10 Tip​s to Defeat the Biggest Time Thieves

The good news is: No matter how badly your precious time is influenced by time thieves – the clock is reset every single day with brand new, fresh 24 hours for you to spend. What you need to do is to identify which of the following time wasters are responsible for your productivity loss and eliminate them ! So let’s get to it.

What are the biggest most common time thieves? There are basically two types of time snatchers on any given day: 


  1. Procrastination
  2. You don’t have a plan
  3. The wrong work attitude
  4. Self-made distracting environment
  5. Failure to delegate tasks


  1. Interruptions
  2. Meetings
  3. Unhelpful relationships
  4. Negative people
  5. Crisis or unforeseen events

Internal (self-made) are the ones you can eliminate completely by identifying (and most of the time acknowledging) your own shortcoming and change your attitude. These are the more difficult ones to change because they require a more disciplined approach to your workday.  External (other people or circumstances out of your immediate control) are things you need to react to. This mostly requires you to follow a set of rules so when these events occur you know exactly what to do.

Internal time thieves

1. Procrastination

The biggest time waster of all. If you cannot make yourself do what you have to do when you have to do it nothing else matters. This item is closely related to the next one because if you are not clear what you are supposed to do after you got up it is easy to slip into reading news, emails or chat with friends, update your Facebook status and go through all the “important” things other people posted about their life. Fact is watching others having fun or cats doing funny things will not get you anywhere. A basic question I often apply to any task is: Does this task bring me closer to any kind of goal or archievement. Try it out.

2. You don’t have a plan

Having a plan as an anchor point for the day ahead is the biggest progress in personal development I ever made. If I could pick only one of all the advice that is out there I would choose “planning” or better “planning towards a goal”. There are hundreds if not thousands of Apps and programs that help you to improve your planning (and I tried them all… nearly) but in the end, I found the most effective planning tool is a simple piece of paper or better small notebook and a pen. Why? It is always ready, does not need electricity, cannot be deleted, does not crash or require an internet connection. For an online version of pen and paper, I personally use Trello. This is a free service that lets you quickly create lists (like to do, doing, done, problems, ideas … you get the point) to store things that bother you. Trello offers a free App as well so whenever you need to get something out of your mind store it in a Trello list (www.trello.com). If you still have difficulties to organize your tasks properly you can use Trello as the tool and GTD (Getting things done) from David Allen as the method. I took a video course about this “Philosophy” on Lynda.com but an audio cd or book (which is much cheaper) is sufficient in my opinion. You can find it here on Amazon. I like the simplicity and practicality of this approach – it really helped me to get more stuff done in less time.

3. Wrong attitude

A bad attitude will also lead to procrastination or slows you down dramatically. If you dwell on problems or your mind is occupied with missed opportunities from the past or obstacles of the future you will not be able to deal with your next task on your todo list. This becomes even worse if you tell others. There is a painful truth about sharing your problems. I realized that most people either do not care or are happy you have these issues in the first place. Nobody at work wants to hear your problems so don’t waste their time too. If your mind is occupied with problems the simple solution is to write them down on a separate list to get them out of your system and set aside time every day (or week) to work through that list and include them into your plan for the next day so they get solved eventually. 

4. Distracting environment

Another factor that leads to an “I don’t want to work” attitude is your work environment. Not only should it be tidied up and clean but also “ready for work”. The best way is to prepare your workplace the day or evening before so that you can get started right away in the morning. Make sure you have everything you need to tackle your first task on the list. This means material you need, the information you require, contacts or any other asset that is required to cross the first item of your daily list. The second aspect is that you should make your workplace a place where you love to be. Put up some plants, lighten up your desk, make sure you have fresh air, a comfortable chair and a set of tools you love to work with. Especially for me as a freelancer now the chair was extremely important since I spend 10-12 hours in it every day. After a lot of research, I finally decided to go with a chair from the DX Racer series (a hybrid of office and gamer chair – I like to play a good game in my free time). Probably not for everyone but very comfortable ! Just take a look on Amzon and decide for yourself.

5. Fail to delegate

Nobody can succeed without help. If you have tasks that can easily be done by others and you fail to delegate them because you think “nobody can do it better than yourself” you rob yourself of the opportunity to finish the urgent and important items on your list. Sometimes delegating can even mean paying for it (like using Fiverr, Upwork or other outsourcing portals). If you pay 5$ to someone to do something that would take you an hour or two in which you could possibly get a 20$ task done the money is well spent!

External time thieves

6. Interruptions

There is no rule that says that you have to talk to anyone who comes to your desk or go out for lunch with whoever is waiting at the door! Learn to refuse people that are trying to steal your time. A simple: “Sorry but I am really busy right now, can we discuss that after work?” often is enough. I even went one step further and created some small cards I put on my desk to visualize my current availability status. This frees you from the unpleasant task of getting rid of “talkers” after they started telling you about their favorite TV series.

10 Tip​s to Defeat the Biggest Time Thieves

The second type of interruptions comes from the omnipresent connection to everything. Try to switch of your phone,watch,notifications or other beeping and bleeping devices that constantly drag your focus away from your current item on your todo list. If it makes a sound – switch it off !

7. Meetings

Many people just love meetings. A good way to hang out with coworkers and babble about problems that could have been solved with a simple five minutes phone call between the right people. If you get a meeting invitation check the following:

  • Does it have an agenda? A clear list of topics of what is going to be discussed is essential for a successful meeting.
  • Does it have a duration? “Open-end” discussions tend to last forever. Make sure there is a deadline and it is kept.
  • Is there anything you can contribute that solves at least one item on the agenda?
  • Is anything on the agenda solving any of your current problems?

If your answer to any of those items above is no try to refuse the invitation and ask for the meeting minutes instead.

8. Unhelpful relationships

Again – nobody can succeed without help. Make sure that your relationships are based on mutual help and respect. Try to create a trustworthy network of people that have a similar mindset of getting ahead and solving problems rather than trying to steal other peoples time. Help others whenever you can (but put it into your plan, do not just drop everything if someone approaches you) .. You might have heard the saying: The best way of making friends is to be one.

9. Negative people

This is a “double time thief”! Not only do they steal your time by telling you all their problems and sorrows and complain about everyone and everything – if you let them they bring your own mood down which may lead to a poor attitude and end up in procrastination. Get rid of negative people (even friends !) especially during your daily routine. This may sometimes be hard but if you are not the direct cause of their problem or could easily help them stay away!

10. Crisis

Crisis will happen and even with the best plan there will be challenges and unforeseen events that will throw you off your track. Important is that you know how to handle these situations. This is where all the other advice above can play a part in overcoming a crisis. Try to break the problem down into small steps, delegate what you can, activate your network to help you and call in some favors. Use your “Can do” attitude to keep on keeping on until you got through it and use this moment of success to boost your self-esteem and positive attitude!

To summarize it in one sentence: Make a plan and stick to it by focussing on your most valuable tasks you cannot delegate and ignore any kind of distractions from people or your environment.

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