10 Time-Savers That Aren’t Saving You Anything

10 Time-Savers That Aren’t Saving You Anything

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Efficiently mapping out your errands. Stop running errands. Spend the extra money getting things delivered. Your time is valuable.
  11. 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.

One question James hears all the time is, "How do you do so much in a week, James??" She swears by 168 Hours - and will be the first to recommend you get your copy today.

Want to go hardcore? Add on a copy of another of James' fave books, No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy.

You'll get more done - AND get maximum time value for every minute.

Post by Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam is the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career without Paying Your Dues. She’s also one of those people who actually does what she loves to do (most of the time). Take a page from her book and visit www.my168hours.com (just click the clock to read her blog) to learn more time-saving tips and tricks.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Oh, brutal. But true. I don’t own a smart phone or Tivo (heck, we don’t even have cable, Netflix entertains just fine) and I can tell you it’s not made a bit of difference. I’ll go out on a limb with those 10-minute workouts. They can be brutal (in a different way), if you’ve been sitting in front of a computer for hours. Great post!

  2. Laura
    This is a great post – and it’s the perfect no-nonsense guide to cutting out time-wasting activities. Many of your observations are spot on, and highly relevant to all business owners – myself included. The intern point is a key one, and I have found that it is better to recruit skilled staff for specific deadline-driven projects – and work with interns when there is time and energy to spare to impart knowledge.

  3. C’mon, a few of these are WAY over simplified. Don’t watch TV? Seriously? I limit the amount of time that I spend watching the boob-tube, and my DVR helps me achieve this by recording shows that I want to watch, thereby allowing me to watch when I want.

    Pre-scheduled Tweets are a life saver. I can put together a few of these to go out during the day when I’m going to be my busiest, or won’t have access to Twitter. Of course, supplementing these with live tweets when possible is a must for interaction.

    Multi-tasking, to a point, is a good thing, after all, most conference calls are ones that I didn’t initiate. And if I’m able to do a quick wipe of my email in a lull, I say, “why not?”

    And for apps, what you’re really saying is to not mess with BS apps that make farting noises. Apps that help me be productive are a must. Bottom line.

    • Heh, don’t watch TV. Seriously. I don’t, and I spend my time on activities, hobbies and tasks that I find far more fulfilling and productive. When you watch TV, you really aren’t *doing* anything, or moving yourself closer towards goals you want to achieve in life.

      Then again, everyone needs downtime – I read a book. You watch TV. It’s all good.

      • I’m with you… I end up heading to the bookstore and picking up something new to read.

      • The only time I watch tv is when I need to work on a project (crochet or cross-stitch). I can’t just sit and watch tv. Great article!

        • I’m also with the idea on minimizing watching t.v. I’ve seen people who tends to gets lazy because of this not so helpful activity. I’m not even sure if it’s called an activity.Or maybe its a hobby. But anyway, it’s also not for me because I do much prefer to read an inspiring book or just browse around the Internet. However, there are also people I know that watching tv allows them to relax. That’s their purpose. Nonetheless, too much of it wouldn’t be good anymore.

          Oh by the way, I watch tv only to watch movies on dvd. 😉

          Cheers! 🙂

  4. Ronald Sieber says:

    Well-written and incisive tips, Laura!

    As seen from a sample of comments, some of your readers STILL don’t get it. Oh, how we rationalize our meaningful activities!

    Busy is our biggest thief, and simplifying our lives opens up the big door to what’s important for happiness and success. Like time with your family and time for creative thinking, as you wrote.

    Thanks for the dope slap, Laura. I needed it, and I’m turning this computer off right now!


  5. Couldn’t agree with you more, Laura! Thanks for keeping it simple, to the point, and useful (didn’t take much time to read this, get the message, and move on – perfect!). Of course, here I am “wasting” time by commenting …

  6. Oh yes oh yes OH YES.
    The one that’s missing – can’t wean yourself off doing the time wasting?
    Get a life or business coach to help you set priorities and hold you accountable to them.

