Waste Not a Moment (Time Management)

One of the legends surrounding people who get a lot done is they simply don’t sleep. It’s long been said that I have some number of clones who do part of my work, or perhaps that if you ask different clones the same question, you’ll get different answers. This has, of course, been verified scientifically… But the truth is busy people do sleep, and they don’t have clones.

What they don’t do is waste the one resource everyone has a limited supply of — time. In the British Navy of yore, there was a phrase for this focus on using time effectively:

Waste not a moment.

Now I’m not here to give you time management tips and tricks. I’m happy enough to tell you what I do that seems to work. For instance —

  • Set aside specific times to check email; don’t check it constantly.
  • Schedule time to read and learn every day; still, however, slip in reading while you’re waiting in line, waiting on dinner by yourself, etc.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time on social media. Don’t read the comments to a story, just the story.
  • Don’t feel guilty about deleting things, or not reading them.
  • Corollary one: Sort your email into mailboxes based on things that are to you, and things that are to a list you’re on. At the end of the day, delete all the list email. There will be plenty more tomorrow, and it’s not to you personally, so no-one is going to be offended.
  • Corollary two: Read news and blogs through an RSS reader, skipping based on headlines, and marking all read at the end of the day.

Okay, I could do this all day — but then I wouldn’t be following my own rule, would I? I’d be wasting my time in the telling, and your time in the reading, for not every idea to cut down on wasted time works for everyone. What I will tell you is some basic rules you really need to pay attention to if you want to waste not a moment.

The first is to be conscious of the time you spend on things. Think about how you’re spending time, rather than just spending it. Don’t just ask, “is this really worth it,” but also, “how could I do this in less time?” If taking less times means to learn a skill better, or to buy a new tool that will make things go faster, then do it.

A corollary to this rule is that small bits of time matter more than you think. “I only have fifteen minutes before we go to dinner, what can I really get done.” Say that four times a day, you’ve just wasted an hour. Not good. In fact, using the little moments to do little things allows you to gather up longer periods of time to do bigger things.

The second is to schedule better. Don’t let yourself drift through your day with no structure. It might seem stupid to wear a “uniform” to work, or to always eat the same thing for breakfast, or to always set aside the same time every day to do a particular thing (I always read for one hour before going to bed, every night — which proves I must sleep, or I wouldn’t read). Setting a schedule, even if you don’t follow it perfectly, is actually very helpful in setting an order to life.

The third is to mind the Sabbaths. This might seem like a contradiction in a post about wasting time, but you really need to stop and smell the roses (or the sea air, or the hamburger, or the…) every now and again. In fact, all the time. Time management is a delicate balance between enjoying the moment you’re in and delaying pleasure to make a better tomorrow. Perhaps the best balance is to learn to enjoy the building of a better tomorrow without getting trapped in the false “perfect future” fantasy.

A Sabbath doesn’t have to be about sitting around doing nothing — it can be a change of venue, or a change of focus, or a change from mental work to physical. It is anything which can break up the routine — just as moving from squats to the bench will build a complete body and keep from wearing one part of the body out, we need to move between things that build different parts of the mind.

Time is the only asset you cannot truly replace or save.