3 ways to stop time thieves in their tracks

Who stole your time?
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(MoneyWatch) Some spam bot found my personal blog a few weeks ago. The bot began posting four or five comments per hour, offering my readers a wide range of the world's finest pharmaceuticals. My filter caught the posts, but in order not to delete new reader comments I had to wade through and delete all the spam.

That probably took three seconds per comment. Not a huge amount, of course, but deleting 100 comments per day at three seconds per comment is 300 seconds, or 5 minutes. That adds up to 35 minutes a week, a not insignificant amount of time essentially stolen from me.

I've since worked out a new system, but that experience got me thinking about other time thieves that seize too many of the 168 hours we all have each week. There's being put on hold while being reminded that one's call is very important. There are companies that seem to require multiple inquiries before addressing a problem (I'm still waiting for a response from Hertz after they emailed me on Sept 27 saying my email would be responded to in the order it was received -- they must get a lot of emails there!)

There are late people and service providers whose business models seem to involve making more appointments than they can handle in any given period of time. There are malfunctioning pieces of technology, traffic-choked intersections and meetings that veer off course to the point that people fantasize about leaping out the conference room windows.

How can you stop these thieves? Three ways:

1. Play offense. Patronize companies with a reputation for good service, and do your due diligence. If a dental practice just lost one of its partners, they won't be running on time, so you might want to look elsewhere. Work from home some days and skip the traffic (and the office distractions). If you've got flexible hours, do your errands at non-peak times so you don't get stuck waiting to turn left out of a parking lot.

2. Play defense. Have something to do with you. A smartphone serves this purpose for most people (It feels so productive to check email while stuck in the grocery line!) but it's far from the only option. Carry a book or magazine with you. If you're put on hold, put the line on speakerphone and watch TV or something else guilt-free while you wait.

3. Change your perspective. Often, what makes time thieves so disheartening is that we feel we don't have enough time in our lives for the things we want to do. If you're feeling overworked and burdened at home, then 35 minutes spent deleting spam is infuriating. But time is largely about choices and priorities. Figure out what activities would create joy in your life and start scheduling them in. If I could find 35 minutes to delete spam comments, I could find 35 minutes to play the piano. And if I were regularly making time to play the piano, I probably wouldn't be so disheartened by losing time to life's spam bots.

What are the biggest time thieves in your life?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user subcircle