Teaching > HP
442 Professional Practices > Time
Manage Your Time Zappers
Michael Olpin, Associate Professor, Health Promotion & Human
Performance, Weber State University, Ogden, UT
A significant deterrent to successful time management is time
zappers, those things that take
time away from what is more important.
According to a Nielsen Media Research survey done in 1998, televisions
are on seven hours a day in the typical home. The same study reports
that the average American spends nearly four hours per day watching
TV. By the age of 65, he or she will have spent nine years watching
Television viewing is an example of a time zappers because it
steals our time away from the precious time that we could be spending
on more important things. Imagine what you could accomplish if
you spent those four hours working on more productive things like
learning a foreign language or how to play a new instrument or
even doing homework.
Time zappers include:
- Driving from place to place
- Video games
- Unnecessary meetings
- Excess socializing
- Talking on the phone
- Surfing the net
You can probably think of many other things that would fall into
this category of time zappers.
The best way to manage time zappers
is by planning.
This chapter has given you several excellent ways to do this.
When you decide what the order of your activities will be through
the day and follow through with discipline, while maintaining
appropriate flexibility, it is easier to say “no”
to those things that waste so much of your time.
Work hardest during your “best times” of the
Most of us have two or three hours
during the day when we are the most productive. Are
you a "morning person," a "night owl," or
do you do your finest work in the late afternoon?" During
these times we usually have the most energy, and are the most
creative. Frequently this is in the morning. Try to schedule your
time so that your most important activities can be done during
these "best times" of the day.
Follow Pareto's Law
Pareto's law says that 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the
people. Extending this law to time management we find that
a mere 20% of the tasks yield 80% of the rewards and benefits.
In other words, there are certain aspects of most projects that
have a higher degree of leverage for completing the task.
For example, you may be working on a research paper. This involves
many steps from beginning to completion. You may find that the
activity with the highest leverage to complete the paper is the
time you spend looking up abstracts and transferring some of that
information to a general outline of your paper. This task will
be the one you will focus most of your energy on. As you approach
any task or assignment, isolate the 20% that controls 80% of its
Keep an Activity Log
Just as a nutrition log measures everything you put in your mouth
over a period of time, usually several days,
an activity log allows you to see what you do with your waking
moments of the day and thus, your time. Without
modifying your behavior, make a note of everything that you do,
as you do them, from the moment you awaken until you lie down
at night to sleep. Every time that you move from one activity,
like eating breakfast, to the next, like watching the morning
news, to the time you spend getting dressed, make a note of the
time in your time log.
After doing this for a few days
carefully look at what your log tells you about
how you spend your time. You will probably be surprised at how
much time you spend doing things that might be considered a waste
of time or have little value for you or anyone else.
Learn to say "No!" to
the unimportant or less important things. Most
of us find it difficult to say “No” to someone when
they ask us to do something or to do unimportant things. One way
to do this is by focusing on your goals. It is important for you
to be convinced that you and your priorities are important to
you. Before you agreed to undertake any additional tasks, you
can ask yourself if those tasks or activities will lead you in
the direction of your goals and priorities. If the answer to this
question is that they won't, choose to refuse to allow these unimportant
items to take up your time.
It might be time to re-think the old saying, “If you want
something done right, you have to do it yourself.” If some
things do not require your personal attention, delegate
them to someone else.
Establish levels of acceptable perfection
It is human nature to want to do our best on every task. We
find it difficult sometimes to submit work that may not reflect
our best performance. But frequently, there are things that we
do that don't necessarily require high degrees of perfection.
When this is the case, complete
the task at an appropriate level depending upon the importance
of the item. E-mail sent to a friend, for example,
does not require perfect grammar and perfect spelling. There is
no point in spending unnecessary extra time making your letter
perfect. Take a realistic look at other similar tasks and determine
which can be your “good” work and which should be
Do the most difficult or most unpleasant tasks first.
Once you have the tough tasks out of the way, you are freer to
enjoy your other tasks that are more pleasant and fun.
The most unpleasant tasks are usually the ones that rank more
highly on our priorities list. When we do those
first, we earn the satisfaction and inner peace that comes from
doing those things.
Enjoy the Process
Ask yourself how you can do the task and
have fun in the process – Maybe you can
do your homework with your best friend or go to a place with an
excellent view of nature and do it there. If you know that something
has to be done, but is unpleasant to even think about, ask yourself
how you can add something enjoyable to the process. Maybe you
can somehow make it a game or competition with someone else. Your
mind will usually give you some constructive ideas.
Give yourself rewards
Even for small successes, celebrate
the achievement of goals. Promise yourself a reward
for completing each task, or finishing the entire task. Then keep
your promise to yourself and indulge in your reward. Doing so
will help you maintain the necessary balance in life between work
As Ann McGee-Cooper, author of Time Management for Unmanageable
on Amazon] says,
"If we learn to balance excellence in work with excellence
in play, fun, and relaxation, our lives become happier, healthier,
and a great deal more creative."
Let some things go undone
Follow the advice of Lin Yu Tang who said,
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there
is the more noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of
life consists in the elimination
Let it be okay to not finish some things, and not even get to
some things that are on your list. An
uncompleted list only has the meaning you give to it. It
doesn't mean you are not being effective and it certainly doesn't
mean you are a failure. You decide what can be left undone and
you can choose to be okay with that decision.