This is a list of 17 things you shouldn’t be doing any more because they waste time. Old habits die hard and it can be difficult to shift yourself from an old familiar way of doing something to a new, better way.
Take a look at the list and see if there is anything you can change to help make you more productive. If you have any suggestions please add them in the comments.
- Manually Depositing a Paycheck — That is what direct deposit is for. If you spend 15 minutes every two weeks dealing with depositing your paycheck that is 65 hours over the next 10 years. Put this time to better use.
- Writing Checks for Bills — That is what the bill pay service from your bank is for. Use this time for something worthwhile.
- Partially Filling Up with Gas — Yes it might go down 3 cents next week, but how much is your time really worth.
- Looking for your Keys or Cellphone — Always put them in the same place (hook by the door, etc).
- Unpacking your Laptop Power Adaptor — If you go from work to home with your laptop, get an extra adaptor for each work area so you don’t have to unpack and crawl under the desk each time.
- Check Multiple Email Boxes — Get a program that will show you all your email in one place or filter by individual accounts. Apple Mail, Gmail and several other products do this.
- Watching Commercials — Use Tivo to skip them. Use Netflix and just skip television all together. Buy the shows you want to watch off iTunes. If you had a friend who spent 20% to 30% of your time trying to sell you things you didn’t really need, would you put up with it? (If you have a friend in network marketing, you may have already experienced this.)
- Losing Telephone Numbers — Your cell phone should sync with your computer. We are past the days where a phone only held 25
numbers. If someone calls, take the few seconds to record their name in your phone, so it will be transferred next time you sync your computer.
- Commuting to College — Take your classes online. Spend your commute time studying instead of driving.
- Commuting Through Heavy Traffic — Talk to your boss about working from home–even for just a few days a week. Shift your schedule to miss rush hour.
- Dialing into Voice Mail — Get your voicemail setup to send you messages as email attachments that way you only have to check one mailbox.
- Backing Up to CDs or Disks — Get an external hard drive. It will be fast enough that maybe you’ll go ahead and backup more often. Plus if you do it right, you can create a working version of your entire computer on the hard drive. If you laptop is stolen you can start working from your last backup with all your programs and settings just as they were. (Here are some more tips about relying on technology.)
- Visiting Lots of Blogs — Use a news reader like Google Reader. Most people don’t realize how much time they waste looking at the same sites over and over again to see if there is anything new. With a newsreader you’ll know whenever something new is posted.
- Removing Spyware — Use a computer or web browser that doesn’t get infected.
- Wasting Time in the Car — Subscribe to podcasts and get a connector for your MP3 player in your car. Spend your time learning instead of just sitting there driving.
- Getting Lost in the Car — If you spend a lot of time driving to unfamiliar areas, go ahead and invest in a GPS with routing capabilities or figure out how to use your cell phone as a GPS. That way you can spend your time focusing on your work instead of honing your navigation skills.
- Clubbing Baby Seals — Just in case this applies to you, this would be a good thing to stop as well.
Other posts you might enjoy:
- The Iron Chef Productivity Fable
- Convince Your Boss to Let You Work From Home
- The Rat Experiment – Managing Other’s Expectations
- Social Glass Ceiling
- Two Types of Technology Users
FYI: You can get Productivity501 fed directly into Google Reader or other RSS reader here:
Nice! I’m fan of such life hacks.
Backing Up to CDs or Disks was a one I’m guilty of doing. Right now I’m knee-deep with backup CDs and DVDs. It just gets too cluttery after a while.
Backing up to CDs is better than not backing up at all, but it takes so much time. I remember when I was backing up to floppies and it took 50 to backup my entire computer. CDs were such a timesaver because I could back everything up to one or two disks.
That is pretty difficult to do anymore unless you just backup certain documents.
I really like the idea of backing things up online, but I haven’t found anything that can compete with the bandwidth, storage or price of an external hard drive.
