Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

The Top 3 Daily Time-Wasters & How To Tame Them

If you removed Email, Social Media, and Meetings from your life, how much time would you have for the rest of your work? Are you envisioning an expansive vista of focused, productive time opening up before you? Or are you already feeling the painful twinges of information withdrawal? If you’re anything like the typical creative professional, it’s probably a bit of both.

All three of the above elements are work essentials on one hand, and potential productivity destroyers on the other. Which means we must walk the fine line between participating with efficiency and impact, and getting sucked into endless discussions.
To help you streamline these three core daily tasks, we’ve collected a handful of our favorite insights and tips:


Don’t check your email first-thing in the morning. Productivity coach and blogger Sid Savara has some great advice on this one: “If you’re blindly checking email first thing in the morning, the real problem isn’t that you’re wasting time checking email – the real problem is that you don’t see checking email as a low priority activity, because you haven’t decided what the high priority activities are. When you don’t have a clear list of priorities, checking email becomes an urgent activity that you do at the expense of your important ones.”
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Do your best to write concise, actionable emails. This may seem obvious, but as much as we struggle with email, many of us don’t practice the Golden Rule when it comes to writing them. The more poorly written and unclear your email is, the more likely it is to spawn a long chain of replies and counter-replies that demand clarity. As Ben Brook sputs it: “Tell me what I need to know and what you need from me.” That’s it.
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Try “Priority Inbox” if you’re a Gmail user. According to Fast Company, “Compared to Google employees without Priority Inbox, PI users spent 6% less time reading email, and 13% less time reading unimportant stuff in their inboxes. PI users were also ‘more confident’ to bulk archive emails, or delete nonsense.” I’ve been using PI for quite a few months now, and have to admit it really does separate the wheat from the chaff.
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More 99U tips on email strategy.


Treat social media like your digital embassy. In a great Zen Habits article, Tyler Tervooren advises: “Focus on the essential. Cultivate your ties in social networks where it makes sense and is beneficial, but don’t let them become second homes. Having many homes adds clutter to your digital world just as it does in your physical world. Remember: It’s Facebook’s job to serve you, not the other way around.”
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Spend your energy on communicating with the people that matter. All social media interactions are not necessarily created equal. Just like we prioritize items on our to-do lists, we can (and should!) prioritize who we communicate with, and spend our time accordingly. Consider analyzing who you spend most of your time messaging with: Is it the friends, family, and colleagues who provide the most professional value and emotional reward? Or do you give your time and energy to anyone who demands your attention? Being open to new interactions is essential, but it must be weighed against the fact that we have limited time and energy.
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Practice letting go of the stream of social chatter. One of the nice things about social media is that you can swim into the stream and swim out. You don’t have to be on 24/7. As @tinybuddha recommends, it’s okay to take a zen approach to social media: “It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go. This way you won’t need to “catch up” on updates that have passed but instead can be part of today’s conversation.”
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Always, always question the meeting. Before you schedule a meeting, recognize the enormous cost of pulling yourself and your team away from their regular workflow. Often, certain issues can be resolved more quickly with a quick face-to-face conversation, phone call, or IM session. However, if a meeting must be had, be sure to ask yourself exactly who needs to be there. Be ruthless, and imagine that you are guarding your colleagues’ time as preciously as you guard your own.

Don’t let your calendar app tell you how long your meeting should be. Once you’ve decided a meeting is required, be realistic but aggressive when you set the timing. As Scott Belsky has written elsewhere on 99U: “Most impromptu meetings that are called to quickly catch up on a project or discuss problem can happen in 10 minutes or less. However, when they are scheduled in formal calendar programs, they tend to be set in 30- or 60-minute increments. Why? Because it is the default calendar setting. Ideally, meetings should just have a start time and end as quickly as they can.”
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Take an active role in leading the meeting. Much of the time wasted at meetings can be chalked up to a failure of leadership. If no one takes control to ensure that something is accomplished, it’s highly like that nothing will be accomplished. Since you’re setting the meeting, go ahead and take charge of it: State the objective of the meeting at the start, take notes if it’s necessary, keep people from wandering off-topic, and articulate the next steps at the end. It’s a lot of work, but it will save you from spending more time in meetings in the long run.
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More insights on: Email Strategy, Task Management

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (20)
  • writing jobs

    Useful post. Thanks for it.


