30 Unproductive Time Wasters which steal your energy and wreck your state of mind, and how to stop them
Every day you receive a gift of 86,400 seconds to use as you wish. You will use this time to think, feel, and act. These moments can become tedious nightmares which have to be survived and which are better forgotten, or they can become the happiest exhilaration of your life. The older you are the faster time passes, and each of the 86,400 seconds is irreplaceable. As long as you’re not in prison, the way you use your time is up to you, because no one else can decide what you think, feel and do. It doesn’t matter if we like it or not, nor does it matter how we use it. Each of us is the captain of our own destiny.
Below, you’ll find examples of specific behaviors which steal your energy, wreck your state of mind, and even dumb you down. Since every journey begins with a single step, choosing one of them and working on it will bring positive changes into your life. You’ll feel better, have a greater degree of control, be less effected by external circumstances, and the quality of your communication and your emotions will improve. Working on the behaviors below is demanding—the majority of them are unconscious habits, which are deeply rooted within us. Let’s get to work!
We spend approximately thirteen years of our lives watching television. The average Pole spends more than three hours per day watching television. Dr. Dimitri Christakis from the University of Washington highlights increased problems with concentration at seven years of age when a child watches television before the age of three.
A poll conducted by today.com showed that 72% of women and 60% of men watch reality TV shows out of sheer boredom.
There is no doubt that television provides educational and entertainment value, but we spend the majority of our time watching TV because we want to fill the void left by a lack of creative ideas for our lives. It’s much more productive to schedule worthwhile shows we want to watch before we sit down on the couch.
Depending on the source, it’s estimated that we spend somewhere between 70% and 90% of our daily activity thinking about the past, that which was, or planning for the future, that which will be—in other words, thinking. As a result of this we lose being—the experience of that which is. The emphasis on an intellectual understanding of the world leads to a lack of presence and to spending the majority of our adult lives in our thoughts.
Meanwhile, only the here and now offers the possibility of living, being happy, celebrating, being grateful, loving, and being spontaneous. We can become more present by putting away our phones, going outside for a walk, or going on trip once every three months and spending one day alone in total isolation so that we can get more in touch with ourselves.
American scientists warn: consuming high quantities of sugar weakens the functioning of the brain and causes problems with memory and orientation. In a word, refined sugar makes you dumb. Earlier scientific research has proven that fructose increases the risk of diabetes, obesity, and liver disease.
If we reach for sweets in order to escape negative emotions, we will also face feelings of guilt and remorse which, combined with weight gain, will lead to a negative state of mind. Sweets give us a temporary high, stimulating the mind to release serotonin. But this high level of serotonin quickly falls back down and leaves us with a feeling of lack. That’s when we reach for yet another candy bar.
The average American consumes 56 kilograms of sugar per year. The average Pole, 39 kg (before the war—11 kg). That’s probably why the organic food industry is growing so rapidly in the US, and healthy eating habits have become a necessity rather than a luxury.
4.Browsing our Facebook friend’s walls
Do you often check out what your friends are up to on facebook? Are you looking just to see “what’s up” dozens of times per day? This superficial feeling of closeness is a false substitute for real relationships, and the feeling of emptiness it leaves behind isn’t among the most pleasant. Many studies point out the negative emotional side effects of using social media, such as feelings of loneliness or the belief that we’re wasting our lives.
We can help assuage these feelings by deleting applications from our phones, focusing on reality, and doing something which has authentic and deep meaning.
The extent to which fear is a physiological reaction that warns us of danger is the extent to which anxiety is a mental interpretation of occurring phenomena. In today’s reality the chances of sudden death is almost nonexistent and the vast majority of the dangers that faced our ancestors (who lived, on average, about 30 years as early as a century ago in poor countries) have disappeared today. What does this mean? People are afraid of imaginary things and tell themselves stories which will never happen.
There is no reality as cruel as a mind which is incapable of controlling its own emotions. Abandoning the idea that things will be terrible can help with this situation. The majority of situations won’t be so bad, and if they are, then you can solve the problem when it arises.