Dave Olson says
Mark, I’m pretty techno savvy but I don’t think I’ve ever looked at having my voicemail sent to my inbox. Is that possible on an office system or is that primarily a cellphone deal? Any ideas where I might look?
Love number 16. I’ve been looking for a way to justify that purchase to my wife for months. Thanks!
Dave – I know that 3com and Nortel phone systems will let you send voicemail to your email. So will Vonage.
http://www.callwave.com has some free products that will give you that capability (and more) on your regular phone line or cell phone.
Surprisingly I don’t think many of the cellphone companies offer voicemail to email service without using something like CallWave.
Dave Olson says
Nortel…? I think our system is an older meridian made by Nortel. I’ll have to get someone to check. What do you use?
I use Vonage for our home phone and RingCentral for my business line, both can send messages directly to email.
It has been awhile since I’ve worked with the Nortel phone systems so it is possible I have something backwards. If I remember correctly the CallPilot system allowed you to send your messages to your mailbox, but it might have been through an Outlook plugin, instead of just as an attachment (like 3com).
One of the big benefits of getting messages as attachments is that you can easily forward them on to someone else. So if a message is for my wife, I can just forward it to her and it doesn’t stay on the answering machine or in our voicemail box where I check it again and again.
Since my cell phone doesn’t offer voicemail to email attachment, I’ll set it up to forward to my vonage number when I’m going out of the country. That way any messages get emailed to me and I’m not checking messages at $1.50 per minute.
Dave Olson says
We do use CallPilot so I’ll get it checked out. If we need to use Exchange server or similar it won’t work. Besides we are mostly a mac shop.
I did try Callwave as you suggested but for some reason it won’t accept my phone number.
I can go for 1-16, but 17? What do you think I am, Superman?
Evan Wired says
Or, just get rid of the car altogether.
use a program like Carbonite and it will automatically back up over the internet. its a yearly subscription of 30 bucks or so so you spend less time paying for the bill. It backs up everything but exe files (since you need to reinstall programs in a crash anyways)
I only half fill my car’s tank , because the extra weight means I get worse mileage. Cost vs. time, the usual trade-off.
Just “Stumbled” in here.
Great site !
Keep up the good work!
Manually depositing a paycheck is still the wise thing to do. Because of banking regulations it is not possible to only grant permission to deposit money in your account directly. You simultaneously give blanket permission to withdraw any amount as well, under cover of “correcting possible errors” in the enabling law. In practice, granting rights to direct deposit also opens your bank account to withdrawals with out recourse to the bank. Do you trust your employer that much? Not me!!!!!! Many have lost their savings to dishonest employers who skipped out with their employees’ fortunes. Don’t be one of them just to save a couple of minutes a week.
@Evan – I wish I could get rid of the car. :) I live in rural Kansas, so I don’t have that option right now. However if I ever move to Boston I would seriously consider it.
@Laz – I’ve looked at Carbonite. Unfortunately it only works with Windows. I’ve been looking at some other online backup options because I think it would be a really nice solution. One problem is that I like to keep a clone of my hard drive as a backup. That way if my laptop is ever stolen, I can bring the cloned drive back up on another computer and be up and working in however long it takes to plug in the drive and boot. That way I don’t lose any billable work time as I repair or replace my laptop.
Making a cloned image means moving about 50 Gigs of data, so it is difficult to do over a cable modem connection–even if you have online storage that would support it.
Carbonite does look like a pretty good deal–especially for unlimited backup!
@Vaughn – Wow! Can you really measure a noticeable difference in the gas mileage when you start with a full tank?
@Steve – The amount of information you give to your employer to do direct deposit is the same amount of information you give to anyone you write a check to. It seems more likely that someone else would fake your permission and take your money than your employer. Of course I don’t know who you work for. You may have some good reasons to be concerned, but if your employer was really out to get you, they probably have enough information to do it without having permission to do a direct deposit.
@DocZayus – Thanks!
David Poindexter says
I’d also like to add one to the list, mainly for technology workers:
Get a 2nd monitor with desktop spanning.
