How much time have you wasted today? Unless you’re a hyper-efficient cyborg, probably more than a little bit.
While it’s neither possible nor desirable to “optimize” every minute of our days, we could all use our time more efficiently. One overlooked way to do this is to identify ways you’re wasting time without realizing it.
Removing just one or two of these time-wasting activities from your day can free up time for more meaningful pursuits. Read on to discover the ways you didn’t realize you were wasting time (and what to do instead).
What Does It Mean to “Waste Time”?
Before I get into the specific suggestions, I want to clarify that “wasting time” is subjective. One person’s time waster might be another’s favorite leisure activity.
I’m certainly not here to tell you how you should spend your time. Rather, I want to help you spend as much time as possible on meaningful and enjoyable pursuits. So think of this article as a guide to spending less time on activities that don’t enrich your life.
With that said, here are seven hidden ways you might be wasting time:
Grocery stores are not designed with efficiency in mind. Indeed, the layout of a grocery store is deliberately designed to confuse you and make you buy items you don’t need.
Add to this the throngs of other confused patrons, plus the time you need to drive to and from the store, and you can start to see what a waste of time grocery shopping is.
Instead, we suggest either grocery delivery or grocery pickup.
Grocery delivery saves the most time, but it does come at an extra cost. On this front, we recommend Instacart or Amazon Fresh.
Instacart charges a yearly subscription in exchange for free delivery, though you can often get this subscription fee waived or reduced through an introductory deal.
Amazon Fresh delivery is free if you have a Prime membership, though you should still tip your delivery driver.
If you don’t want to pay the extra fees for delivery (or you don’t live in an area where grocery delivery is available), you can likely still do grocery pickup.
With this method, you order your groceries online in advance and then pick them up in the store parking lot. While you still have to drive to the store, it saves time compared to in-store shopping.
Note: If you enjoy in-person grocery shopping, don’t let me stop you! But if you dread wandering the store aisles in search of mustard, delivery and pickup are great alternatives.
Cooking Every Meal from Scratch
I love cooking. But just because I love it, that doesn’t mean I want to spend hours doing it each day. If you feel the same, then I’m pleased to tell you there are a few things you can do to spend less time cooking.
First, don’t try a new recipe for every single meal. That can be fun when you have time, but cooking a new dish will take longer than a familiar one.
Instead, I recommend having a few staple dishes that you rotate throughout the week. This way, you can focus on execution instead of learning.
Next, you can cook dishes in bulk. How far you take this concept depends on how much variety you like in your meals. Some people go full meal prep, cooking everything for the week on Sunday and portioning the meals into individual containers.
I like a little more variety myself, so I’ll typically cook enough to have leftovers for two or three additional meals. This means I don’t have to cook every day, but I also get variety throughout the week.
For some great tips on meal prep and bulk cooking, check out this playlist from Pro Home Cooks:
Finally, don’t be ashamed to use pre-chopped ingredients. Sure, the flavor might not be as delicious as if you cut everything from scratch. But in many cases, it’s hard to tell a difference.
Particularly if your kitchen knives aren’t the sharpest, pre-chopped ingredients can save you a lot of grunt work.
This might seem heretical coming from a website so focused on learning, but it’s true: finishing books is often a waste of time. Particularly if you’re reading non-fiction, you rarely need to absorb every word of a book to learn something.
Business, self-help, and productivity books are especially full of fluff. Publishers will tell an author that a book “needs” to be at least 250 pages, so the author will write enough material to fill that space. Typically, however, you can get the most important ideas from such a book with some skimming and skipping.
More generally, if you don’t like a book, don’t feel obligated to finish it. The time you spend reading a book you dislike is time you could spend reading a book you enjoy.
“Stop reading what you think you should be reading and just read what you genuinely want to read”
– Austin Kleon, How to read more
Of course, sometimes you have to read a book you don’t enjoy for class or work. But even in that case, you can often spend less time reading the book if you don’t feel obligated to take in every word.
