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:

1. EMAIL

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.

2. SOCIAL MEDIA

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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3. MEETINGS

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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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.
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