I am under vampire attack! I feel like Buffy the Vampire Slayer sometimes, as I am constantly on guard against these insidious creatures of the night. They attack when I least expect them and suck the life right out of me. I wish they would sparkle distinctively like Stephanie Meyer’s vampires for quick recognition, but reality is they are often the shiny objects that lure me in. I’m talking Time Vampires, those things in life that steal the most scarce resource we have and yet have no control over – time.
What is a Time Vampire?
Time vampires are everywhere. They are activities that take more time than we would like to spend. Television, video games or even daydreaming are some common Time Vampires. I’m not saying the act itself is bad . That is a whole other argument. These, and many other activities, easily get out of control without our realizing just how much of our life they have consumed until it is too late. I know when I sit down to play a video game, time seems to speed up and evaporate. The next thing I know, it is 3:00am and the rest of my week is shot while I recover from a lack of sleep.
Silently, these vampires suck away our lives, leaving us disappointed in ourselves and destroying the ability we have to accomplish bigger goals and ambitions. We have to constantly be aware and on guard. Some of these vampires can even be disguised as things we usually consider to be good, like reading, paying bills, yard work, cleaning or cooking. If it gets out of hand and keeps us from accomplishing a higher goal, it is a Time Vampire.
Recognizing a Time Vampire
Time Vampires are not easy to recognize. I wish they sparkled when brought into the sunlight. They don’t appear in front of us in swirly black capes in pointy teeth, either. They often can’t even be recognized directly, but only by their effects, sometimes over long periods of time. This is why they are so difficult to identify. If we don’t arrive at a goal when we think we should, too often we shrug and say, “That’s life.” However, it could be that we have allowed a Time Vampire to deflect our course along the way.
First, we must know where we want to go. I believe Louis Carroll summed it up best in Alice In Wonderland.
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.
If we do not know where we are going, we will never recognize a Time Vampire deviating us from our destination. To identify a Time Vampire, we have to evaluate every activity we do and ask if it is moving us closer to our goal.
The second question is ask how much time it takes to do the activity in relation to how much it should require. For example, paying bills is a Vampire for me. I enjoy the analysis just enough that hours can go by in a blink. Vampires come in all shapes and sizes. What is a Vampire for me, may not be one for you. Gardening is not a Time Vampire for my wife, but it is for me. She loves it and I don’t, but because I love my wife, I participate. I will get on a project for her and time will get away from me and the next thing I know, I have lost an entire day. It isn’t wasted time, just spent completely on activities that don’t contribute directly to my personal goals. I’m not saying am not saying I should never help my wife, just need to be aware of what I am not getting done as a result so we can judge a compromise.
Guarding Against Time Vampires
I wish wearing a garlic necklace would help ward off a Time Vampire. It isn’t nearly that easy. The most important thing is to have that firm goal in mind of what we are working toward. Once we suspect a Time Vampire is in play, start keeping track of the time it takes to the the various activities of the day. Before starting something, decide how much time is going to be allowed for the task. This evaluation needs to be done regularly as Time Vampires can creep quietly in and take over. Weekly reviews are made to help us identify Time Vampires. We not only review all the tasks and projects we are working on, we spend time evaluating our goals and plans. We should constantly question whether the tasks and projects are moving us toward those goals. Once we have found a Time Vampire, we then have to develop a plan on how to eliminate or at least contain it.
Becoming a Time Vampire Slayer
Just as vampires don’t like wooden stakes or crosses, Time Vampires don’t like awareness. Once we know something sucks our time away, we can consider alternatives. Coming up with different ways of eliminating each unique Time Vampire can be a lot of fun. The more creative, the better the solution may be. Remember, everyone is different, so my alternatives may not be acceptable for you.
When I identified bill paying as a time vampire, I decided to automate as much of it as possible, using electronic bill pay options. I automated bill paying to the point I have very few bills to manually pay each month. I use a checklist of expected bills to quickly work through the bills and be confident I haven’t forgotten one.
Another option is outsourcing. I outsourced lawn mowing to my kids. For Christmas, I outsourced one of my wife’s Time Vampires – housecleaning. I hired a talented woman to spend a few hours every other week to do the deep cleaning so my wife can spend her time on other activities. It was a little expensive, but we haven’t regretted it once.
Another technique that works for those things I still have to do, like email, is the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer for 20 minutes and focus intently on clearing as much as possible during that sprint. The timer helps me stay on task, keeping the Time Vampire from distracting me into long deviations. This technique also helps me get through tasks that easily wipe out an entire day, like cleaning the garage. If I focus for 20 minutes over several sessions on consecutive days, it actually takes less time than one long, daylong session. Breaking big tasks into smaller ones keeps the Time Vampire in check.
What are some of your Time Vampires? Share them in the comments section. It may help the rest of us identify ones we haven’t recognized yet. How did you find them? What works to keep them at bay? We all need to stick together to guard against Time Vampires.
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