  7. Laura!

    I love this!

    I’ve gotten into the very bad habit of taking my iPhone with me wherever I go – even the bathroom! LOL.

    This summer, I’m really going to work on #3 and #6.

    Thank you SO much!

  8. Fun post! The only thing that will save us time is to return to a simple life focused on what we love to do. We waste time because we’re not allowing ourselves to live the life we want, so we get back at whomever by disobeying and doing all sorts of silly things.

    thx, g.

  9. Great reminders to focus on what you WANT to do.

  10. My biggest time wasters:

    1) Trying to look productive when I’m actually bored and have nothing to do. I sit around clicking pretty aimlessly instead of picking a productive task and tackling it!

    2) Trying to figure out what to eat at night. Then after deciding, trying to get everything together. It’s MUCH more efficient and quick (and cheaper!) when you use a meal plan. I’m working on it!

    • @James – I’m working on the meal plan thing too. Well, maybe not a plan, but always having the ingredients for 3 dinners that I actually like on hand. That way, I can just choose one. The former is less of a problem now that I’m not in an office. I’ve always found it funny that it is socially acceptable to stare at your computer and click between websites doing NOTHING but not OK to put your head down and nap.

      • That’s cute! and funny! 🙂

        Well sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time whenever I do too much social networking…
        As we all notice, that kind of industry is just flooding around. I’ve really been guilty with that for the past few months but thankfully I’ve come to conquer the urge go there and do nonsense. Instead I only go on social networking whenever I have a reasonable purpose and that reason must not be time wasting. 😉


  11. You’ve got it right. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. The danger is when folks allow machines to complicate their lives. Who wants a machine strapped to their body, 24/7? I watched a program that predicted by 2050, some people will choose to have pieces of technology (i.e., cell phones, computers, etc.) implanted in their bodies. Why carry a cell phone when you can have an implant? Good grief!

    With this seemingly hectic maze of technology to wade through, it can be confusing. People imagine that having the latest “toy” will improve their lives. Thing is, the maze is an illusion, because you end up spending all your time nurturing the machine.

    And then folks wonder why they don’t have more time? It’s an illusion, people!

    Thanks for the powerful message. I get it! No TiVo, rarely do I pre-schedule tweets, and I cannot afford to spend all day with email, Twitter, Facebook, forums, etc. I have a business to run. Not to say that social media isn’t cool, because it is. Heck, without the internet, I’d be working in an office somewhere, for someone else, instead of running a business out of my home. At the end of the day, it all boils down to relationships. Marketing hasn’t changed one bit, regardless of what online marketers want you to believe. People want to feel good, they want value. They want an experience. When you spend money to save time, what kind of experience are you really getting? Are you padding the pockets of technology execs at the expense of your family and friends?

    It also frightens me that marketers for the big corporations are pushing for more online buzz about their products. Reports are saying that more and more people influence each other exclusively online. I repeat: social media is cool, and certainly has its place, but what is happening to face to face interaction? Don’t let marketers plant too many seeds and influence how you spend your time. CHOOSE WISELY.

    It’s all about perspective. If you want to be online for inordinate amounts of time or madly dash about, playing with your smart phone, be my guest. Just don’t gripe about how little time you have. Or the lack of real people in your lives, and how your relationships suffer. 😉

    What’s happening to love, giving back, and helping others? Aren’t the people in our lives the greatest asset?

  12. Great post! I never would have thought about the last one, to be honest, since I am often turned off of having stuff delivered by the thought of the high delivery prices. But it’s pretty interesting to see that those small biz owners have nothing in common BUT having stuff delivered, and something that will make me think twice next time I have to face the horrible lines (and horrible people) at the grocery store…

    • If a $6 delivery fee saves you an hour, it is likely worth it… unless you are billing less than $10/hour. Which you shouldn’t be. Time has an opportunity cost — something we often forget in our desire to save cash.