The illusory label of friendly conversation often hides the psychological mechanism of identification: living vicariously through others as if their lives were our own. If you find yourself spending more time thinking or talking about someone other than yourself, consider it a warning signal.
Creating a life in which you’re happy just being yourself, abandoning trashy thinking about the color of a celebrity’s panties or the divorce case of some actor, leaves us more time to be productive and gives us emotional relief. Research shows that people who gossip the most experience higher levels of stress and are perceived as less trustworthy.
7.Always Being Right
How many times have you argued with someone just to prove that you’re right even though you knew that you weren’t but you needed to defend your ego? How much time have you lost trying to convince someone of something which they didn’t care about? How many times have you been frustrated by someone who didn’t think you were right?
If you’re tired with these unproductive conversations, stop talking just to be right, and start talking with the goal of learning how you were understood and interpreted. This approach lacks the conflicting mechanism of win/lose and is, instead, full of the curiosity and respect of listening to a person who can freely express his or her authenticity.
8.Reading about yourself on the internet
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey defines the concept of proactivity as conscious action leading to the achievement of a specific goal. Unlike reactive people, who act upon stimuli after they have occurred, proactive people are responsible for creating their own reality, and they have a different approach to solving problems. They focus on expanding their sphere of influence—or influence upon situations which depend directly on them (e.g. their workplace). On the other hand, reactive people want to influence their sphere of interest, or all the things which they have no control over (e.g. a plane crash).
Reading about yourself on the internet belongs to the sphere of interest, over which you have no control. But you can control what you write on the internet. It’s therefore worthwhile to create valuable content.
9.Checking how many likes you got
Did you publish something on social media and now you’re checking how many likes you got? This virtual form of gratification makes your self-esteem dependent on the opinions of others. This, in turn, creates frustration when you don’t get the expected recognition. Writing worthwhile content for your readers based on your own opinion is much healthier and allows you to save time which was previously devoted to reading your friend’s comments (and often people you don’t even know). Check if you like it first before worrying about the opinion of others.
10.Constantly checking your phone
British statistics indicate that people check their phones 110 times per day, and during peak hours (between 5pm and 8pm) every few seconds. Record holders check their phones up to 900 times per day! The extent to which smartphones are a necessity these days, and we probably can’t do without checking our email, is the extent to which obsessively evading reality, in the best case, leads to stress, and in the long term, addicts us to being busy.
If you’re not a sales representative or a trader, it’s enough to check your email five times per day, and if you don’t use your email for work, only once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Putting things off for later rarely actually means that we should be doing something at a later time. Most often, procrastination is a way to evade having to make a decision, a reluctance to confront a difficult situation, a fear of failure, or having perfectionist standards which can’t be fulfilled.
Trying to squirm your way out of something which should be done is a time waster, drains your energy and gives nothing in return. Trying not to do something is more tiring than confronting your responsibilities and just getting it over with.
12.Writing lists for everything
Are you going shopping with a grocery list in your phone but then you forget to check it? Are you making a list of words from a foreign language that you’re trying to learn but you never go back to your notes? Do you have a list of things that you want to do in a given day but never use it because you’re always focused on upcoming tasks?
Planning for the future is an important life skill unless it becomes an obsessive means of self-control which stems from an internal lack of trust. You’re likely to remember everything you planned to do in most situations.
Nothing wastes your time more than having enemies. You have to constantly think about them in order to prepare an unnecessary defense for an attack which will never actually happen. Fear caused by thinking about upcoming danger, and possible loss, is emotionally draining.
Concentrating on yourself and your close ones, reacting to facts instead of imagining them, living without the need to prove your superiority, or simply accepting that sometimes you’re at the top and other times you’re at the bottom will give you relief and help you live in a psychologically healthy environment.
My dog ate my homework. I overslept because it was a rainy day. I’m not mindlessly browsing the internet at night, I’m working hard! We all know these excuses—the creative reasons for why we didn’t do something instead of finding solutions and doing what we’re supposed to. Every reason is good, and since nobody can convince us as well as we convince ourselves, we’ll always find a good reason for why we didn’t do something. But this won’t change the situation.
