20 Time & Energy Drains You Can Eliminate
By Leo Babauta
It’s amazing how we can while away our days by doing practically nothing, and feeling busy and stressed while doing it.
And then, at the end of the day, we are so tired we zone out in front of the television or Internet until we’re ready to drop off to sleep.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s possible that you’re the victim of time and energy drains — things in your life that drain away your energy and your time without you really thinking about it. Eliminate those drains, and you’ll find yourself much more productive, much more energetic, much happier. In fact, even if you’re pretty productive already, it’s very likely that you still have time and energy drains that you could eliminate to improve your life.
What are your time and energy drains? It’s different for each person, of course. The best way to find out what your time drains are is to do a little time log. Now, before your eyes glaze over at this idea, I don’t recommend a detailed log, unless you’re good at doing that. For the rest of us, it’s easier to just keep a blank sheet of paper or notebook by your side and just jot down what you’re doing. You don’t need to write down the time or keep track of the minutes — just write down the activity. At the end of the day, look over your list and you’ll see the kind of things that are taking up a lot of your time without giving you much benefit in return.
Energy drains are a little tougher, but if you go over a list of the things in your life, and give it a little thought, you can probably identify some of the things that are draining you unnecessarily and find ways to change your life accordingly.
Some of the most common examples are listed below.
Email. The biggest time drain for many of us. We’re freelancers — we need to do email. But we don’t need to do it all day long. Choose a couple of times a day to process your inbox to empty, and be done with it. Otherwise, email is an endless stream of interruptions, and you can never get anything done.
By this I mean everything on the web that’s not email or chat/IM/Twitter (see next entry) … the blogs, websites and endlessly fun distractions we’re all guilty of … and that drain away our time. I’m all for distractions — at the appropriate time. But when it’s time to buckle down and work, you gotta get rid of this time drain. Disconnect, and get work done.
Related to the above two items, but separated because while it may be a lot of fun, it’s completely unnecessary for most people. Sure, there may be times when an IM session can save loads of back-and-forth emails, but for the most part, it is just chit chat and an unproductive use of your time. And it can end up taking up huge chunks of your time instead of a few minutes a couple of emails would’ve taken. My recommendation: don’t do any of this. I don’t, and it hasn’t hurt me a bit.
Solitaire, sudoku, Internet games, video games … lots of fun, and I’m all for that. But if you are wondering where your day went, when you didn’t really get anything done, it could be this reason. Get rid of the games or block the sites from your browser to free up a lot of time.
Many people spend hours every day watching TV. And yet, our days are so short — why waste our precious hours? If you sleep 8 hours, work 8 hours, and spend another 4-5 getting ready, commuting, doing chores and errands, and eating, you are left with only a few hours each day with which to spend your time. Do you really want to spend it watching reality television? Turn off the tube.
I realize this is not under the control of many people. But if you can possibly get out of meetings, you’ll often find your schedule wide open. That’s a liberating feeling. Most meetings never accomplish anything that couldn’t have been done through email. Get out of them, and get more done.
Your co-worker who wants to chat about baseball or the weather or politics or whatever … he’s eating up your precious time. Give him the hand, and walk away. Well, you’re better off finding more polite ways of stopping these time wasters, and the best is probably to cut them off and say, “I’m trying to finish off an important project … I can give you a minute of my time … what can I do for you?” And keep it to a minute. Just be sure your online sudoku game isn’t showing when you do this.
The phone was invented as a time-saving device. And yet it can interrupt what we’re doing and take up hours of our time. The truth is, most of the time it’s better to communicate through email. Turn off your phone and let it go to voicemail. Create a message that asks people to send you an email if at all possible. Don’t return calls right away. People will get the hint.
What are the tasks you do over and over every day? Is there any way to eliminate or automate them? Can you get someone else to do them? If not, at least group them together and batch process them, so they don’t take up your whole day.
Sometimes it feels like we’re getting a lot of work done, because we’re not doing any of the above time-wasters, but working on actual projects instead. However, there’s a difference between projects that will make a lasting impact, and projects that really mean nothing but take up a lot of your time. Focus on just those projects that actually have a major benefit for you and your company, and that will generate future business or increase your reputation.