    For me Email is number one time killer.

  • Airpoint

    not liking how almost all ‘time management guides’ suggest NOT to read email instead of some practical examples of zero inbox approaches

  • Vijay

    Great information how to become productive

  • Karlie Robinson

    As a work from home entrepreneur, I disagree with checking email in the morning. I find that it’s very important for me to check email that came in over night. My clients are world-wide so things are happening when I’m not at my desk and the morning check-in allows me to formulate what my priority of the day will be.

  • Christian Ray

    Excellent post. Social media is the area where I need to majorly pull back. Here are 7 way you can have zero emails in your inbox daily.

  • David Lane

    While email is the second thing I check (after getting the morning started) walking into a storm because I didn’t check my email is worse than any potential time I might loose. To say it is “low priority” is perhaps a mis-statement. As an IT professional, two or three emails will give me an idea as to the health and welfare of my systems and whether I need to skip breakfast or prepare for a longer than normal day.

    I jettisoned social media last year and have not really noticed a major difference in the data flow, just in the amount of time I got back.

    Skip the meetings, keep the donuts.

  • Linda Fairchild

    I agree, and also it depends on your profession. As an art dealer communicating with artists & Fair organizers, it is essential to check my email first thing in the morning. The big time suck is social media. I check in quarterly, miss nothing and people still feel as if I am there. I read tons, do not have a TV and focus on communicating with the right people (changing all the time). Email is invaluable all day as I am very mobile, and there is always the delete key.

    Ultimately, no matter what medium we are working in, it’s all about not being a reactor, but a driver, responder and leader.

  • essle web

    This is very informative  article.Thanks

    Business Logo Design

  • pixiedust8

    Yes, unfortunately, I can’t NOT read my email in the morning. If there is a crisis, that’s how I find out about it in my company. I agree you don’t necessarily need to deal with all email right then, but not reading it is not realistic for me. 

  • Mick Welsh

    My job assignments come to via email. Without checking that first thing in the am – I have no idea what Im supposed to be focusing on.

  • Brenda

    I’m a huge fan of purging my facbook friends list every few months. I delete anyone I have not spoken with in three months, and I delete everyone off my news feed with the exception of the five really important people. The rest of my feed is news networks, social organizations, and other creatives/galleries I follow. Keeps me from losing hours to facebook the way I used to.

  • Dan Peck

    DigitalSilence – 3days without technology –

  • Kenng005

    I’m busted:(

  • Alfee

    I think it’s perfectly fine to check my email first thing in the morning. The key issue here is not to continue to repeatedly check for new mails every 5 minutes. Schedule the checking of mails perhaps every 3 hours, and in between that time, you can focus on the important to-dos.

  • Jane Hooper

    I may or may not check my email first thing in the morning, but I decide each day according to my priorities. I have my email set up to manually check it, so the number of times I check it during the day will depend on my schedule. If I am really busy it will be checked just three times during the day, these are marked in my diary. However it is surprising that nowdays people will email you about something that needs an urgent answer rather than pick up the phone.

  • Dan Peck

    Take a break from your emails/social media with DigitalSilence-lite -3hours withouut technology.
    Having choosing your on/off times to #getstuffdone!

  • Tyrek

    It can be only called time wasters if you will just allow these activities to waste your time. We often waste our time when we are having fun on unrelated to work activities and we often forget our priorities. Unrelated to work activities are not bad or wrong but it is depends on how you use it. This also indicates lack of self control to manage temptation and distractions. There are different ways and strategies in managing effectively time wasters. One of the factor to effectively manage time wasters is self discipline with it you can avoid easily time wasters. There are also online tools that can help you manage time wasters. Where it can accurately track how you spend your time online and monitor time waster websites so that you will have an idea on how much time you waste on that site than spending on your work.

  • yello10

    priority inbox is mentioned – try it out.

  • Clinton Wu

    I’d replace social media and put it under the general header of web/app browsing on your multiple devices. Just like email, this activity should be batched, scheduled and timed. I used to have email and web tabs open all the time. Now I try to have one thing open at a time and do email/browsing in less than 30 min batches three times per day. Happy to send out my full day schedule to anyone that it could help! wu at skim dot me

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