You wouldn’t believe what kind of productivity boost you can get by having more desktop real estate.
Additionally, you can be simultaneously editing the code for a website (or content for a blog post) on one screen, while looking up information and capturing links and trackbacks on the other screen.
Dennis Rice says
Groan, more uninformed seal hunt comments.
What a shame, the list was so good up to then.
Kelli Matthews says
Some great tips! #4 strikes close to home. Although I would disagree with taking classes online. I teach at the Univ. of Oregon in Eugene, and for both teacher and students, nothing beats the interaction of a classroom. If you’re going to spend the money to go (or go back) to school, people-to-people connections aren’t a waste of time. Now I have to go find my phone… or was it my keys…
@Kelli–I absolutely agree that the classroom experience can’t be duplicated online. However when I went back for my second Master’s degree, none of the nearby colleges were particularly outstanding in my area of study. I finally settled on taking distance classes from Harvard. While I miss the interactions I had with students at some of the other institutions, it has allowed me to continue to grow while working full time, spending time with my family, etc.
I guess maybe I should rephrase the item. I think your first four year degree should be done on campus. Preferably while living on campus. There are a lot of social things you learn that have nothing to do with the actual classes, but are very important. However, once you’ve got 1 or 2 degrees under your belt, if you want to continue learning, distance education is a great way to do it. Many of the smaller schools basically use a correspondence model for these types of classes. The only difference is that instead of mail, you use the internet. They end up having requirements like “make a comment, and comment on two other people’s comments”.
There are several schools that I think are really getting things right and Harvard is one of them. When you take a class, it is an actual class that you can show up for if you want on campus. Distance students are grouped together and encouraged to interact using IM and other tools. You watch an actual video of the class instead of just being assigned a book to read. I believe Stanford does something similar and possibly Columbia as well.
I guess it all depends on what you need. If you are looking for a networking opportunity, then definitely go to a physical class if there is one close enough. However, if you just need the raw education and validation of your expertise (a degree), distance education can make a lot of sense.
Thanks for your comments. Good luck finding your phone. :)
@Dennis–Sorry if the “clubbing baby seals” comment offended you. I completely admit that seal hunting is obviously not a subject with which I have a great deal of familiarity and it was just my attempt at humor.
Nice clarification on the degree, I was going to post a response to it, but that’s already been covered.
Good tips overall (contemplating a new GPS unit), though most of them mean spending extra cash for a few minutes saved – great tips if applied for the right person in the right way. Some of these can’t work for everyone though (eg. I’m a college student: don’t own a TiVo, nor do I have a possibility of working/schooling from home). But for established business professionals they make a lot of sense.
@Quadanar – I don’t have a Tivo either. :) But I still don’t watch television. When we want to watch a movie we just rent a DVD and if we find ourselves watching a lot, we’ll go ahead and subscribe to Netflix. For TV shows, we can get them from iTunes without the commercials.
A GPS unit isn’t a worthwhile investment for everyone. However, if you find yourself lost a lot and especially if your are trying to find an important client’s office, it can be very worth while. If you are at college and know where you are going all the time, it probably wouldn’t be that beneficial.
@Mark – Please don’t confuse the consequences of a fraudulent action for which you have recourse with the bank for remedy, and actually granting a third party the right to withdraw funds without limitation, which you do when you file for direct deposit in writing. In the first case, you have not granted permission for the withdrawal. A crime is committed, the bank will reimburse, and they go after the offender. You won’t lose your money. In the second, you have granted the right to withdraw and have no recourse against the bank. They will not reimburse you! You will have to find and prosecute your former employer. Good luck and kiss your cash goodbye! That’s a huge difference!
I can’t wait to take my O Chem Lab online, sweet.
Colin Walls says
A Tivo is not really a productivity aid, as it encourages you to watch other programs similar to the ones you like. But a means to avoid real-time TV – i.e. hard disk recorder etc. – is certainly well worthwhile.
