This is the time of year when spooky everything is everywhere, and brings to mind one of the most virulent productivity killers around. The “time vampire.” The Urban Dictionary defines a time vampire as, “something or someone who literally sucks your time like a vampire sucks blood.” Time vampires can be human or inanimate. The human ones usually specialize in interruptions. They are the folks who stick their head in your office to say, “hey, I’ve got a quick question.” And it’s never quick. Or the office gossiper, who derails your trip to the coffee machine with, “did you hear the latest about Caleb?” Or the person on the phone who drones on and on and on about not much of anything, making you so sorry you picked up the call to begin with, and all you can think about is, “just get to the point, already!”
The best solution to these serial interrupters is learning how to say no. “No” can take many forms, and often takes a lot of practice and forethought. That may mean establishing a visual barrier such as a closed office door, or a sign on your cubicle, or the understanding that when you have your earbuds in, you’re not to be disturbed. Sometimes it requires a direct, verbal, “sorry, I can’t talk right now,” but that takes a bit of moxie and practice! Adding something like, “Can we chat later? I’ll be free in about an hour,” can often soften the blow a bit, but drawing boundaries takes time and persistence.
What if it’s your boss who is the constant interrupter? An honest conversation about what she’d like you to prioritize can help, letting her know that it’s to her benefit to encourage your most productive behavior on her behalf. However, if her habit of interrupting is well established, you may need to resign yourself to some disruption on a regular basis and take some satisfaction in setting smaller boundaries!
You may need to say no to inanimate time vampires, too. If your intention is just to make a quick check of your social media before you start your project, and then you find yourself getting sucked into hours of scrolling, set up a timer to remind yourself to get back to work. Or try an app that allows you to voluntarily limit your time on social media, like Offtime, or Space. You need to set that boundary for yourself to keep yourself on track.
What else is getting in the way of your ability to make the most of your time? Time vampires have a habit of lurking around many hidden corners. Is your drive for perfection causing you to spend a great deal of time getting everything exactly right, whether it matters or not? So you get all the data inputted into that spreadsheet, and then you spend another hour fiddling with the size of the font, the color of the shading, and the height of the cells. Ask yourself, is that extra hour worthy of your time and attention? Will anyone else really care, or even notice?!
Awareness of those time-sucking entities is just the first step. Whatever your particular time vampire may be, being proactive and having a ready response or an established coping mechanism to deal with it (or them) is the key to reclaiming your time.