5 Sneaky Time Drains (And How to Avoid Them) [the decorative background photo shows a notebook, a pen, a cup of coffee, a few sprigs of lavender, and a collection of gold paperclips]

Five Sneaky Time Drains (And How to Avoid Them)

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of the Not-To-Do List.

Deciding what you’re not going to spend time on is every bit as important as deciding what you are going to spend time on.

What I’ve found, though, is that the most important Not-To-Do’s are the ones that affect how I feel, more than what I do.

These are the things that can derail entire days without me even realizing it.

Do any of these need to go on your Not-To-Do List?

1. Self Doubt

I know, I know. Saying not to doubt yourself is a little like saying not to worry–much easier said than done. So, what do we do about it?

Questions have a powerful way of re-directing focus, so if you find yourself asking “what if” and questioning whether you have what it takes, turn those questions around on purpose.

What if it goes right? What would the impact be? How would you grow? Is there anything you can learn now that will help you?

2. Second-Guessing

The world is so noisy. There is so much advice flying at us from every direction, and plenty of pressure inside and out. Especially when you pair it with self-doubt, it’s natural to second-guess your decisions, even when they were well-thought-out, intentional decisions.

If you find yourself spinning your wheels second-guessing, ask yourself:

To the extent that you can control, are the things on your To-Do List moving you toward the goals and priorities you’ve already decided are important?

If you’ve slipped out of alignment, take this opportunity to re-focus. Otherwise, try to find one very practical way to move forward today.

And for the things that simply need to be done, can you give yourself some grace? Here’s a blog post that may help.

3. Mindless Scrolling

This category represents anything you reach for when things get a little too real, messy, or unknown. For me, it’s mindless scrolling on social media, or eating when I’m not even hungry. It could be something completely different for you.

Checking e-mails is a common one, and it’s sneaky, because it seems so productive, but it’s often the easier thing we reach for when we have time that could go toward our most important work.

If you find yourself wanting to tap out, set a timer for 20 minutes and give your most important task your full attention for that 20 minutes. Most likely, you’ll want to keep going because you’ll finally have some momentum, which feels good.

To the extent that you can control, are the things on your To-Do List moving you toward the goals and priorities you've already decided are important?

But if not, don’t force it! Grinding away at something for hours and having nothing to show for it because you just couldn’t get going is demoralizing. Instead, thank yourself for giving 20 solid minutes of effort and then ask:

What is the next-best way you can use this time?

And intentionally re-direct.

4. Proving

For years, I worked with someone who experienced a very public demotion, and they turned to finding fault with everyone and everything around them as a way of deflecting. I was one of their favorite targets, because I’d been put in charge of one of their former teams. Our results spoke for themselves, and yet I wasted so much time trying to prove things that no one else was asking me to prove. Sometimes I was trying to prove things to him, sometimes just to myself, but nothing worthwhile came out of any of it.

Is there anything you wish others knew indisputably about you? Is there anything you wish you could believe about yourself? Can you accept that it’s all open for interpretation?

I love this quote from Katie Den Ouden, and find it a perfect mediation in these moments:

“There is nothing to prove. There is no one to impress… you aren’t too much or not enough of anything.” 

5. Comparing

It’s so easy to slip into comparison mode. A quick tap on your phone’s screen, a bit of news about a friend, or a harmless sentence in an e-mail can trigger feelings of comparison or jealousy. Sometimes, dealing with these things takes focused time and attention. But what about if it’s just a quick pang of comparison as you go about your day, and you aren’t able to give it time or attention right now? Here’s a question to re-direct your focus:

How can you grow today?

Look for one small step you can take in the direction of growth. Frankly, I think the very act of steering your attention away from comparison is growth worth celebrating!

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