ve done during the past hour. It’s important to keep the notebook visible, so you don’t forget.
Step 2: Identify The Non-Productive Work
This step is actually very simple. I just have one question for you:
“Go through all the recurring activities in your log one by one. What would happen if you would stop doing them?”
If the answer is: “All hell breaks loose.” Don’t change anything.
But if your answer is: “Nothing would happen.” You’ve hit gold.
We all do activities that have ZERO return. I call those activities time-wasters.
Step 3: Eliminate The Time-Wasters
Boom. That’s how you stop wasting time. Know where your time goes. Identify the critical tasks from the trivial tasks in your life. And cut the trivial, time-wasting, tasks.
“That simple?” Yes.
If you want to be a super-effective person, you regularly keep a log. You don’t have to keep a log for 365 days a year.
Instead, do two stretches of two-three weeks a year. That’s enough to keep track of your time and identify new time-wasters.
Also, the additional benefit of such a simple exercise is that it forces you to think about your daily routine.
Often, we start time-wasting activities, and they become habits. And if you don’t become aware of the pointless behavior, it’s difficult to break those bad habits.
I’ve found this exercise to be one of the most powerful things to stop wasting time.
Start now. Your activity log probably looks something like this:
- (insert time) — Read Darius Foroux’s article about keeping a time-log and started my own time-log.
- (insert time) — Turned off my phone and got back to (whatever you were working on).
- (insert time) — Browsed the news, Facebook, Instagram. And watched YouTube videos. (Be honest with yourself. Shit happens).
- (insert time) — responded to emails.
Great. I’m happy to see that you started. Now keep going for another two weeks.