Busy people are suckers for things that promise to save us time. We assume that our days are so jam-packed that any shortcut will immediately boost our careers to the next level.
But you know what? We’re lying to ourselves. Our problem isn’t a lack of time. It’s that most of us use the time we do have badly. That’s why these “time savers” won’t do much for us at all.
- Nifty systems for organizing your email. Here’s a different question. Why are you spending so much time on email in the first place? If you’ve achieved Inbox Zero at the end of the day, but haven’t changed anything in the world or moved your career toward one of your big goals, you haven’t done anything. You’ve spent your day on the electronic equivalent of moving paper around. Email is not your job. It’s a tool to do your job. Focus on what matters to you first.
- Hiring an intern. An administrative assistant is a wonderful addition to any enterprise, but even highly-skilled assistants take a while to master your business. Expecting a young person — no matter how eager — to master it during a short internship without a massive investment of your time is just inviting disappointment. Don’t spend time to save money. Unless you’re planning on keeping her at least a year, internships are more about teaching than improved efficiency. And if you are planning on keeping someone at least a year, why not pay well and get someone great?
- Taking the smart phone with you everywhere. You tell yourself you can use time in the post office line to return emails, but you’ll probably just be hitting refresh and deleting ads for J.Crew when you could have been using that time to daydream about your next project. You do not need to be available 24/7. Period.
- Most apps. Any time you save by being able to figure out instantly where the nearest Chinese restaurant is located is probably dwarfed by the time you spent finding the app, loading it and managing it among all your other apps.
- Pre-scheduled tweets. I understand the appeal. But you look like a total twit when you’re announcing your giveaway while the rest of the world is talking about Osama bin Laden’s death. Plus, anything that makes Twitter easier makes you spend more time there. And in the context of time management, that’s probably not a good thing.
- Multi-tasking. If that conference call requires so little of your attention that you can return emails at the same time, why are you on it?
- TiVo. TV, when you want it, without the commercials! What could be more efficient? How about not watching TV, and using that time to play with your kids, exercise, read, pray, meditate or volunteer instead?
- Workout DVDs that promise you a complete workout in 10 minutes. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 50 hours and sleep 8 per night (56 per week) this leaves 62 hours for other things. Exercising 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, comes out to a mere 2.5 of those 62 hours. The reason people don’t exercise is not that they can’t find 30 minutes but could find 10. It’s that they don’t want to exercise.
- Hiring a sitter so you can get your chores done. A better idea: hire someone to do your chores, and spend that time with your family.
- Efficiently mapping out your errands. Stop running errands. Spend the extra money getting things delivered. Your time is valuable.
Indeed, last year I wrote about a very small survey of women business owners whose enterprises had crossed the $1 million mark. The only thing they had in common is that they got their groceries delivered — before their businesses were bringing in millions. They simply understood that time spent in line at the grocery store is time not being used to chase the next $50,000 client.
Focus on nurturing your career, nurturing your family and nurturing yourself and you can’t help but be productive — even if you never try a time-saving tip again.