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Time Sinks: A Productivity Black Hole and How To Avoid Them

Time Sinks: A Productivity Black Hole and How To Avoid Them

Update 18th May 2016: Added New Time Management Resource
Update
: Added Link to my free download FlipTimePlan Daily Time Tracker and Planner

You know the drill: You have somewhere to be at a specific time so you make sure that you’re up and out of bed on time and begin to get ready. The next thing you know it’s 5 minutes after the time you should have left and what should have been a reasonably calm commute becomes a frantic rush of clock-watching and trying to get to your destination on time. Sound familiar? You’re not on your own!

What Is A Time Sink?

Simply put, a time sink is something that sucks in your productive time (or energy) causing stress, lateness and procrastination.

A time sink can be anything from spending too long singing to Britney Spears in the shower, getting lost playing Candy Crush whilst on the toilet, making a pot of coffee with freshly ground beans, or just trying to decide what outfit to wear to the the office.

A time sink is, essentially, an activity that takes you away from what you should be doing to achieve your goal.

In the examples above I’ve used things that revolve around getting ready to go out but a time sink can also stop you starting or finishing a project, meeting up with friends or even making a certain meal – the list is practically endless.

How To Spot Your Time Sinks

The best way to find out what’s sucking up your time is to note down the activities you’re doing during the period you’re struggling with, and how long you spend doing each of them. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve underestimated the time you spend on each task.

For example, I was getting up every morning and making a cup of coffee thinking “It only takes 5 minutes so I can have a little lie in”. This usually meant that I ran late and had to forgo my much needed caffeine jolt.

When I actually timed the job from start to finish it was closer to 15 minutes than 5 – 12 minutes 32 seconds to be exact! No wonder I couldn’t figure out why I was running late when I was adamant I’d left enough time to get a coffee, get dressed and get to where I had to be on time. Factor in the 10 minutes I’d take to get my clothes sorted (I’d mentally budgeted 5) and I was setting myself up for a time-keeping disaster – and all of this was ignoring the 10-15 minutes I regularly lost each morning whilst “just quickly checking” social media

Why You Should Be Concerned About Time Sinks

As someone with a reputation for being late a lot (and I mean a lot), figuring out what was taking all of this extra time really opened my eyes as to where I was losing time and what I could do about it.

Being late to meetings, handing in a report after its due date, missing the start of a film, all of these not only reflects badly on you but negatively impacts on those around you as well. If you think back to Stephen Covey’s idea of an Emotional Bank Account, every time we’re late we are making a withdrawal from our emotional bank account with this person forcing us to work harder later in order to build up credit.

As well as these negative effects on others and how you’re perceived it will also affect you both physically and mentally. Feeling like you’ve let people down will put extra stress on you and could cause a whole other host of issues so thinking about what it sucking up your time is very important.

What Can You Do About Time Sinks?

After you’ve noted down the actual time each task that you do before your “late time” look at what each task is, whether it’s totally necessary and how you can improve on it.

For example, in my case I sort my clothes out the night before (saving 10 minutes), Banned myself from social media until a suitable time (saving 15 minutes) and I’ve also bought myself a coffee machine that I can set a timer on so I can wake up to the smell of lovely fresh coffee (saving 12 minutes). Total time saving with these minor tweaks? Over half an hour! That allows me to happily have an extra 10 minutes in bed without worrying, sort my hair out properly (rather than my usual half-arsed attempts!) and catch up on the news headlines on T.V before heading out for the day – neat!

Other tweaks may include changing the order that you do things in. Sometimes there’s a more streamlined process you can use (like showering or shaving the night before), whatever works for you – you ultimately have to live with this system so make sure that firstly you’re happy with it and also that it’s flexible. You don’t want something so rigid that your system is itself a problem.

Tracking Your Time Sinks

There are a variety of ways to track what you’re doing. Whatever method you choose needs to allow easy adding of tasks and times, be flexible and always available.

  • Toggl – This might be more for “Businesses” but could easily be adapted to tracking time sinks
    – Basic Plan is free with additional levels costed at $9,  $18 and $49 (I now use the free version if this app instead of PayMo)
  • PayMo – I’ve used this for time tracking for work and found it quite easy and flexible to use. There’s also an iOS and Android App available too.
    – Standard Plan is $4.95 per user per month (note this app was free at the time of writing)
  • RescueTime – Runs in the background to track time spent in applications or on websites. You’ll need to go for the premium version if you want to track off-line tasks though
    – Basic Plan Free or upgrade for $9 per month
  • ClockSpot – Track your (or employees time) by project. You can clock in via the web, app or phone and as well as time tracking run reports and even generate holiday schedules and payroll reports.
    – Standard Plan costs $15 per month
  • My BasicWeekly Time Plan (PDF or Excel Format)

You can view more information on my free FlipTimePlan Daily Time Planner and Tracker here or download it below:

If you have any suggestions on how to keep track of time sinks, please let us know in the comments.

What Do You Think? What Are Your Time Sinks?

I’ve covered a few of my “problem areas” in this post but what else is there that we need to be aware of? Let us know in the comments.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Time Warp SPL from How It Works Daily

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