Time Management Series
“Overcoming Time-Wasters – Part I”

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 12.1
Time Management

Taking Charge
We have to consider time management strategies to deal with
“time-wasters.” None other than the renowned Benjamin Franklin left
us his thoughts on this topic: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander
time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”
For all of those powerful
planning ideas–scheduling, note-taking, and to-do lists, one of the critical
enemies of good time management is “time-wasters.” Like everyone,
you have your own danger spots that can eat up chunks of valuable time before
you know it. The purpose of this article is to identify 15 common time-wasters
that are most threatening in your life and work. You will also be presented
with some helpful strategies for overcoming your time-wasters and taking charge
of your time!

Believe it or not, you are not alone! Leaders from all professions are burdened
with time-wasters. The purpose intended here is to enable you to think about
your own work and life situation, to create your own list of common pitfalls.
Our practical suggestions are offered, hopefully, in keeping with the passionate
encouragement of Jesus to His followers: “As long as it is day, we
must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

Reflection/Action Planning
Included here from research and experiences (some good and quite a few pitiful)
is a list of common time-wasting practices. For each one that applies to you,
read carefully the description, along with some strategies for overcoming it.
After you’ve done that and pondered your specific interest, write down
or underline your own thoughts and plans for action.

Procrastination, the Master Time-Thief
“Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!”–asserts
none other than Charles Dickens. Contemporary surveys and authorities have found
that “procrastination” is often at the head of the lists of all
time-wasters. Procrastination takes several forms, such as: 1) Mental, “I’m
still thinking about that.” 2) Feeling: “I’m afraid I won’t
do it right.” 3) Planning: “I know I said I would do it today, but
I am still developing my way to go about it.” 4) Physical: frantic action
after it’s too late.

Procrastination finds its way into the practice of almost every other common
time-waster. You can find its place at the table when you sit down to serve
up your dish to be tasted. Consider these artful ways of procrastination as
it has been described:

  • “Why do you wait, dear brother, Oh, why do tarry so long?”
    Could not this be called the theme song of all procrastinators? Acting on
    faith in Christ has a most critical life consequence.
  • “I’m going to stop putting things off; starting tomorrow.”
  • “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”
    (Don Marquis)
  • “Thank God for ‘the last minute’; otherwise, nothing
    would ever get done.”
  • “He slept beneath the moon, he basked beneath the sun; He lived
    a life of ‘going-to-do,’ and died with nothing done.”

    (James Albery, 1838-1889)
  • Procrastination is the practice of “putting off doing something,
    especially out of habitual
    carelessness or laziness; to postpone or to delay needlessly.”

    (from Dictionary.com)

Strategies/Actions for Procrastination

  • Most of the actions in the following 15 time-wasters will apply to practice
    of and solutions for procrastination; pay close attention to those that matter
    to you.
  • Know what it takes to achieve your mission, pursue your priorities, and
    balance your life.
  • Plan your work and work your plan; to know what you should do is only the
    first step.
  • Focus on the positive, on moving forward: keeping your promises, not preparing
  • Build new habits and pattern of action into your behavior; be results oriented.
  • Live out intentionally and with high priority your personal and family

Now, let’s begin to treat fifteen time-wasters, describing the
problem and proposing solutions.
[Note: SkillTrack® SL#32 completes this list of 15
most common “time-wasters.”]

  1. Trivial Pursuits: Inessential activities
    that promote none of the life purpose and need for balance you have set out
    for yourself. Trivial pursuits become procrastination by meaningless activity
    such as daydreaming, television, surfing the computer, curiosity born of sensationalism,

    • “Keep your eyes on the prize”–prioritize every day, not
      just January 1.
    • If an insignificant activity brings you pleasure, use it to reward
      yourself for constructive things completed.
    • Limit your time for obvious trivia; do so ahead of time!
    • Keep a list of true priorities that often get neglected–family, friends,
      etc.; because saying you “never have the time” doesn’t
      resolve the issue.

  2. Lack of Focus: “We always
    have time enough, if we but use it aright.”
    (from Goethe, 1749-1832)
    Examples: straying from the planned path; detours and distractions. If you’ve
    ever let a stray piece of mail or unscheduled conversation lead you on an
    investigation that lasts all day, then you may be suffering from lack of focus!


    • Believe in your priorities! Reaffirm the importance of your schedule
      and your organizing principles every day.
    • Be organized! If you already have time set aside for pursuing correspondence,
      or tackling that peripheral issue, it can’t distract you in the
    • Take regular breaks and lunch to get away–give your mind a chance
      to stay fresh.

  3. Mistakes: Hey, everyone makes mistakes,
    right? But mistakes can become time-wasters if they become a pattern, if they’re
    needless or if you don’t learn from them. Wrong turns aren’t always
    avoidable, but they may take up just as much time as detours.

    • Was this something you were qualified to be doing anyway? Delegate,
      delegate, delegate. Trust your staff–they might know more about some
      things than we do.
    • Ask for help. How much time have you wasted out of pride because you
      didn’t want to ask for help?
    • Are you prepared? Prep time can minimize errors.
    • Budget more time. Rushing creates errors all by itself.
  4. Aimless Associates: You know the
    guy/gal . . . always seems to have time to stop in your office for lengthy
    chats, while you can’t find the time to turn around with all you’ve
    got to do.

    • Learn to keep the door nearly closed when you most need it; if they
      ask for just a couple of minutes, then don’t sit down and get comfortable.
    • If you’re swamped at the moment, say so, and make a later appointment.
    • Have someone else answer the phone if possible–and teach the phone
      answerer when to take messages rather than interrupt.

  5. Failure to Delegate: When you find
    yourself doing everything; projects developing only one step at a time because
    you’re needed at every level.

    • Trust your staff/colleagues. It will empower them and free you.
    • Make conscious decisions to involve other team members. There is nothing
      noble in doing it all yourself, if in the end fewer things get done, and
      the people you work with can’t grow.
    • Have a procedure in place for instruction, then appraisal. In between,
      stay out of the way!

  6. Pointless Meetings: Do you maintain
    regularly scheduled meetings? But even when there’s nothing to accomplish?
    Do you attend meetings, even if your presence was not required? Pointless
    meetings can be huge time-wasters!

    • Have a procedure in place for setting the agenda.
    • If the deadline passes and the agenda is still empty, cancel the meeting!
    • Start and stop meetings on time–don’t encourage time-wasting
      during a meeting by indulging it!
    • Make sure everyone who is necessary for an agenda item is available
      and prepared, or you may have to go over it again next week.

  7. Random Phone Calls: The random phone
    caller expects you to be ready to talk–for business or for leisure–any time
    of the day, for as long as the caller would like. Needless to say, this isn’t
    possible and can waste a lot of time!

    • Remember, some seemingly random calls are, in fact, significant.
    • “Train” a phone answerer about your availability to take
      random calls. If there is no phone answerer, get an answering machine
      and/or caller ID and “train” yourself!
    • Make sure others are equipped to answer basic questions; this will
      eliminate half of your random calls.
    • Schedule time for call-backs. Making even random callers try endlessly
      to catch you isn’t helpful, or courteous.

Reflection/Action Planning
Are you relatively free from time-wasting practices? If your answer is
“Yes,” then enjoy the affirmation and keep it up. If you answer
“No,” then pick a specific starting place and start the battle for
wiser, more satisfactory time and life management You are the one to decide
what matters most to you; plan what to do and gain a victory over time-wasters.

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 © 2006 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership