Improve how you spend your time
More than ever, the world is full of highly-accessible and addictive time sinks. I have lost more hours than I care to think about on imgur, video games, what have you; technology has made it easier than ever to lose an hour here or there and not really notice. Entire categories of business have built their products around providing an addictive product, frustrating users, and charging for tools to defeat that stress. (Paging Candy Crush and Clash of Clans.) While this can be fun at the time, it can lead to regret in the long term: missed deadlines, poor grades, experiences foregone by time misspent.
So what is the average person to do?
“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” – Lord Kelvin
There are two big tricks these companies use against you: psychology and statelessness.
Using your brain against you
On the psychology side, timewasters make it trivially easy to spend “just a little” more time; imgur streams entertainment at you with each tap of the right-arrow key, and games of Candy Crush are intentially short enough to perpetually allow “just one more”. Apps, especially, try to build an “engagement wheels”: addictive little cycles that are easy to get lost in for great lengths of time.
Exploiting lack of context
These timewasters can get away with consuming so much of your life because most people don’t measure how they spend their time. Most people live in the moment, doing what seems like the best thing to hit their next goal or do their next job. This is a context-free way of approaching the world; instead of considering broader patterns and retrospectives, always focusing on the next few minutes makes it possible to repeat past mistakes.
It is exactly this context-freedom timewasters want to exploit! Because most people don’t track how they spend their time, it is possible to lead people into giving more money, time, and attention away; users literally don’t notice/comprehend how much time slips away.
The simple solution
But the trick is to have a retrospective; exactly how much time did I waste this past week? Am I OK with that? We cannot change what we do not measure, and we can’t make informed choices about how to spend our time without data on how we have spent it and how happy we were.
You need to do just a little bookkeeping. Calendars are not great for proactively planning, but they are a great place to store how you actually spend your time. Personally, I use Google Calendar; I am almost always in front of my computer, and that gives me ample opportunity to dash off what I actually did at any random time. I make blocks for whatever I was doing; times don’t need to be exact, so the default intervals of 30 minutes to multiple hours are just fine. This gives me a rough picture: how much time am I actually spending on things I value? How much is on entertainment I won’t value long term? Is it in big chunks, or slipping between other tasks?
Entertainment and timewasters are not intrinsically bad, but letting businesses that want your time and attention make your decisions for you is. Taking control of your time is surprisingly easy; just a little bit of tracking make it much, much easier to make informed decisions and change your habits. The tools are free! Use them!