Looking for some books that we think are worth finishing? Check out our essential books for students.
Repetitive Digital Tasks
In theory, computers are supposed to save time. But while it might be more efficient to type a message than to scrawl it with a fountain pen, there are still lots of ways you can waste time using a computer.
Any repetitive task you do on your computer is probably a waste of time. This is especially the case because computers are designed to automate repetitive tasks.
Here are a few examples of areas you can improve:
- Typing the same emails over and over. To save time, use a text expander app such as Espanso or Alfred to quickly type canned responses.
- Doing the same set of actions in Photoshop. Learning how to create Photoshop actions lets you execute a multi-step workflow with the click of a button.
- Using the mouse. Learning common keyboard shortcuts saves time compared to doing things with your mouse. To take things further, create custom keyboard shortcuts for common tasks.
For more ways to speed up repetitive tasks, check out our guide to the top Windows productivity apps.
Exercise is a fantastic use of your time. But the way many people go about exercise is far less efficient. Unaware of how to get a good workout, many people resort to mindlessly jogging on the treadmill or spinning on the elliptical for 30-60 minutes.
If you enjoy exercising in this way, more power to you! But I’m willing to bet that if you exercise on the treadmill or stationary bike, you probably dread it. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can make the time pass faster, but it’s still a boring and time-consuming way to work out.
Instead, I recommend looking into interval training. Explaining this fitness approach in full is beyond the scope of this article.
But the basic premise behind interval training is to spend a short time exercising intensely instead of a long time exercising moderately. By doing this, you can get a vigorous aerobic workout in 10-20 minutes.
We recommend the 7-minute workout to start. If you’re looking for something longer (but still efficient), the 20-minute beginner bodyweight workout from Nerd Fitness is also great.
For more ways to stay fit while having fun, check out our guide to the best fitness apps.
If you’re a motivated, ambitious person, you may have experienced this situation:
- You decide you want to accomplish something.
- You commit to working toward that accomplishment each day.
- You don’t set aside enough time to put in the work.
- You give up on the goal (or you put in a half-hearted effort, never making progress).
- You set a new goal and repeat your past mistakes.
Doing this over and over is a waste of time and mental energy. Unless you can be realistic about how much time it will take you to work towards a goal (and carve out that time in your schedule), you’ll never escape the cycle of planning and quitting.
Take learning a language. If you’re just going to spend 5 minutes a day on Duolingo, you’re never going to achieve fluency. You might learn enough basic vocabulary for a quick trip, but you’re unlikely to progress beyond that.
It’s like thinking that you can do one push-up per day to increase your fitness. Technically, you are “exercising”, but you’re not going to make any progress with such half-hearted effort.
In sum, don’t set goals unless you’re willing to sacrifice time and energy to accomplish them. To do otherwise is a waste of time.
Looking for a way to make measurable, daily progress on your goals? Check out our Second-Brain template:
Refusing to Let Go of Past Commitments
Often, we fail in our goals because we persist in pursuing our past commitments. But as Greg McKeown reminds us in Essentialism, “saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others” (52).
If you want to work on a new goal, it may require you to set aside a current goal. Your time is finite, and it’s often unrealistic to think you can continue progress on a goal while adding a new one to your schedule.
For instance, I recently started learning bass guitar. To ensure I have enough time each day to practice bass, I’ve paused my goal of learning German.
I know that I won’t have enough time to do both activities well. So I’ve made the hard (but essential) choice to focus on bass guitar for the moment.
Your specific goals will differ. But the harsh reality of time management is the same: your goals may be infinite, but your time to accomplish them is finite.
Your Time Is Limited: Use It Carefully
As you can now see, you may be wasting time without realizing it. I hope you can use some of the ideas in this article to spend less time on these undesirable activities and more time on the things that matter to you.
Image Credits: hourglass