If you’re in the career/entrepreneurship world, you’ve probably heard of The 4-Hour Workweek. In short, this book explores the theme of becoming more effective within one’s unique situation. It’s hard to believe but the author, Tim Ferriss, went from making 40K per year on 80 hours per week to 40K per month on 4-hour work weeks.
I must say it’s the best self-help book I’ve come across after The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. What I love about it is that Tim doesn’t give the oh so common advice to quit your job and follow your passions full-time (which, let’s be honest, only a few privileged people get to do) or to pursue entrepreneurship even if you don’t care for it. He speaks to entrepreneurs and employees alike in showing them exactly how to align their actions with their goals. You won’t hear the theoretical cliches like, “Keep your vision in mind.” or “Write a to-do list”. No, it’s packed with actionable strategies. Tim goes into details. He shows numbers. It doesn’t get any realer!
It’s no coincidence that my friend recommended this book to me. I’ve been experimenting with ways to be more effective and use my time more efficiently, and it’s already changing the way I work. It made me realize how I’ve unconsciously been giving away my time and tampering with my own productivity during moments of intense focus. Maybe you’ll relate to them. I’ve summed them up and made a list of the 4 most common ways we waste our time.
On being effective vs. being efficient
Being effective is knowing how to do the things that bring you closer to your goals. Being efficient is performing tasks in the most economical (from both money and time perspective) way. You can be efficient without being effective. That’s the trap most of us tend to fall into. We do things and we do them well just for the sake of staying busy (which is really just a way to avoid doing things we should be doing).
For example, an employee might invent stuff to fill those 8 hours in the office when that won’t help them advance in their career. I’ve been there. I’d take more bathroom or water breaks and go on short walks more often instead of watching a tutorial on how to edit videos with Premiere Pro. Or I’d spend more time organizing my desk when it wasn’t necessary. I was efficient, but not effective. In the example Tim used, same goes for the person who “checks e-mail 30 times a day and develops an elaborate system of folder rules and sophistication techniques for ensuring that each of those 30 brain farts moves as quickly as possible. As Tim says,
It’s good to be efficient at something, but it doesn’t add value if it doesn’t move you closer to your dreams. Being efficient with regard to effectiveness is the key! Of course it’s easier said than done, but it begins with identifying your goals and figuring out the most efficient ways to spend your time. And this involves eliminating unnecessary distractions.
Those things that can be ignored with little or no consequence. These include:
Constantly checking e-mail
We all do it. While we wait on a bus or train or use the computer to write a blog post. We try to distract ourselves with our inbox. Two things are always true: 1. They never stop coming and 2. They pressure us into opening them and add to our to-do list. With emails, it’s hard to distinguish tasks that are not urgent or important from tasks that are important but not urgent. A common scenario is having a to-do list and then forgetting what you had to do because an email came up. We not only waste time entertaining all of them, but also become less effective by doing things that could really be ignored.
Mindlessly surfing the web
When you do anything on the computer, the temptation to open a new window and do something else is strong. You decide to take a quick 5-minute break and go on Facebook to watch a video then find yourself watching a bunch because one automatically plays after the other. Or you get the notification that an old friend liked your picture and in no time, you’re on this person’s profile going down memory lane.
Answering phone calls or text messages
You hear your phone ring and you immediately stop what you’re doing to attend to it. Nothing makes you lose focus faster. More often than not, these can wait and it’s not worth interrupting what you’re doing.
Attending meetings that are unimportant
Meetings are the easiest ways to waste time. Back when I worked at a startup, I would go to our weekly Friday meeting just to avoid work and not do anything. The snacks were also great incentives. You can probably relate to having to attend meetings that will not help you do your job better in any way.
Another thing is going to meet someone to do work when it can be done remotely. For example, I once signed up for this job on Craigslist and the person suggested we met in person. I asked if we could have a Skype call instead and they agreed. It saved time and cost.
Consuming content with no useful applications in your life
I used to delay the launch of my blog by reading articles on Medium. I had convinced myself that they were motivating me when really they were just a way to procrastinate. Sometimes, you have something important to accomplish and that’s when you should beware of what you consume and the people you surround yourself with. It’s trendy to be on top of celebrity news, but what real, practical value does it add if it’s not something that interests you? As Tim recommends, “cultivate selective ignorance” and read what will only help you take action.
10 minutes every hour of checking and responding to e-mail. 30 minutes of scrolling down social media feeds. 45 minute phone calls with your best friend. You may not realize it, but these unnecessary distractions add up. You could use these 2-3 hours for leisure once you successfully complete your most important tasks.