How to Stop Wasting Time

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Can you think of a skill more important than to learn how to stop wasting time? The whole idea of financial success is to free up your time to live life to the fullest. This isn’t just about being more productive at work. What good is creating wealth or getting out of debt if you squander the fruits of those triumphs playing Ms. Pacman all day long? Here’s how to make sure you don’t waste a precious moment going forward.

1. What does your big picture look like?

If you want to stop wasting an asset the first order of business is to put a value on it. I’m not necessarily suggesting you attach a dollar figure to each hour you spend (although that’s not a bad idea). But I do recommend you look at your time as a tool you can use to help achieve your most important goals in life. If you misuse this tool it will be that much harder to achieve those goals – that’s the cost of wasting time. That’s why it’s so important to be directed and do whatever it takes to stop procrastinating.

Make a list of the 5 most important goals you have for yourself and your family. Keep that list nearby at all times. Make a copy of it and post it on your computer screen. This will give you perspective on how you spend your time as you spend it.

Here’s what’s going to happen if you take just this one step. You’ll subconsciously and automatically get a sense of the value in how you are spending your time. The attraction of spending hours playing Donkey Kong or trolling Facebook will diminish. You’ll automatically repel from time wasters in favor of doing those things that get you closer to achieving your most valued goals. Let’s move on to step 2.

2. What have you done so far?

The next step is to remind yourself how effective you really are. Take out a piece of paper and list all the things you’ve done so far that you are most proud of. What massive action did you take and have a great result with?

  • Do you have wonderful children? That takes work.
  • What projects have you completed that you are especially proud of?
  • What did you build that took time and commitment?
  • What difficult problem did you figure out and solve?

This won’t work unless you take a minute to write your questions and answers down. This list is going to be your secret sauce. This list will be to you as spinach is to Popeye the Sailor Man. It will give you unexpected and immediate strength to overcome the evil forces of procrastination and time wasting.

Why is this list so powerful? Because it serves as proof that you are effective, that you know how to get things done and that you are the kind of person who doesn’t waste time. It is a statement that will empower you beyond what you can imagine.

3. What’s on your list now?

Now it’s time to create your to-do list. I suggest you create an annual and a daily “to do” list. Refer back to the annual list every day to make sure your daily goals are consistent with your annual ones. I suggest having a maximum of 5 items on each list. Personally, I have 5 items on my annual “to do” list but only 3 on my daily list. Keep your lists handy throughout the day. Refer back to them. If you feel like you are off track or floating, review your list. You’ll know what you need to do to get yourself right again.

4. Promises Promises

You have your life goals list, your accomplishments list and your annual and daily “to do” list. You are completely equipped. Now review your daily list. Which item do you least want to do? Good…..get it done. I use this same approach to keep my email box empty.

Once you do the thing you least want to do (but really need to do) it will further empower you. The other items on the list will be easier to get done. You’ll see how quickly you become super-effective using this little tactic.

5. Accountability

At this point you’ve stopped wasting time and you’ve become a super-efficient goal achieving machine. You should celebrate your success.

But beware. If you’re like me, your energy and commitment will diminish. That’s why it’s important to have an accountability partner and to stay connected with his person.

I speak to my accountability partner every month and we trade emails almost daily. Part of our ritual is to update each other on what our goals are, what we are going to do, by when and what we’ve accomplished so far.

Sometimes it’s easier to let ourselves down than to disappoint someone else we care about. I don’t exactly know why that is so but I do know it is absolutely true for most people most of the time. Harness that power and stay on track.

If you want to stop wasting time, you can do so if you follow these 5 steps. Stay clear on your big picture. Keep written reminders of the big stuff you’ve already done. Keep an annual and daily list and get into action. Last, stay accountable to someone you trust and respect.

Try as I might, my experience tells me that if I don’t follow each of these steps, I slip back into “Donkey Kong” mode. I just need the structure. How about you? Would these 5 steps help? Which one surprises you? What has worked best in your situation?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam@Pennysaverblog March 28, 2013 at 5:16 PM

Good tips. I am a list person – I have lists for pretty much every day’s activities, as well as for weekly activities, etc. I am constantly revising my list and rewriting them as I accomplish my goals. There is something very satisfactory about being able to cross something off my list. This helps me to manage my time more efficiently since I always have a purpose and a goal for each block of time in my day.


Neal Frankle March 29, 2013 at 3:11 AM

I also love that feeling of putting an “x” through an item on my daily list. It’s a great sense of accomplishment.


Neal Frankle March 25, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Nick, I like what you brought up. Yes…this is a process and it evolves over time. At least that’s been my experience.


Pretired Nick March 25, 2013 at 10:57 AM

This is very well-timed. Now that I’m “semi-pretired” I find the days slip away from me quite quickly. The to-do list is still getting somewhat shorter, but I feel being more efficient would allow me to do a week’s worth of stuff within a day or so.
I do typically only allow five items on my main “to-do” list at a time, although I have a list of things coming up so I don’t forget about them. It definitely helps but I do notice many tasks take as much time as there is. They seem to balloon up to fill all available space. So a lot to work on, but appreciate the additional tips!


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