Updated on 10.04.11

Where Did All of My Time Go? A Recipe for Reclaiming Your Time for Success

Trent Hamm

I have, right here at my side, a list of several big projects that I’d love to take on. It’s all stored in a document on my computer. I have a video series that I’m collaborating on with a few people. I have a few standalone websites I’d like to design. I have two different books I’d like to write. The list just goes on and on.

Day after day, though, it feels as though I don’t have the time to actually do any of these things.

I’m fully aware that I have a lot of things on my plate already: running The Simple Dollar (and all of the things that involves) along with being a good husband, being a good parent, and keeping up with household tasks eat up a lot of time.

Sadly, I know where a lot of that time goes. It goes into time sinks like Facebook, Twitter, messageboards, and bookmarking sites like Popurls. It goes into reading some pageturning novel that reads quickly but doesn’t leave me thinking differently about anything at all.

The real trick is figuring out how to overcome these time wasters so I can be more productive with my time. Here’s how I’m doing just that – and you can do the same.

Recognize that you have a problem with a particular time waster. If you find yourself browsing a site out of a lack of “anything better to do,” you likely have a problem. If you find yourself doing something aimless without really even thinking about it, you likely have a problem.

The real question is whether you can admit to yourself that you actually have a problem. Can you stand up to yourself and admit that, yes, this activity or this website is draining away time that I could be using on something worthwhile?

See how much time you actually spend on that time waster. There are a lot of approaches to doing this.

The easiest one – if you spend too much time on the computer wasting time – is a tool like RescueTime, which keeps track of the time you spend on various websites. It runs in the background on your computer, simply tallying the time you spend on the websites you visit and the applications you use. You can easily download reports on this time use – and it can often be shocking.

If you are challenged by an offline distraction, the easiest way to figure out your time lost to that distraction is to keep a careful time diary. Simply make a note of what you’re doing (or what you did) every fifteen minutes or so for a few days. Then, total up the various activities to get a picture of how you’re spending your time.

Often, the time you dump into your time waster of choice is shocking.

Make a list of the things you used to do before the time wasters came along. Since you now know how much time you’re dumping into that time waster, think about the things you used to fill your time with before you started dumping your time into that time waster.

Simply think about your life in the past. What activities did you once enjoy that you don’t seem to have time for any more? Did reading books get bumped out of the picture? What about gardening? Maybe you used to play basketball or go to the gym.

Whatever it was, it’s likely that the time waster you’re now thinking about has replaced that once-good thing in your life. Is that really a net gain?

Also, make a list of the things you could get done without the time waster in your life. This goes hand-in-hand with the above suggestion and, honestly, it pertains much more to me than the above suggestion does. Right now, I’m not bothered by the things I’m used to do. I’m bothered by not having enough time to take care of the ideas I have.

My list of ideas is a huge motivator for figuring out a better approach for managing my time and getting rid of my time wasters.

Give yourself a set time of the day to use the time waster. Often, time wasters do serve a useful purpose when used in moderation. They can help you stay in touch with family and friends or provide a bit of entertainment and education. The challenge appears when they’re not used in moderation.

One effective way of ensuring moderate use of a time waster is to set up a specific time of day to use that time waster. For example, simply make an agreement with yourself to avoid Facebook until after 7 PM or agree to only read a silly novel or watch a sitcom after 8 PM. Suddenly, you have much more available time during the day.

Turn off email and cell phone notifications. Notifications of these kinds simply serve to alert you to relatively unimportant events and suck you right back into the time waster. Turn them off and instead simply keep your use of that time waster to the set time of day you established earlier. (Really, do you need an email telling you that someone you knew in high school just updated their Facebook profile?)

In the end, you’ll find that by eliminating a big time waster in your life, you actually have time to pursue the things that you really value in life.

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  1. S01 says:

    I find I tend to be more prone to wasting time on forum boards or random reading when I’m tired or maybe fatigued would be a better word. After a full day at work, some exercise, cook dinner, clean a little etc I’m fairly tired and it can be really hard to productively use that last 1-3 hours left at the end of the day. Even tried the old nap trick without much luck, best I’ve found is to simply push through the fatigue, once I get started the energy of the activity whatever it is tends to keep me going.
    Although some days all I can do is sit there and stare at a wall :)

  2. krantcents says:

    I believe that even busy people do what they want to do. You set your priorities and determine what is important to you.

  3. Jacque says:

    You can’t be productive 24 hours a day. I think Trent is going way overboard lately into self-help topics and wants to become a self help guru. I would not want to have his outlook on life where reading a pageturning novel or spending time on the phone with my mother is a time waster.

  4. Rachel says:

    Often time wasters are a sign of boredom or fatigue. If you don’t look forward to starting a task, or you have no energy to be productive, then Facebook and mindless websites become more appealing. Part of the solution is to spend more time on things that matter (not always possible, of course) and get plenty of rest.

  5. Kevin says:

    Why does every single second of every single day have to be “productive?” If I want to spend 2 hours watching a mindless popcorn flick that “doesn’t leave me thinking differently about anything,” but had lots of cool explosions and gave my surround sound system a workout, what’s wrong with that?

    Who can really be “on” 24/7 without burning out? We NEED some mindless downtime now and then.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Once you’ve decided which items are just time fillers (or wasters) that you want to tackle, you also will need to prioritize which of the projects you can realistically address in the found time. I always have a long list of items I’d like to do, but know I’ll probably never get to all of them, as the list is perpetually growing.

    Also, I noted in re-reading your post that first you mention reading a book as a time waster, then remembering that one thing you used to do was reading. I, for one, think that reading anything improves you, even if you’re just learning to recognize bad writing or a poorly developed plot/thesis, or finding that you prefer reading more demanding books (& make the necessary change in future selections).

  7. Ray says:


    I don’t think Trent’s saying “watching a movie – BAD”

    I think it’s more like my time waster: failbook. There’s a lot of funny stuff on the internet, and it’s easy to waste 2 hours surfing “nothing” and then you still have your work to do, and no “free time” left to do something fun like watch a movie because you spent your fun time already.

    In my case, I’ve realized I’d rather watch the movie, so I do some work, watch the movie, and try and ignore youtube.

  8. Pearl says:

    #1 addiction was TV: rerun cable shows, movies I’ve seen countless times, shopping networks, reality TV. I quit cable and moved to Netflix; now, although I do have streaming and response DVDs, I choose what to watch and in my opinion, the overall quality of my TV time has gone up. I also have access to superb films (those by Fellini, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, for example) that I did not get via cable. #2 addiction: blog reading. I’ve categorized blogs into day-of-the-week and I rea dthem 2-3 times/weekly, rather than everyday. If I don’t read a blog for 2 weeks, I remove it from the lineup.

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