Have you ever experienced wasting your time without realizing it? You started working on something, but in the midst of it you were distracted by something else. The next time you checked the watch, one hour had passed and nothing got done. Or, perhaps, you didn’t even touch the thing you were supposed to do in the first place. Instead, you were just “busy” with something else.

Black time I call such time “black time” and it is an enemy of productivity. You may try to save time by doing only a few things and do them efficiently, but once you are caught by black time you will lose your entire time surplus and may even fall into time deficit. That’s why it’s important to eliminate black time if you want to be productive.

In this Internet age, one important cause of black time is unplanned browsing. I experienced it a few days ago while researching for the post Brain Workout: 10 Free Mind Games to Exercise Your Brain. When I was researching resources for chess, I wanted to check the current world ranking. There I found some interesting players whose profiles I then checked on Wikipedia. Many articles later I realized that 2 hours had passed! Similar thing could happen with instant messaging, playing game, watching TV, and many other activities.

So how can we eliminate black time? I haven’t eliminated mine yet, but I’m minimizing it and I hope I will reach the point where I can completely eliminate black time. From what I learn, here are some tips to minimize and eliminate black time:

1. List your potential black-time activities

Different persons have different set of activities that can cause black time. For me, unplanned browsing is one such activity. So list yours. By making a list of potential black-time activities, it will be easier for you to recognize them.

2. Set a to-do list of the day

While you might have a longer list of things you want to do, choose only some of them to be done today. This list is useful because it helps you identify whether or not a certain moment is black time (see #3).

3. Recognize black time

The next step is to identify black time. Your list in #1 should be helpful here. Since you already wrote down your potential black-time activities, you will be more aware of their presence. Your to-do list (#2) is also useful. If what you are doing is not in your to-do list, there’s a good chance that it’s black time. Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, taking necessary rest or doing something unplanned due to emergency is not black time.

There is one easy way to help you recognize black time. Just ask yourself: “Is it black time?” In most cases, you can easily answer this question with yes or no.

4. Get out of the black time

Once you identify that you are in black time, you should take action to get out of it. Here is a suggestion on how to do that:

  1. Stop what you are doing
  2. Take a deep breath for a few moments. Doing this helps you shift your focus away from the black-time activity.
  3. Check your to-do list
  4. Pick one thing to do
  5. Start doing it

This way you quickly replace the black-time activity with a useful one.

***

It’s is not easy to eliminate black time, but you can start minimizing it. Do you have tips to minimize black time? I would love to hear them.

Photo by cell105


Categories: Time management, Working

Please use your real name and note that I reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

  • http://stanleybronstein.com MrPositioning.com (Stanley Bronstein)

    While I generally agree with you that we need to eliminate time wasters, I’m not entirely certain that your web browsing example was necessarily a bad thing.

    While you may not have gotten everything done you needed, you were acquiring knowledge on a variety of subjects and you were increasing your overall knowledge.

    Somewhere along the way, the things you read then may be of benefit. I know that happens for me all the time.

    Mr Positioning
    Stanley F. Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author & Professional Motivational Speaker

  • http://angesbiz.com Ange Recchia

    Talking about black time… this is my first visit to your blog and I got caught checking out the brain training excersises. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great tool. It goes to show how easily one can be distracted!

    Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org Donald Latumahina

    Stanley,
    You’re right that such web browsing can help us acquire useful knowledge. What I mean here is unplanned web browsing that causes us to neglect our main responsibility. In my case, I lost two hours of working time which was significant.

    Ange,
    Yes, I have a lot of such experiences myself :) Welcome to Life Optimizer!

  • http://www.productivity501.com/blog Mark – Productivity501

    I find sometimes that turning off things that I know may be a distraction can help. For example, if I’m writing, I may turn off my wireless card so using the internet requires me to consciously turn it back on. It helps keep me from slipping into black time without realizing it and heading over to a new site or something like that.

  • http://www.snigel.nu Olle Linge

    Stanley, in addition to what Donald said, I think the crux here is that the browsing is done on a whim, without any conscious planning. Browsing the Internet, playing games or whatever, are not bad things in themselves, but they are not good if you do not realise what you have been doing until two hours later. I spend a lot of time playing games and surfing the net, but I try to plan it and do in consciously. To go along with the terminology of this article, it is not black time if you know you are doing it and you feel good about it.

  • http://www.streamlinedmind.com Hugo

    For me web browsing is definitely a time waster. It’s just too difficult to narrow down a search without being distracted by all the other interesting things that come along.

    The beauty of the web is that its so huge, but that also sometimes seems like a disadvantage because there’s never an end. It’s not like a book that you can finish. And sometimes while looking for a specific subject I want to know all about it, not just one websites opinion. This kept me awake for too long many times…

  • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org Donald Latumahina

    Mark,
    Nice tip. For me, that kind of action is effective to eliminate black time. Requiring me to consciously do something acts as a reminder to me that I still have something to do.

    Olle,

    it is not black time if you know you are doing it and you feel good about it.

    I agree. We should fully control how we use our time without having “leaks” here and there.

    Hugo,
    I think web browsing itself is not a time waster if we do it on purpose. But – as you pointed out – the problem is it’s easy to get distracted. It’s up to us to keep the distractions under control.

  • Bruce

    I find that my Vitalist GTD setup allows me to take advantage of my “black time” really well. Categorizing tasks by context makes this really easy.

    Great blog, btw.

  • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org Donald Latumahina

    Bruce,
    Thanks for the kind words.
    I haven’t applied it well, but I agree that the context concept in GTD makes it easy to fill our otherwise unproductive time.

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  • http://www.unizik.edu.ng Chibueze

    The concept is really wonderful and will enhance work output. However, the name “black“ attached to the time appears quite racist and discriminatory, and should be frowned at in a free society.
    The issue is a negative thing and I do not see why it should be named after a race. I suggest a change of name.

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