A messy desk or house can be very draining. I’ve found that clearing my desk and surroundings, and keeping my house uncluttered, has given me a peace that I would never have suspected before. It’s surprisingly satisfying to have a clear desk. Right now, the only things on my desk are an empty inbox, my monitor and keyboard, a phone, two photos of my family, and my Moleskine notebook. Everything else is completely clear. It’s lovely. I think our surroundings can drain us of more energy than we realize.
Actually, I mentioned co-workers because they’re very common, but any negative people in your life can drain energy without you knowing it. They grate at you, irritate you, drag you down, get you into a negative cycle, and create conflict and anger in your life. It’s impossible to completely get rid of these people, but you should avoid interacting with them as much as possible. And if you can cut them out of your life, even better.
Too many commitments.
Having a jam-packed schedule may make you feel important, but it’s extremely draining. I propose that you take a look at all the commitments in your life — work, personal, civic, etc. — and see which ones drain your time and energy without giving you much joy. Cut them out. It may seem impossible or extremely difficult, but I assure you, it can be done. You just have to learn how to politely but firmly say no. Realize what your time is worth, what your sanity is worth, and protect it. Leave only those few things in your life that really give you joy. Your schedule will be much freer, and so will you.
Have a long list of things to do? All those things piling up can really weigh on your mind. Here’s how to deal with it: First, see which tasks can be eliminated or delegated. Get them off your list. Now eliminate some more. Now choose a couple to do each day — just the really important ones — and using this number see which ones you can do this week (10 at the most). The rest you need to put on a second list (called “Someday/maybe” in GTD) … this is a list that you will take a look at next week, but for now, you’re going to concentrate on only 10 things per week. If you finish those 10 things, by all means, see what else on your second list needs doing, but until then, just focus on what can actually be done this week.
Similar to the negative people in your life, there are times when you have a close relationship with someone — a friend or family member, a partner or other loved one — but it is just not working out. Perhaps there is some form of abuse, or perhaps you just don’t get along. Perhaps that person is holding you back or is too possessive. Address this situation, and if it cannot be fixed, consider getting out of it.
Car/house needs repair.
A common problem that can really drag us down. Appliances need fixing? Car keeps breaking down? Something in your house been broken for months? These problems should be addressed, or they’ll keep bothering you. Set some time each week to deal with at least one of these problems.
Similar to the cluttered surroundings item above, but even worse, in my opinion: this refers to a sink full of dirty dishes, or dirty laundry laying all over the house, or counters or tables that have food on them, or a bathtub with mold growing out of it. This may not be you, at least not to these extremes, but if your house is not clean then it may be draining your energy. I recommend taking a weekend to really get it clean, and then developing a clean-as-you-go habit — wash dishes right away, put clothes away or in the hamper right away, do a load of laundry when you get home, do a quick sweep or vacuum if you notice things getting dusty. A clean house can do wonders for your mood and energy.
Mentioned under the time drains, TV can also drain your energy. Sure, you get home and want to just veg out in front of the TV, because you don’t have any energy left. But actually, if you took a short nap or did a little exercise or took a shower, you might be able to pick that energy up and have a nice time reading a book or spending time with family or fixing that broken doodad that’s been bothering you. Instead, many people sit in front of the TV, which just keeps them lethargic.
Many people don’t realize the effect that greasy, fatty, salty, sugary, fried food has on their bodies — besides just the higher risk of disease and obesity, unhealthy food makes you feel less energetic and can also lead to depression. Try eating healthier food — whole grains, fruits and veggies, nuts and beans, etc. — and you could find that you feel much better. Plus, it helps you slim down if you’re overweight, which can be another way to gain energy. Exercise works great too.
Being in control.
Often we try to control everything around us — our kids, our co-workers, every situation we are in — but the truth is, that’s impossible. Not only that, but it is extremely exhausting. Learn to relinquish control — just let it go! — and you’ll find that you get much less frustrated and feel much calmer and happier.