  13. The TiVo point is a false comparison. Of course TiVo doesn’t save time compared with not watching TV at all. However, compared with ordinary TV watching it does save time — not just in terms of the commercials, but because it gets you into the habit of deliberately setting out to watch specific shows, rather than passively flicking the TV on and watching whatever is on, just to fill time.

    • @John- well, yes and no. You can watch a 30 minute show in 22 minutes, true, and on your own schedule. BUT, I noticed this with my TiVo: In the past, I never would have watched day time TV shows because I was, you know, working. With the TiVo, these suddenly all became a possibility. It only takes one additional 22 minute show to drown out the saved commercials on three shows you would have watched anyway. Also, when we had to watch TV at certain times, we sometimes missed shows because we had lives we were living (going to events, etc.) Now, just because you miss a show doesn’t mean you can’t still watch it. So we do…

  14. Ouch, how am I going to get those boot marks off my back? Laura, I admire the blunt “This is a waste of time, why do it” delivery of your message. I have to push back some on Tivo, though—I’m not much of a network TV watcher (though it’s like eating ice cream, I simply must now and then), but it’s great for taping movies, pre-selected for specific actor and other factors, where you let the device do the searching/recording for you.

    And sometimes nurturing yourself IS just to bathe in the empty-calorie bliss of Bogart and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy. But from now on, I’ll watch while I’m peddling the exercise bike too. Maybe.

    Thanks, good stuff.

  15. I’ll admit I love Tivo for those shows I do watch, since I don’t lose time to commercials. But I don’t own a smart phone precisely because I’d waste too much time goofing off with it. I like avoiding my time wasting temptations. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

    And where I can, I assign the chores to the kids. They have to learn to do them some time.

    • @Stephanie: Love it — outsourcing chores to kids is a great idea. I am working on it (the oldest is 4, so it may be a bit)

      • Yes, for you it probably will still take more time than it saves. However, I can attest that it IS worth it. Mine are 21, 16, 13 and 8. Oldest is living on his own, the next two each cook dinner twice a week. The baby is…well, I’ma little cliche, so I need to work with her still. 😉

  16. G’Day Laura,
    Good stuff. I had a business associate once who thought multitasking was just so cool. He was so busy doing so many things at the same time that he never got anything done.

    But we’re mere humans. We need time to play with our toys. It’s when we convince ourselves that the toys are indispensable that we get into real trouble.

    Make sure you have fun.



  17. Laura, your title is what got me to read this post—it’s a great example of taking a popular topic, adding a twist, and saying something completely fresh. Thank you!

  18. I think of all of this in terms of achieving a life balance. I approach each day with a set of tasks and goals in mind. I try and cut distractions (limit email, phone, social, etc.) until I reach my targets and I know that I’ve moved the needle forward. I don’t need tools and apps to help me cut the clutter, I just need to do that myself by focusing, period.

    Someone once said to me, the formula for success is:

    1.) Clear Goals,
    2.) Hard Work,
    3.) Unwavering Focus

    I try and live by these daily 🙂

  19. I’m 100% on the same page with what you’re suggesting.

    – organizing digital assets – why bother? Especially as storage capacity is almost NEVER an issue. A friend proudly tweeted that she had spent the weekend and cleaned out her iphotos. Seriously?

    – the smart phone – I don’t have one for the same reason I don’t have a wii. I don’t need extra temptation to putz around in my life. I’m a SAHM with 2 little guys. I don’t need to model for them that life is all about staring at a screen every second I possibly can.

    – sitter = date. I can’t tell you how often friends will hire somebody to play with their kids so that they can catch up on house chores. We’ve simply decided to let 90% of the house chores go undone. It’s amazing how little you REALLY need to do to keep a house running smoothly if you’re willing to let little things go.

    – exercise is a priority. For two reasons – I get cranky when I don’t. And again, I like to model for my kids that this is something that is really important.

