For an entire week, I wrote down what I did for every minute of the day. This usually meant writing something down every time I switched tasks.
An example would be:
10:05AM to 10:27AM Bathroom break while surfing Instagram – 22 minutes total.
The results were shocking.
I spent up to 50% of my time over the week doing unproductive tasks.
How was this possible? I was a high-performing student, taking on more college credits than most students.
Some of the time was spent on something unchangeable: 30 to 60 minute commute times (until I learned to listen to useful podcasts and audiobooks while driving).
But what about the rest?
It’s usually small things.
7 minutes on Facebook here.
39 minutes of a productive task.
19 minutes on 3 YouTube videos.
27 minutes of a productive task.
4 minutes on Pokemon Go.
Those small moments of distraction add up.
The daily time-wasting didn’t seem like an issue until I logged my time and added it all up. The numbers were embarrassing. And I’m a guy who is pretty productive — so imagine the average person.
When I finally got things going in high school, I was taking advanced placement gifted and talented classes for almost every topic and getting almost all A’s while competing professionally on the state and regional levels for piano.
Or was I just not as productive as I thought?
Here’s what I think occurred:
- Freedom breeds unproductive tasks. In high school, I had to go to school I had to go to classes. It was required. In college and in the workplace (and especially in business), that level of freedom can lead to unproductive tasks sneaking in.
- Who you surround yourself with rubs off. In high school, I developed a regiment at home by surrounding myself with ambitious people. I lost that in the chaos of college and beyond.
- Small things add up. I think this was always the case. 5 minutes here on Facebook and 15 minutes there add up.
So I decided to run the experiment again.
Here are my results:
(LI is my abbreviation for productive work tasks)
Just by documenting this stuff, it kept me more on track because each time I would shift to surfing the web, I’d have to write it down and would be guilted to not do it.. or at least spend less time on it.
Shocking, shocking stuff.
The same things rang true, but it was even worse.
Social media and the web is very, very tempting.
Twitch, Instagram, viral articles, websites, Youtube videos..
These things are now psychologically designed to suck you in because that’s how they make more money.
I know this for a fact since I’m pretty social media and blog-savvy.
The way people write or the way viral videos are done, it’s oftentimes to keep you watching to increase that session watch time to increase their rankings.. or lower the bounce rate (note: this is a generalization, there’s still some people who do well on Youtube who just simply make videos they like)
A little 5 minute check here and there adds up.
A few times, this behavior ran over and bled into 15+ minute sessions.
I found something new..
This is even more dangerous:
The biggest thing you should avoid is information that “seems important and helpful to you but is NOT your #1 priority”
I’ve talked about this in my complete productivity guide: willyoulaugh.com/productivity
This is the lesson Warren Buffett told his pilot:
“The biggest distractions from your #1 goal is #2 to 20 on your to-do list, NOT #52”
I ended up rationalizing away a ton of the time I spent on other things because they were “fairly useful”
Things that were not my #1 priority.
Usually, they were #4 or #7 down the line: “Hey, this will really help with my exercise.” or “Hey, this will help me in blogging.” or “Hey, this is helpful for business and earning money one day.”
Don’t believe this. It’s helpful but still a big distraction.
Finally, there’s one last big thing I saw:
I’ve identified and explored this topic for the last year now as I identified it before this experiment:
You sometimes have deeper psychological reasons for doing stuff.
By Day 3, I had almost stopped doing it because it was embarrassing. Part of Day 2 and Day 3 had ball-park ranges because it was too embarrassing and shocking to calculate the minute by minute of my day. I was wasting hours of time.
Sometimes, you have to explore that:
Maybe you can’t cut out those 2 hours of computer after a workday because you hate your job, your willpower is drained, and you depend on that to computer-time because it’s the only fun and enjoyment in your life and without it, your life would be incredibly boring or bad.
That is an example of a psychological dependence.
I’ve been exploring a lot of material on how to rid yourself of something like this. Quite frankly, there’s not much out there on the topic.
Richard Branson always say to only do what you enjoy and if you’re not enjoying it, stop doing it.
I agree with him but that’s easier said than done.
What if you work a job in a chemical factory because you have a chemistry background and you hate it.. and all you enjoy doing is video games and tennis, both of which you suck at.
Here’s what I have found that may help guide you there.
This is based on a TON of “follow your passion” material online and offline like the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.
- Discover new passions. If you have the problem of too few passions, try new things to discover more. It’s a myth to only have one passion that you can use to make money. Asian Boss did an interview with a pro soccer player that got fatally injured and found a new passion in electronic music. Now, this man makes a great living off music. It took him a lot of years of working manual labor at a hotel, while growing his music career on the side. Lewis Howes did a similar thing: he was a pro football player that got injured, slept on a couch, and hustled for years to become an entrepreneur. Evan Carmichael didn’t think he’d like salsa, but he tries everything at least once. It turned into his favorite hobby. I recommend trying things at least 3 times because the first could be a bad experience for a random reason.
- Over many years, develop and shape those passions into something that is monetizable. Become GOOD at a passion. Research how you can make money from them. It will take hard work, it will not happen overnight, it will take patience, it will take smarts to see which passions are and are not monetizable, it will take research. But if you’re willing to do it, you can. Create your new lifestyle.
Again, this is just based off my current experiences. This advice may change over time.
Video games is one of my many passions. I’ve tried and/or considered every way to monetize it: a Youtube channel, all sorts of different forms of gaming videos, e-sports, social media management, pro-gaming, and so on.
What I learned was that:
Some things I will never be good enough at: 10,000+ hours at League of Legends and I’m around the 60th percentile out of millions.
Other things I just don’t love it enough to keep pursuing it or do it full-time: I think it’s possible that if I hustled SUPER hard and did everything under the sun to advance myself (connected with e-sports casters, started an e-sports blog, maybe even hitch-hiked to competitive games, practiced my skills), I could have made it as a possible e-sports caster or someone behind-the-scenes. But did I really love it enough to go that far? Would I be fulfilled and enjoy it enough to go that far?
I’ve learned that you have to do your research to see all the possible pathways out there so you don’t miss any, but some will be closed just based off how potentially good you can get at the skill and other things you may not enjoy enough: I like e-sports but not enough to do it 120% day and night and love my life. Having said that, don’t be too picky. If it’s much better than your current, horrible situation: a really crappy 9 to 5 job, you can always slowly transition up. Do it.
Breaks are crucial. If you can take 5 minute breaks every half hour or so to relax and look at nature, you’ll stay focused longer, get more done, and spend less time getting sucked into the black hole of distracting social media apps and games.
Use basic productivity principles to improve your efficiency in getting things done.
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