Time Is Money – What Are We Spending It On?

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in Career

Creative avoidance. It’s an uncommon term used to describe an extremely common practice that most all of us engage in to one degree or another. It’s the time and effort we put into activities that will keep us from doing the ones that are really, really important—the kind that may even change our lives for the better.

If you’re in sales, that could mean that you keep yourself busy at other tasks rather than making income producing sales calls. As a self employed business person, it might mean rearranging your shop or engaging in maintenance emails, rather than working on revenue generating marketing programs. For a manager, it might mean working and reworking budget numbers, rather than developing more cost effective work flows that can improve your budget and maybe get you promoted or hired into at another company for more pay.

No matter what occupation you hold, there are always a multitude of tasks that can keep you away from doing the truly transforming ones.

The “tools” we use to keep us from doing what we know we should

In today’s world we can find an endless stream of activities that might feel productive on some level but are really mostly for entertainment.

Email. A couple of decades ago when you wanted to send a written communication to someone you did it via snail mail, and because it took time to compose, type and mail a letter, doing so was usually reserved for only the most important correspondence. By contrast, email is easy so we use it often. This tends to glorify trivial messages, and we can easily get bogged down responding to messages of little consequence.

Phone calls. Phone calls can be a real time waster and cell phones only magnify the problem by making us accessible where ever we are. Constant phone calls are a real concentration buster.

Texting. If texting is really easy for you, getting addicted isn’t hard. A good texter is rich game for other would-be texters, and you could easily find yourself in social circles with other proficient texters for whom texting is a way of life.

TV. This is the ultimate time filler—there’s always SOMETHING on that we feel compelled to watch. And even if we don’t, we can always find something if we’re truly motivated to avoid doing what’s truly important.

Web surfing. Mitchell Kapor said, “Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” The web is a fantastic information resource, but the enormity of it has the potential to swallow us up—and our time with it.

Computer and video games. These have grown in popularity over the years, and while they aren’t necessarily bad in themselves, when stacked on top of other non-essential time consuming activities, they can finish off what’s left of our limited schedules.

Busy work. We busy ourselves with an endless stream of small jobs that are never the type that improve our station in life. Polishing a tea set, trying to fix a gadget that broke years ago, working to have the best lawn on the street—they can feel like real work, but they can soak up valuable time as well as energy, which could be spent on ventures that actually make a real difference in our lives. Busy work is a sand box saturated with creative avoidance!

Busy work at work

Without much effort we can normally think of time wasting activities we engage in during our off work hours, but with a few substitutions the same possibilities hold true at the office. Phone calls, web surfing, email and texting are typical at work, and while TV and computer and video games may not be, they can easily be replaced by gossip and extended lunches and coffee breaks.

But busy work at work represents a special discussion. If creative avoidance is a problem in our personal lives it can be a career killer on the job. Busy work can easily become that refuge from the real thing.

We all go into our work to, well—work! But all work is not created equal. In most jobs and business capacities, there are a small number of tasks we have that are crucial to the success of the job or business, and a multitude of ones that need to be done but if the truth were told, the ship wouldn’t sink if they weren’t.

Unfortunately, it’s often the latter that gets the lions’ share of our work time. The tasks we need to invest most of our time in are the important-but-not-urgent jobs, the ones that will produce the long term improvement that will lift our careers or businesses.

The electronic media has reconditioned our collective expectations toward instant response, and because of this we often give in to the tyranny of the urgent-but-not-important tasks. Someone always needs us to take care of something, and while it may seem noble to work at solving everyone else’s problems—real or imagined—we create a bigger problem for ourselves by not working on the tasks that will enable us to fully complete our own missions.

Sometimes it can seem as if helping everyone else IS our mission—then we wonder why it’s us getting the pink slip when layoffs hit. Or why it’s our business that fails when others survive.

Hockey legend Bobby Hull was sometimes criticized as being a “floater”, a player who seemed to drift aimlessly through many of his games when he clearly had enormous potential to do more. He brushed off that criticism by saying that he was goal scorer whose time and energy was best reserved for doing what he did best. Chasing pucks in the corners or playing back on defense would not have improved his game, and history records him as one of the best hockey players ever.

I suspect most people who are great at anything have learned this secret. Do what you do best and let others do the rest!

What are we running away from?

Wasting time could be an unconscious way of dealing with a fear of failure, a desire to establish and preserve a low stress routine, a desire to fit in or even just a failure to establish a routine that properly establishes our core purpose as a PRIORITY.

There’s no way to escape the fact that we live in an over-stimulated, fast moving and highly demanding world. If the electronic media have done anything to simplify and improve our lives, they’ve also sped up the pace of everything, forcing us to do more and to do it more quickly. The only ways to counter this and to be effective in the middle of it is to be aware of the magnitude of the interference, to allocate our time jealously, and to be purposeful in our focus on the few but most important tasks we need to complete each day.