By focusing on solutions you’ll be better able to control events, and by looking for ways to get something done, instead of reasons for why it wasn’t done, you’ll produce actual results.
15.Leaving the house when you don’t really want to
We’ve all gone out for walks which we didn’t have the desire to go on, to the theatre when we would have preferred the movies, to a party when we we’re tired, or to a restaurant when we would have preferred to eat at home. The effect of this are couples walking through the park staring into their smartphones, audience members falling asleep in the theater, party goers standing idly in the corner, and clients complaining about bad food.
Doing something against your own will is self-sabotage and causes internal (and later external) conflicts. What will help you here is making honest decisions and communicating assertively.
16.Looking through pictures in magazines
The majority of magazines are filled with unrealistic (digitally modified) pictures of models, which will either frustrate you, or make you sad (because you’re comparing yourself to them); advertisements of the next product which you don’t need; pictures of the rich and beautiful which suggest that the life of others is more important than yours.
Magazines with pictures cause you to busy yourself with an activity which you’ll never remember, which won’t bring anything positive into your life, and which won’t develop your mind. What’s the solution? Buy an e-book reader and read when you’re waiting for something. That way you’ll be improving yourself by reading intelligent books.
17.Going on YouTube
Most of the time, videos watched on youtube are superficially entertaining—they give a temporary emotional lift which falls after a short while, and the viewer ends up exactly where he started.
A funny cat fell into an aquarium. Someone tripped while walking on stage in a Korean reality show. A celebrity talked about his favorite car. For a few dollars, some teenagers convinced an alcoholic bum to drink a bottle of cheap wine in one gulp. If you honestly ask yourself why you care about these things, then you’ll inevitably answer that you don’t care.
18.Focusing on meaningless details.
My husband gave me a weird look… The client hasn’t paid a bill for $20 in months… Everyone can see the scratches on my car… There are things which you should care about (the quality of your relationship built on love and conscious communication, a great vision for your business, how safe your car is). There are also problems which engage you emotionally, but solving them doesn’t change the quality of your life.
If we apply a modified version of the Pareto Principle (20% of employees generate 80% of a company’s profits) to our lives, then which 10% of your “problems” generate 90% of your negative emotions?
19.Finishing what you started only because… you started it
A boring book that you have to read to the end? Your entire apartment thoroughly cleaned because your bedroom was messy and you might as well clean every other room while you’re at it? A meeting which doesn’t offer anything worthwhile, which you have to participate in, even though everyone, if only there was such a suggestion, would gladly end it? Eating everything on your plate only because there’s still food on it, or finishing a bottle of alcohol because it was opened?
Just because you start something, doesn’t mean you have to finish it. You can end it in the middle and start something more important. That way, you’ll save the time you would have lost if you stubbornly kept on doing something unproductive.
20.Forcing yourself to stay in a relationship
People do it for different reasons—sometimes they need to go through a transition period and date someone just to free themselves emotionally from their previous relationship. Sometimes they’re afraid what others will think because the image which they presented to others upon breaking up is unrealistic. Some lack the courage, while others are just waiting for a “better opportunity”.
Sound toxic? It is! Not only for your partner, who, instead of being an end in him or herself, becomes a means to satisfying your needs, but also for everyone who behaves this way. It will make them unhappy because they’ll be spending their precious time with someone who they don’t really want to be with.
21.Spending time with the wrong people
A fish that spends its entire life trying to climb trees will always feel hopeless. Not because it’s lacking something but because it’s spending its time in an unnatural environment. People realize their potential by doing specific (and not all) things in the appropriate places, at the appropriate times, and with the appropriate people. Maybe spending time with someone drains your energy? Maybe you’re not growing when you’re around them? Maybe you get frustrated just thinking about spending time with them?
Life’s too short to spend it with the wrong people and thinking that one day they’ll magically change into people that you like.
