We’ve all wasted time. But sometimes, we waste a bit too much time. The other day I watched a Skip & Shannon video on YouTube (a sports show mostly about the NBA and NFL), and then, I watched another video about the NBA. I watched the first video around 10 pm.
The next time I looked at the clock, it was about 12:15 am. Wait, what? More than 2 hours on my tablet? What happened? Well, wasting time. That’s what happened.
When you do it occasionally in your free time, it’s no big deal. But there are many people who waste time during the day at work. A while back, I did a study and found that at least 88% of the workforce admits to procrastinating for at least one hour on a typical workday.1Source:Procrastination study
When we don’t make any meaningful progress, we feel like crap. We know we’ve wasted precious time and it can demotivate us from doing better. It becomes a negative downward cycle. And before you know it, you feel like you’re wasting all your time.
How can you break that cycle? How can you get back into a productive flow? Here are three things you can do.
Let go of metrics
We give ourselves a hard time when we focus too much on the outcome of an activity. Let’s say you wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “I should run 10K today because I haven’t exercised in weeks.”
This doesn’t help with motivation. First, imagining yourself running a tiring distance can demotivate you. It also encourages procrastination (“I feel too tired right now. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow”). Also, if you don’t hit your metric, say, you only finished 8K before giving up, you’ll only feel bad about yourself.
The better solution? Just say, “I’m going to exercise today.” Period. No metrics. Maybe you’ll walk 3 kilometers and that’s it. This is fine. You can walk/run again tomorrow.
The key is to do something you can easily sustain. Just show up and keep showing up.
It’s very corny and obvious advice, but there’s a reason people often talk about showing up.
Enjoy the process
It’s easy to fantasize about achieving goals. When we try to write a book or start an online business, we imagine getting lots of sales in a few months. We imagine getting rich, and being successful. It’s focused on the outcome. But when we start anything valuable, it requires constant work. It’s all about the process.
Keep it small. Writing a book? Show up and write one sentence. Usually, you’ll write more than just one sentence. Then keep writing. Building a business? Get one customer. Enjoy the process and don’t focus too much on future outcomes.
As Marcus Aurelius said in Meditations;
“Enjoyment means doing as much of what your nature requires as you can. And you can do that anywhere. Keep in mind the ease with which logos is carried through all things. That’s all you need.”
You can achieve anything in life if you just focus on one thing. That’s a hard lesson I wish I learned much earlier. I used to try to do too many things at once.
We get easily distracted and we pursue new things before we finish our existing goals.
A while ago, I put more focus on improving my YouTube channel. I made a couple of new videos and edited and uploaded them.
It went fine, and people seemed to enjoy them. But it’s not something I want to do long-term. I thought it was a nice way to get more traffic. That’s not a good reason to pursue something.
Whenever I feel the urge to do too many things, I rely on the Stoic philosopher Epictetus’ advice:
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals, not under my control, and which have to do with the choice I actually control.”
The bulk of my audience is made up of readers. A YouTube channel is nice, but not essential. I’d rather focus on writing articles and books.
A contingency for messing up
There are days when we’re not productive. That’s because we’re not robots. Sometimes, we’ll skip our workout because something important gets in the way. Or we get sick and couldn’t work for weeks.
There’s no point guilting ourselves over an unproductive phase. It’s not the end of the world. It’s only bad when you consistently skip important things.
To avoid that, I rely on a productivity system. With a system, I don’t always have to rely on my own willpower. I just let my system help me get me back on track and begin again.
When it comes to habits, an all-or-nothing mentality doesn’t help. Too many people take things to the extreme. They need to be perfect otherwise, it’s not worth it.
What type of thinking is that? Life is long! If you wasted time today, recoup, focus on the present, and aspire to be your most productive self as of NOW.