Get Your Life Back: The 7 Biggest Tech Time Wasters and How to Beat Them

Technology is a beautiful thing. It can allow us to be more productive, more tuned in to work-related data and much more responsive. The amount of work we can get done on an iPad anywhere with a data connection is truly amazing. If we’re not careful, though, technology can actually suck our time away from more important things.

Tech Stress SolutionsMany of the biggest tech time wasters are actually by design. It’s important to understand that the internet experience you encounter each day has been specifically designed to keep you engaged as long as possible. Today’s technology allows marketers to show only those articles, shopping items, status updates and news items that would be of interest to you. In fact, I talk about a lot about that on this blog from marketer’s point-of-view.

Knowing that the biggest tech time-wasters were designed to keep you busy, it’s no surprise there are so many out there, and that they are so effective. Here are the biggest culprits with some solutions for how to beat them:

Problem: Email overload – Email overload comes in many forms and there are many great articles about how to break free from the your hostage-taking inbox. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has a particularly clever method called “Yesterbox.” Newsletters and promotional messages are especially dangerous, since they deliver constant distractions to your inbox without necessarily providing any value worth your time and money.

Solution: Perform a newsletter/promo subscription audit and unsubscribe from all but a small percentage of those you actually value. It will take about 15-20 seconds to unsubscribe from each subscription. In almost all instances the unsubscribe button will be at or near the bottom of the message. If you don’t see it, use Control + F (Command + F on Macs) to do an on-page search and type in words like “unsubscribe”, “remove” or “preferences”. It may seem like a hassle to spend the time to unsubscribe, but the small amounts of time you take to delete them on a daily or weekly basis add up quickly. This exercise will save time in the long run. I recommend doing this at least once a year — think of it as spring cleaning for your inbox! You can also easily set up filters in your email account to move certain messages into folders where they are out sight and mind. Gmail is great at this. Finally, for a tech solution to a tech problem, read your daily content via RSS readers, which don’t clog up your inbox and allow you to read on your time and much more efficiently. Google Reader used to be my favorite until it shut down, but there are plenty of great alternatives that I cover on my blog post “4 Legitimate Google Reader Alternatives.”

Problem: Slow computer – Sometimes your computer itself can be a time-waster. By not fixing the problem, you lose 5 seconds here, 10 seconds there.

Solution: When was the last time you removed adware and malware from your computer? These cause delays in your day-to-day computer tasks and the small delays add up to big time wasted. Professionals and computer programs can help easily remove viruses, malware and adware with no technical experience needed. Eventually your computer, tablet or smart phone will be too slow simply because it’s too old and can’t handle modern tools. A new computer can be a big investment, but remember the old adage that your time is worth money. How much time and money are you losing because of a slow computer?

Problem: Comments boards – This is a big one. Journalists are experts at bringing you news that creates a reaction, whether it’s heart-felt sorrow or controversial/political heat. These types of stories bring out the comments. The problem occurs when people actually spend more time reading how their anonymous peers are reacting to news items than the actual news itself!

Solution: Do yourself a favor and stay away from the comment boards on news sites. You’ll rarely miss anything more than a troll who provokes the rest to start an anonymous internet fight that isn’t worth your attention or time.

Problem: News sites – News sites themselves are also a major distraction because each article is often displayed with related articles that may also be of interest.

Solution: The related articles feature isn’t necessarily bad as it shows that the news site is tailoring content specifically to you. That’s great! Just be aware that it’s designed to keep you reading for as long as possible. Be aware of that and limit your time on these sites.

Problem: Online shopping – A typical scenario: You go on Amazon to find something you know you want. Amazon’s genius big data marketing machine convinces you to buy related products and then search for other items you never even knew existed, but somehow now must have. Craigslist is on the opposite end of the spectrum, but just as tempting because new items are posted all the time and you never know what you might miss.

Solution: This is just another example of a web experience that is very tailored. Again, it’s great to be shown relevant products (e.g. you have a tent in your shopping cart and Amazon recommends a sleeping bag), but just be aware that the experience is ultimately designed to get you to keep spending — both time and money — by following Amazon down the rabbit hole of products.

Problem: Social media – You’re probably wondering why a social media marketer is calling social media a time-waster. I love social media and can write post upon post about why. We can go overboard though. Social media plays into our psychological need to feel a part of something. It also allows us to obsessively keep up with all of the latest among our friends and family, and make sure we’re sharing enough to stay relevant. This is cross-generational, by the way, not just reserved for millennials. The biggest culprit here is Facebook, but Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and others can drain time as well.

Solution: Don’t go crazy deleting all of your social media profiles. I have a few Facebook friends who have probably deleted their pages four or five times to “quit it for good” and then they come back over and over again. Unless you really blew it on Facebook (or if you’re being stalked), then there’s no reason to shut it down completely. Deleting all social media profiles to get time back is like throwing away valuable food from your pantry because you overeat. Temperance is the key. Don’t throw it away, just be aware of how much you consume and find a healthy limit. Realize that there are useful ways to use social media and also counterproductive ways as well.

Problem: YouTube – Two words: Related videos. When two billion videos are watched each minute and with 35 hours of video uploaded each day, you’ve never seen it all. In fact, the average U.S. internet viewer watches 186 videos every month. In short: we’re addicted.

Solution: By this point, I think you know the solution. Don’t quit it altogether, just limit your time and ignore the related videos, if necessary.

There are a number of strategies to limit time spent on these addictive time-wasters, which include simple stop-clock widgets and programs that actually cut access to selected websites after a time limit has been reached each day. We can even use technology to solve our technology problems. Sometimes we do need a hard break, though. I’ll finish this post with some wise words from John Mayer that were written pre-iPhone, pre-Google Glass, pre-Surface, but still get the point across:

I’m writing you to
catch you up on places I’ve been
You held this letter
probably got excited, but there’s nothing else inside it
didn’t have a camera by my side this time
hopping I would see the world with both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
in the mood to lose my way with words
Today skies are painted colors of a cowboy’s cliche’
And strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
are next to mountains anyway
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
in the mood to lose my way
but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
just no more 3×5’s Guess you had to be there
Guess you had to be with me Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to
lose my way but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
no more 3×5’s
just no more 3×5’s


Photo Credit: tryingmyhardest (Creative Commons)

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