JB Segal says
Steve: In 19 years in the workforce, with direct deposit for 17 of them, I’ve never once had a problem with an employer even mis-depositing and having to correct, let alone pulling the sort of crap you warn against.
A quick google finds DD forms with the following sorts statements:
“This includes my authorization to correct entries made in error.”
I really don’t see how that could legally entitle them to ever withdraw more than one full paycheck.
(Sadly, the NACHA rules – Article II, sections 2.4 and 2.5 seem to be what we’re discussing here – are a paid product from nacha.org.)
All in all, I’ve never heard of this happening and I see your advice as over-cautious at best.
@JB – I agree with you. If I thought it could be an issue, it would be a strong sign that I should look for a job elsewhere.
@Steve – If you really don’t trust your employer and want to use direct deposit, just setup a separate account only for your direct deposit. Setup an automatic transfer to a different account the day after payday for the amount of your pay check. That way if they really do make a mistake they can only take out the amount that was in excess of what you were expecting.
Keep in mind that your employer could fire you and not pay you for vacation time, stop paying you when they still owe you for a weeks worth of work, get fraudulent credit cards in your name (they have enough personal info to steal your identity), etc.
Amen to the commuting thing, and to “wasting time in the car”. If you’ve got to do it (who gets to work from home every single day?) it’s nice to stay occupied.
@JB – Although I don’t quite agree with Steve for his caution, your argument is like “since I haven’t had cancer in 19 years, it mustn’t exist”. Hard to prove the non-existence of something by the fact that it doesn’t exist for you.
It’s a statistical thing, I think: possible, but improbable (except cancer, especially in clubbed seals). Problem is, the employer who makes an error, I don’t trust as much to correctly fix the error: over-deposit $12, withdraw-back $1200.
Never rains, but it pours.
Does seal clubbing really waste that much time? it’s always the first thing i do in the morning to wake up. :)
Great post. The only glaring omission I noticed was, “Doing things you could (and should) be delegating. I love all the cybernetic enhancements and multitasking tricks as much as the next guy, but I often find that I get better results and in less of (my) time if I just ask someone else to take the task.
Nick Oz says
Is life really that short that you can’t unpack a laptop charger and plug it in? Get over this luvvy business of I’m sssssooooooo busy.
Online college courses? Are you kidding me. Go to a real college and meet real students. That’s not a waste of time.
@Nick – Actually, I’m not terribly busy anymore. I have lots of time to spend with my family and to pursue interests other than work. But part of getting there was getting rid of things that waste my time. Using multiple power cords works good for me because of how I work. It also helps me make sure I don’t forget my power cable when I go meet with a client.
I have an extra cord by my bed, on my desk, in my bag and one by the couch. I don’t like crawling under the desk every day to plug it in and then pack it up. With your schedule and routine, it might not be worth the investment.
@Lim – Definitely you should meet real people. In fact if you read the comments above I think going to college online is a bad idea for your first 4 year degree. However once you get your bachelors degree, online classes will let you pursue your Master’s degree with flexibility that you wouldn’t have in a regular classroom.
i find it realy strange that you post an item aboout what we should stop doing, while there is an ad disguised as a title which tempts you to win an Ipod. Fark me!
Maybe you should add to your list nr 18: ‘don’t click on misleading titles as above’.
@Polskaya – Sorry you found the link to our ipod contest confusing. I sometimes show adsense below it, which would have probably helped make it less confusing for you. I turned it off for awhile, so the contest promotion shows up by itself.
I am new to your site and I didn’t know about the contest. I was a bit mislead but I understand the context now. Good luck with it!
I like your site, and I’ll be back :)
Arthur Chaparyan says
What about clubbing adult seals? I find you save a lot of time since you increase your seal to club ratio
Thanx for the time-saving tips, I found out about this via Lifehacker!
Something else I’d suggest is: speed up watching of TV shows and movies by using some time compression (which is already used by broadcast networks to fit slightly-overhanging programmes into tighter blocks). For example, if you accelerate a movie by 10%, it’ll feel a little faster but you’ll end up saving a few minutes at the end.