Eating big meals makes you drowsy and often causes feelings of guilt. After such feasts, you don’t want to think or work because your brain is focused on digesting the excessive amounts of food. In the long run you face weight gain, which can lead to a lowered sense of self-esteem.
You can change this by eating smaller portions more frequently, taking longer to chew, and planning what and when you’ll eat instead of making impulsive decisions when you’re feeling hungry.
23.Chasing after clients who don’t want your services
If you want to control a river you need to be able to influence its current instead of its particular segments. Something similar applies to business. If the majority of your clients are satisfied, then the whole functions smoothly. Focusing on people who aren’t at all interested in your services will take more effort than taking care of those who are already happy.
Putting your ego and its desire to be universally liked aside can help in this situation. Focus on making sure that your product is liked by those who matter.
24.Going to the mall for no reason
Shopping malls aren’t just places with a lot of stores. They’re also a state of mind which fools itself into believing its desires can be fulfilled. Trying on clothes gives you the sense of “almost owning” them, sitting for hours on end in coffee shops helps you socialize, there’s always an interesting movie playing in the cinema, and throngs of fast food restaurants can fill your empty stomach.
So-called “window shopping” has become a way of spending time with your family. Families often go into malls and spend hours there doing… nothing. Ask yourself the question, what goal are you trying to achieve by going to the mall?
25.Helping ungrateful people
You know the feeling when you help someone and don’t even get a smile in return? We sometimes help ungrateful people hoping that if we’re nice and helpful we’ll be more liked. Nothing could be further from the truth! We like others for totally different reasons, like when we do something for them! An ungrateful person will demand more and more, and get annoyed when you don’t do something their way.
Without gratitude there is no reward, and this causes the helpful person to lose motivation. The conclusion: cooperate with those who can appreciate it.
26.Asking for other people’s opinion after you’ve already made a decision
Did you already make a decision and you know what you have to do but you’re still asking others what they think? Do you want to make sure? To know that it’s the right decision? Hear that you won’t face any negative consequences? Make the other person feel like they’re participating in a decision making process which is already finished? Typically, this leads to deeper doubts, more deadlines, and frustration associated with unfinished business. You made a decision—be prepared for the consequences.
27.Intruding on the responsibilities of others
The boss who walks into the office and starts doing everyone’s job except his own. The parent who doesn’t understand that his or her child should be accomplishing the task independently by now. A ball player who, instead of passing to his better positioned teammate, decides to take the shot himself, risking losing the game for the sake of his star power.
A body functions well when the hand is a hand, the foot—a foot, the head—a head. The stomach will never be as good at pumping blood as the heart.
28.Excessive alchol consumption
An inability to think clearly, a hangover that kills the entire next day, the consequences of idiotic behavior after having one drink too many—this should be enough reason to quit drinking yourself stupid like a teenager and advance to a more conscious level of alcohol use. Fortunately, modern masculinity often doesn’t engage in the traditional, “come on, drink with me!” and is beginning to embrace new models of free time socializing.
29.Watching stupid movies on the plane just to kill time
Read a book to stimulate your imagination. Get some sleep so you’ll be rested. Meditate to gain greater control of your mind. Respond to your backlog of emails so that you’ll have an empty inbox. Start a conversation with the stewardess or randompassenger to remind yourself how fascinating it is to meet new people. Exercise to improve your circulation. But don’t do stupid things at the price of your intelligence only because you don’t know how to be yourself in your free time. You can’t escape from yourself.
30.Fixating on the past
You can’t change the past, you can’t return to it, you can’t influence it. Reminiscing on what has already occurred as if it were better than your current reality frustrates you and prevents you from experiencing and being. Holding grudges against people for something they did a long time ago creates toxic hate or regret. This doesn’t change anything!
By leaving the past behind, we’re able to concentrate on the one thing we can control: creating a better future.
That’s my wish for you, dear reader, from the bottom of my heart! And I would like to invite you to post your comments and share this article if you found it valuable.