A recipe for time management

The real trick is figuring out how to identify and overcome your biggest time wasters so you can be more productive

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    Recognizing your particular time wasters is the first step to good time management.
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I have, right here at my side, a list of several big projects that I’d love to take on. It’s all stored in a document on my computer. I have a video series that I’m collaborating on with a few people. I have a few standalone websites I’d like to design. I have two different books I’d like to write. The list just goes on and on.

Day after day, though, it feels as though I don’t have the time to actually do any of these things.

I’m fully aware that I have a lot of things on my plate already: running The Simple Dollar (and all of the things that involves) along with being a good husband, being a good parent, and keeping up with household tasks eat up a lot of time.

Sadly, I know where a lot of that time goes. It goes into time sinks like Facebook, Twitter, messageboards, and bookmarking sites like Popurls. It goes into reading some pageturning novel that reads quickly but doesn’t leave me thinking differently about anything at all.

The real trick is figuring out how to overcome these time wasters so I can be more productive with my time. Here’s how I’m doing just that – and you can do the same.

Recognize that you have a problem with a particular time waster. If you find yourself browsing a site out of a lack of “anything better to do,” you likely have a problem. If you find yourself doing something aimless without really even thinking about it, you likely have a problem.

The real question is whether you can admit to yourself that you actually have a problem. Can you stand up to yourself and admit that, yes, this activity or this website is draining away time that I could be using on something worthwhile?

See how much time you actually spend on that time waster. There are a lot of approaches to doing this.

The easiest one – if you spend too much time on the computer wasting time – is a tool like RescueTime, which keeps track of the time you spend on various websites. It runs in the background on your computer, simply tallying the time you spend on the websites you visit and the applications you use. You can easily download reports on this time use – and it can often be shocking.

If you are challenged by an offline distraction, the easiest way to figure out your time lost to that distraction is to keep a careful time diary. Simply make a note of what you’re doing (or what you did) every fifteen minutes or so for a few days. Then, total up the various activities to get a picture of how you’re spending your time.

Often, the time you dump into your time waster of choice is shocking.

Make a list of the things you used to do before the time wasters came along. Since you now know how much time you’re dumping into that time waster, think about the things you used to fill your time with before you started dumping your time into that time waster.

Simply think about your life in the past. What activities did you once enjoy that you don’t seem to have time for any more? Did reading books get bumped out of the picture? What about gardening? Maybe you used to play basketball or go to the gym.

Whatever it was, it’s likely that the time waster you’re now thinking about has replaced that once-good thing in your life. Is that really a net gain?

Also, make a list of the things you could get done without the time waster in your life. This goes hand-in-hand with the above suggestion and, honestly, it pertains much more to me than the above suggestion does. Right now, I’m not bothered by the things I’m used to do. I’m bothered by not having enough time to take care of the ideas I have.

My list of ideas is a huge motivator for figuring out a better approach for managing my time and getting rid of my time wasters.

Give yourself a set time of the day to use the time waster. Often, time wasters do serve a useful purpose when used in moderation. They can help you stay in touch with family and friends or provide a bit of entertainment and education. The challenge appears when they’re not used in moderation.

One effective way of ensuring moderate use of a time waster is to set up a specific time of day to use that time waster. For example, simply make an agreement with yourself to avoid Facebook until after 7 PM or agree to only read a silly novel or watch a sitcom after 8 PM. Suddenly, you have much more available time during the day.

Turn off email and cell phone notifications. Notifications of these kinds simply serve to alert you to relatively unimportant events and suck you right back into the time waster. Turn them off and instead simply keep your use of that time waster to the set time of day you established earlier. (Really, do you need an email telling you that someone you knew in high school just updated their Facebook profile?)

In the end, you’ll find that by eliminating a big time waster in your life, you actually have time to pursue the things that you really value in life.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on www.thesimpledollar.com.

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