I suppose my problem with this is easily finding a media player that can do it with a good resampling quality (e.g., doesn’t make actors sound like chipmunks). Any recommendations? :)
Good list, too bad for half of them you need expensive items that most don’t have.
@Torley – http://www.enounce.com has what you are describing. I’ve used it to watch online lectures. When the material was easy or I was reviewing I’d speed it up. When it was difficult, I’d slow it down.
I liked the last one :) Now seriously, reading this made me think. If you say I should stop plugging in my laptop to save 3 seconds per day, you have no idea just how much time I waste every day. I wonder how many useful things I could have done, if only I hadn’t commented here.
@Vesal My problem is that my outlets are never easy to reach. I always end up having to climb under a desk and get covered with dust, bump my head, etc. The other problem I was having is occasionally forgetting my charger. By keeping one in my bag all ready to go, I don’t forget it (unless I leave it at a client’s).
Oh and if you hadn’t of commented here, you could have probably unplugged your laptop one more time. :)
are their any free email sorters, because i know apple mail isn’t free and its really a pain having to check 2 frequent email accounts and two not so frequent email accounts?
#18: Stop using ridiculously small fixed size fonts on your blog that cannot be resized.
That, and #9 (Commuting to College) is utterly ignorant of the differences btw. attending college with real live professors and students versus online information transactions…
@Jason — Thanks for your comment on the font. I’m looking at doing a redesign and will keep that in mind.
If you see my follow up comments about college, I mentioned that I don’t recommend getting a distance ed degree for your first bachelor’s. However after that it is a very good option–especially if you go with a really good university. Harvard is the only place that I know does distance education right. I think Stanford does a good job as well.
@Mike — Apple Mail is free (but you have to have OS X). I think Thunderbird might do what you need and it runs on Linux, Windows, and OS X.
@Jason – my browser lets me resize the fonts on this site. This tip works in Safari and Firefox: On a Mac, type “command+”. Look around the menus on a PC; good chance it is control+.
Haha what a joke.
“Removing Spyware”. Yes, that’s what most people spend their time doing. Want don’t you throw a figure out there to back it up – how about 200 hours a year removing spyware? Very clever way of hiding your technology preference.
I prefer to use operating systems that are based on Unix. I don’t try to hide that or sneak it in–I’ll tell you up front. I like Linux for servers, but I’ve found OS X seems to work better for me on a day to day basis. (I haven’t tried out Vista yet, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.)
I think people should use whatever seems to work best for what they do. For most people that is windows because there is so much software that doesn’t run on a Mac or Linux and because they aren’t going to use the command line anyway.
That being said, some of the older versions of Internet Explorer make it very easy for other sites to install spyware. So if you are using Windows ME with IE 5, I would highly suggest upgrading to something that is less likely to get infected by spyware. That might mean going with Windows XP with IE 7 and a software firewall, Windows 2000 with Firefox and a hardware firewall, or even (gasp) OS X (if it works for you).
The point is that there are operating systems and web browsers available that are less prone to spyware infestation and people shouldn’t put up with having to run SpyBot and Adaware every few days just to keep their computer usable. I’ve seen way too many people wasting hours each day trying to use a crippled computer just because they haven’t taken the time to fix the root of the problem.
I have no idea how much time people spend removing spyware from their machines. I’m guess that as IE 7 and Firefox become the predominant browsers people will have to deal with spyware less.
What operating system and browser combination works best for you?
Arrête de respirer, ça te bouffe de l’énergie.
Fô voir à arrêter d’être con
Wendy Piersall :: eMom says
Aw, man! I LOVE clubbing baby seals! ;)
(OK, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m totally kidding!!)
I see you have learned to be very careful with what you say because somewhere on the web, someone will take you literally. :)
I’ve enjoyed your guest posts over at ProBlogger. Thanks for dropping by.