    Nicely put together – I’m right there with you!

  20. A little to over simplified for me. It’s a matter of choosing what is important and do that first. Technology can be a time-saver if used right. In my downtime TiVo is just fine. I find that Netflix may sit on the shelf for a while if I’m busy, so I recently downgraded my subscription. Why pay for something that’s just sitting there?

    Email organizers are a gem if you get tons of email. Mine organizes 99% of what I receive. Social media can be a waste. But it can be used wisely as well. I find much of my work through the use of Twitter. It keeps me in the loop with conventions I want to attend for work or that I may have missed because, let’s face it, you can’t go to everything. I also find bargains on travel and hotels rather quickly by using social media.

    And errand mapping…well, I agree there. A simple “to do” list works best for me.

  21. Rebecca says:

    Those persons, such as myself, who are taking the time to read this and/or comment on it are WASTING TIME!!! GET BACK TO WORK, PEOPLE!!! (Just a thought…)

  22. Loved this post for two reasons: 1) it made me feel like I’m not crazy (I’ve been fighting a zero inbox system at work for 2 years with the argument that it doesn’t save me time) and 2) the author: I just got Laura’s book from Amazon, and this makes me even more excited to read it. Thank you!

  23. My sides ached from laughing. Most of your points are very correct. Infact, your blog is very magnetic. I found myself reading post after post after following your link from copyblogger. Keep up the good work.

  24. Haha, makes sense… and I wonder how I can read all my 90++ emails everyday in less than an hour. I think you’re right about the multi-tasking stuff, as in how can you do two or more things better at the same time, when we can only give our 100% focus on a single task ( unless you have two sets of brains, eight hands, two pairs of eyes and so on.. ) I’m loving your no-nonsense tips here. So, what do you think of buying an iPad for productivity? Just curious to read your answer.

  25. Thanks for the suggestions. I think I will try the grocery delivery. In addition to saving money buying things on impulse, it will seriously save me a ton of time wandering the aisles and going to to different stores to find the items I want.

  26. Hi

    I feel like I just got hit on the face. Just kidding!

    Wow! This is another eye-opener for all business folks out there. Oh well even for regular people. We have to remember that time is precious. They say it’s even gold! And to plainly say it, we have to use our time wisely. My cousin once told me that there is not such thing as time management, instead it’s more of what we have to call as activities management. He told me that I just have to learn how to manage my activities for the day so to be able to make time for important matters.

    Indeed we can always “make time” for everything.

    Thanks Laura! Super cool post!


  27. Thats a great “myth buster” about time savers!!!

    I have been trying to avoid all distractions by simplifying my life. Been reading ZenHabits for a while and now my life has improved a lot.

    Most of my learning time is focused on building my business rather than trying to save time and going that extra mile. If you want to outsource your business since you do not like it, why are you doing it in the first place?

  28. Nice list. I agree, it’s best to skip the TV. One lady tried to sell us her satellite dish. 200+ channels, she said. All in English. You won’t get bored. Listening to her, I tried to remember the last time I watched live TV. I couldn’t. I also tried to remember the last time I was bored. I couldn’t either.

    My time savers:

    – Movies / TV shows off iTunes. Having to pay makes me really select what I watch.

    – No email archiving. I used to store important emails in separate folders, taking tons of time to sort. Now I just dump them all into one folder. Saves hours.

    – Scanning the 2 top lines of emails and ignoring those where I’m on CC “for info”. One day I saw my inbox had 2,000+ emails which I decided not to answer (I’d done all those where I was in the “to” list). Feeling so very guilty, I spent 2 days reading & answering. Then I looked into my outbox: I answered exactly 5 emails out of 2,000. Back to ignoring them!

    – Household help. She’s a godsend.

    – Lunch by myself. By taking a sandwich and eating my lunch alone, I wrote a book. No, seriously. I’m publishing it now.


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