Career success, money management, goals and even happiness itself all hang on the time—and the quality of it—that we give to the highest priority tasks we need to accomplish.

It’s been said that we all have the same amount of time in each day—what are you using yours to accomplish? We worry about wasting money, energy and food, but do we worry enough about the time we waste—enough to do something about it? If you could get back a big chunk of the time you’ve wasted in your life, what would you spend it on?

Kevin At Out of Your RutThis post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog OutOfYourRut.com.

( Photo courtesy of HikingArtist )

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenna 2010/07/06 at 3:19 pm

I’m spending my time creating meaningful relationships and protocols and efficiency at work. If I could get a big chunk of time back that I’d previously wasted I would spend it with my friends. Probably just goofing off and wasting more time, but creating great memories, stories and laughter.

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Kevin 2010/07/06 at 5:13 pm

Jenna – So true, not all of the priorities are business or financial in nature, and they’ll be different for everyone. The person who’s been completely consumed by work and career will often see family, friends and personal development as shoulda-been priorities–after the fact.

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Jenna 2010/07/07 at 10:54 am

Yeah. I think it’s an ever refining process of figuring out work / life balance.

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kt 2010/07/07 at 9:27 am

i think the biggest time waster for me is the internet, computer games(on the very rare occasions that i play them) and novels in that order. Each of these things can take up whole days. The sad thing is that i actually like it; particularly the first and last one. Look in the bright side- at least i am not in denial

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Kevin 2010/07/07 at 12:08 pm

kt – It seems that most anything computer related can magically eat up big chunks of time without us being fully aware of it. You start by looking up one thing, and three hours later you know more about the subject than you ever needed or cared to know. The complete freedom of choice plus the interactive nature of it are a time consuming combination.

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kt 2010/07/08 at 7:52 am

@kevin but i have leant so much more over the internet that i did in college because the things keeping me occupied online are things that by nature interest me. Like for instance if one is interested in finance and investment, you can spend all day looking and learning about that stuff. Those that say the internet is evil do not really know how to harness its advantages.

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Kevin 2010/07/08 at 8:52 am

kt – I agree. The internet is a tremendous resource and it has the potential to make us all experts in the areas we choose. Still…it all takes time!

myfinancialobjectives 2010/07/13 at 5:32 pm

I really liked this post. I am fascinated with the concept of time, and how to best manage it. For my, video games are my time suck. I like to get between 1 and 2 hours in at night when I get home from work. If I were to devote this extra time to just some informative reading, I feel that I could really be a lot more knowledgeable, and my blog would be doing a lot better. I guess I just have conditioned myself to *need* that time, bummer.

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kevin 2010/07/14 at 6:43 am

It’s not bad to have activities to de-stress in, but sometimes the stress comes from not doing things we know we should. It’s probably best to have a balance, allocating some time for important tasks that will make a positive difference in life, and those to relax in. If you’re only spending 1-2 hours a day on video games, that doesn’t sound excessive–unless you know there are other things you should be doing.

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Budgeting in the Fun Stuff 2010/07/14 at 11:38 am

I waste my time on tv and looking up stats on my blog. I used to waste even more time, but now I’ve geared that towards my blog so it doesn’t feel wasteful (like reading 25 personal finance blogs a week…that used to be wasting time, now it’s research and getting my blog’s name out there, lol). I still waste time on tv though…I’ve gone from 35 hours or more a week to less than 20 though and I usually multi-task. Woot!

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kevin 2010/07/14 at 6:46 pm

Budgeting – Even 20 hours of TV would be a lot to me. I’m not a big TV watcher–used to be but now it leaves me feeling empty–so even 20 hours would seem more like work than relaxation!

I’m with you on stats and such, I waste too much time on all of that. That’s my busy work at work dilemma. To some degree, I think it’s common for bloggers, even though it’s not entirely productive. It’s kind of like taking your pulse ten times a day–it may tell you what your pulse is, but it won’t really do anything about it.

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Walter 2010/07/14 at 5:47 pm

I do admit that I have wasted a lot of time in my life. A big part of it is on daydreaming and resentments, these two activities are really big time wasters. Know I have learned my lesson, instead of worrying over illusory things I do my best to do the things that will enhance my being. Though it is difficult not to be distracted, I just need to be aware of those distractions. :-)

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kevin 2010/07/14 at 6:50 pm

Walter, we’ve all wasted a lot of time, even the most productive among us. What’s uneven is that some people are more effective with the time that they don’t waste, and maybe that’s the secret–maximizing the time we do spend working productively.

Worry and resentment are really part of our humaness. Maybe the only way to minimize it is through forward motion, which is like starving out negative emotions. The more time we head toward our goals, the less of it we’ll have for negativity. After all, unless it gets us mad at ourselves enough to change things, negativity really never helps our situations.

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