Wasting time

"I need to be more productive.  I'm wasting too much time!" Have you made this complaint recently?  If so, you are not alone.  This is the single most common request I get for coaching.  And it makes a lot of sense..

First and foremost, this request goes straight to doing.  When we judge that we're wasting our time, it is typically because we're not getting stuff done.  We see the things that we're not accomplishing, and we notice that we're not being as productive as we know ourselves capable of being.

In coaching, the client is always in the driving seat.  As a coach, I simply shed light on what is so, how the client is showing up, and then let them steer from there.  With awareness, we can be intentional.

So, when this request comes up, the first thing we do is look at what is happening, without attaching any judgment.  How is the client  wasting their time?  What is their being like when they are wasting time (eg, frustrated, nervous, scared, annoyed, irritated, apathetic, etc.)?  What is it that currently triggers them into this way of being?

An important distinction to make is that it is our survival mechanism that wastes time.  When we are acting from our essence - from our truest selves - we don't experience a sense of wasting our time.  We've all experienced moments of working in flow, that perfect point where you have sufficient challenge to stretch you, but not so much as to overwhelm you, and you're working on something that generates interest or passion.  We don't finish a day working in flow focused on what we didn't do.  We feel fantastic and at peace with how things went, regardless of how much or how little we got done.

This is how these coaching requests typically go:

  • We identify some things that are triggering the client, so that they can notice them happening in the future (generating awareness)
  • We identify some tools that will assist the client in overcoming these situations and managing their time better

This usually works great for the first week.  The client has something new to try out, and they jump into it with gusto.  By the end of that first or second week, they return with the same complaint.

"Things worked out well at first, but then I went right back to my old behaviuors and read Facebook for four hours".

This result is unsurprising, because the focus up to this point has been on what the client is doing.  The metrics they are using to determine whether or not they are doing enough work are all externally derived.  How much is she getting done each day?  How many hours has she billed?  Did he finish the project that he wanted to?

Those external metrics may be important in order to meet commitments that are placed on the client, but they mask the more important detail, which is how they are being throughout all of this.

The gold in these situations is not in how a client can overcome their desire to procrastinate or waste time, but rather what is causing them to do so in the first place.  By shifting the focus from doing to being, we begin to see what is actually going on.

For many people, it is often boredom or dislike for their current job.  While their job may be safe, comfortable, and easy, it does not provide any challenge or excitement.  While comfort, safety and lack of challenge are seductive qualities that lure us in, they crush our spirit.  People feel engaged and fulfilled when they are able to take on challenges and grow into their being.  People assume that they cannot have challenge without huge amounts of risk.  Now that they've become comfortable where they are, there is no room for any other possibility, and everything else appears risky.

When we are faced only with comfort, safety and ease, we grow complacent.  We become corpulent (both in mind and body).  We lose sight of what we actually want, and instead shift our focus on maintaining what we have.

From this place, where our focus is fixed on avoiding negative consequences, it is easy to see why procrastination and wasting time can take over.  If our concern is simply to avoid getting in trouble and remain in our safe and boring job, we will do only as much work as is necessary to ensure we meet those minimum standards, and then waste the rest of our time.

Without challenge and impact, we lose our drive to excel.  When we stop operating from our essence (acting in a way that intrinsically fulfills ourselves) and shift our focus to operating from survival mechanism (reacting to external circumstances and stimuli), we lose desire and passion, and shift to wasting our time.  From this place, any time management tools are doomed to failure - we simply don't have the desire to be more efficient.

So, do you really want to be more efficient?  As a practice this week, take notice of where you find you waste the most time, and identify what it is that is triggering you.  Do you actually need to be more efficient in this area, or is it simply something you don't want to do?  If it is the latter, how can you delegate or offload that task?  How can you shift your focus so that you are able to spend more time doing the things that generate passion for you, and less time working on the things that trigger you?

Try not to lose sight of the fact that you do everything for a reason.  Your procrastination or time wasting doesn't represent a part of you that is broken.  It is actually providing you new insight - you just have to listen to it.