Does this scenario sound familiar? You’ve finished an exhausting day of work, with 10-12 hours under your belt – and you still haven’t finished your projects. It’s wildly unsatisfying: All that hard work, with none of the dopamine rush you get from meeting goals. Not to mention, you’re even more stressed than at the beginning of the day, with an ever-growing list of unfinished tasks. The culprit? Time sinks.
Somewhere along your work day, you got held up, distracted, or pulled into an unproductive activity that wasted your precious time and energy. Now you have a list of unfinished projects that make you more stressed. For freelancers, solopreneurs, and entrepreneurs, this kind of day is pretty much unacceptable. Unless you can stay on top of the ball, you’ll fall behind in income, future growth, and overall excellence.
The good news? You can learn to eliminate time sinks and unfinished projects with just a couple simple strategies on Timing.
In this article, we’ll look at those strategies…as well as a big-picture overview of why time sinks are so destructive, and how to reframe your mindset to make you a more focused, productive worker.
Wasted Time = Wasted Energy & Effort
The average worker worldwide wastes 17 hours out of 45 hours per week. If you think you might be on the “better end” of that spectrum, you still may be wasting hours per week that represent lost income and worse: lost energy and lost creativity.
Why Time Sinks Kill Your “Flow”
Below we’ll examine common time sinks that may be preventing you from doing your best work. But first, let’s talk about why unproductive activity is so damaging: Namely, how it kills that deep state of focus and work called “flow.”
At Timing, we’ve talked about flow in the past, and with good reason. Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who discovered that people experience optimal satisfaction when they’re totally immersed in a single activity that requires them to be laser-focused and gives them a sense of fulfillment.
Flow is basically where you want to be when you’re seeking to accomplish your best work.Time sinks interrupt a state of focus that allows you to accomplish excellent work at optimal speeds. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, time sinks kill flow in a heartbeat. Time sinks interrupt a state of focus that allows you to accomplish excellent work at optimal speeds. They cause you to become distracted and stressed. And they reframe your sense of purpose at work, leaving you feeling scrambled and disoriented.
Why Time Sinks Make You More Stressed
There are two kinds of stress: The “good kind” that can motivate you to finish your task at hand with diligence, and the “bad kind” that causes you to cut corners, make mistakes, and feel overwhelmed.
Time sinks bring on a “bad” sense of stress by causing you to fall behind in your workload, and lose a sense of control over your own schedule. They can even initiate a vicious cycle of increased stress and decreased ability to be productive: Ultimately taking down your work day… and your well-being.
Why Time Sinks Prevent You From Big-Picture Success
Time sinks aren’t just a waste of your time; they waste your reservoirs of creative focus and ability, and ultimately prevent you from reaching your professional potential.
When you’re unable to remain in control of your own work day and schedule, you aren’t able to think outside of the box, innovate, and create productive new systems and strategies. In short, you’re surviving, not thriving.
What’s Sinking Your Time?
Now that you know why time sinks are so damaging to your state of focus, your workload, and even your career, let’s look at a few common culprits of “time robbery.”
Unimportant activities are dangerous because they masquerade as “important.” Think of checking your email when you don’t need to; researching a topic “for work” that isn’t really relevant; or using an outdated system or workflow that could be done much more quickly and efficiently. These are all activities that suck up your time and effort without much return.
Distractions are the “classic” time sinks that are quite obviously a waste of your focus at work: YouTube videos, social media feeds, a drawn-out text messaging conversation.
At Timing, we believe in taking breaks, but be strategic about when you allow yourself to take a break and check your Instagram feed. Otherwise, the mini “breaks” becoming a string of distractions that prevent you from finishing your projects.
Finally, old-fashioned “spacing out” can take you out of a zone of focus and productivity, leaving you scratching your head as to why you’ve only written 100 words in one hour or how you’ve spent three hours researching PM systems.
Staying on task isn’t easy, especially when you may have your personal life, the news, or a global pandemic on your mind. That’s why it’s so critical to be prepared with strategies and hacks for eliminating the time sink of simply zoning out.
Eliminating Time Sinks & Unfinished Projects with Timing
As mentioned above, you’ve got to be strategic about eliminating time sinks and unfinished projects from your work day. Simply telling yourself to focus or finish your work isn’t enough; you need tools and insights to help you achieve success.
In the next section, we’ll take a look at strategies you can use on Timing to help you nail your goals and finish your days feeling accomplished and on-target.
Identify Gaps in Your Timeline
If you use Timing, then you already know about the personal timeline in your “Review” tab, which gives you a detailed breakdown of how you’re using your time on an hour-by-hour basis.
While your timeline is useful for a number of different reasons (creating tasks, organizing your work by category, checking your schedule), it gives you the most insight when it comes to identifying gaps or distractions.
On days when you’ve stayed laser-focused on your task at hand, your timeline should include a small number of long color-coded blocks, indicating that you’ve been performing a single task for a sustained amount of time. However, on days when you’ve been roped into time sinks, your timeline will look sporadic – a series of small blocks with plenty of gray space in between, indicating non-activity on your laptop.
Checking your timeline is an easy visual way to identify how well you’re currently avoiding time sinks. If you’re not doing so great, then keep reading to learn how we harness the power of reviewing and goal-setting.
Review What You’ve Accomplished
Now, for the second layer of accountability: Reviewing what you’ve accomplished in a given day.
When you finish the day and wonder why you didn’t finish your projects – though you spent 10 hours on your laptop – you’ll want to know what went wrong, and when.
Again, your “Review” tab will come in handy here. Because Timing automatically tracks your activity across specific apps, systems, documents, and URLs, you’ll be able to see exactly how many hours/minutes you spent on each activity. So, if you spent over 2 hours in your inbox, you’ll know why you weren’t able to nail the two large projects you had planned to accomplish.
If you’re organized and have created categories for each project or client involved in your work, you’ll see exactly how much time was allocated to specific projects. For example, if you planned to focus on Client X, but instead you got sucked into an urgent issue with Client Y, you’ll know why you didn’t succeed at your initial goal.
Reviewing your time usage doesn’t fix the problem of time sinks on its own, but it does give you the insight you need to know where you got distracted – and how you might be proactive about preventing the same from happening in the future.
If you’d like to try Timing for a free 14-day trial, click here.
Finally, the Art of Prioritization
Eliminating time sinks and unfinished projects is ultimately about mastering the art of prioritization.
In the 1960s, former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower spoke about the power of prioritization, knowing that too often, we get caught up in tasks that seem “urgent” but that really waste our time. Dwight’s approach to productivity has been summed up in the so-called Eisenhower Matrix – a system for dividing tasks into 4 categories: important and non-urgent, important and urgent, unimportant and urgent, and unimportant and non-urgent.
Approaching your work day with this in mind, you can learn to eliminate time sinks (i.e. tasks that are unimportant and non-urgent) and plan for tasks that are important but non-urgent in the future. The result? You manage your own schedule; your schedule doesn’t manage you – and in turn, you become a more empowered and successful freelancer or business owner. Good luck!