Every application we use has a fritter-to-value ratio.
Some are pretty low, like a (simple, non-graphing) calculator: you push the buttons, you get your answer. Basically no frittering to get the result you want. The fritter-to-value ratio is really low.
But then there are things like Facebook, which (for most of us) can have a really high fritter-to-value ratio. It's not that there's no value in what we do on Facebook, but the amount of frittering we do can easily wind up outweighing that value.
Beware the high-fritter “helpers”
When the release of shiny new gadgets is a daily occurrence–not to mention the myriad apps for each of those new gadgets–there's high potential to find “helper” applications to make your life easier, more fun or more effective.
There is also high potential to spend loads of time frittering away with options and tabs and “Oooh! I can color-code this!” and sorting and trying and switching-because-this-isn't-quite-perfect-so-maybe-something-else-will-work-better.
It's really easy to lose hours (sometimes even whole days) frittering on things that don't have much, if any, real value to you in the long run. Especially if you're someone who lights up at the thought of new ways to sort, organize, use, visualize, do; the urge to fritter will grab you long before the realization that what you're doing isn't all that effective or valuable has a chance to set in.
Frittering masquerades as productivity
The worst part about frittering is that it feels so much like useful action. It's usually not until we look back on the time spent frittering that we realize how little we actually accomplished. In the midst of it, we think, “Wow, I'm really getting organized!” or “Yes, this is the app that will solve my time management problems!”
Even when we're frittering on social media, we fool ourselves into thinking we're doing something useful: “I'm connecting with people. Connecting is good. It is okay that I've spent three hours clicking through friends' photo albums. It's connection.” (Same person the following day: “How the hell did I spend three hours looking at Facebook photos? I got nothing done!”)
So we can't rely on ourselves to feel when the frittering-to-value ratio is too high. Because frittering is action, it's just too easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that because we're doing, we're making progress. Not true.
Nip the fritter in the bud
Preventing frittering is about having a clearer picture of what's valuable in your day, and focusing on that. If you have ten things on your to-do list that need to get done today, taking one step on any of those items is more valuable than trying out a new to-do app on your phone. If connection is valuable to you, then going on to Facebook with clearly defined expectations (“I'm going to wish Bob happy birthday, check out the photos from Anna's keynote event and leave her a comment, answer the comments on my Wall, and publish a new status update”) will help you keep the valuable actions front-and-center and keep the low- or no-value fritter activities at bay.
Frittering happens when we lose sight of what we want to be accomplishing, or when we aren't sure what step to take next. We tend to fritter when doing something (even something that gets us nowhere) feels initially more comfortable than figuring out what our next truly valuable step really is.
We all fall into the fritter trap from time to time. It's part of being a curious and creative person. But chronic frittering is problematic, because you wind up always doing but never gaining much. Some people have lost entire months to what basically amounts to fritter activities. Some people have lost their businesses because they couldn't sort out what was frittering and what was valuable action.
Fritter busting starts with noticing
Notice what you want to accomplish. Notice what's valuable. Notice what activities pull you away from that. Notice what actions keep you “busy” but don't have much real payoff. Garner an awareness of where you fritter, and you'll better able to prevent it.
For me it's in new apps and gadgets… I could spend days and days trying out new ways of organizing my data and tasks, only to turn around and spend days and days doing it all over again with some other app or gadget!
★ Where is it that you fritter & what triggers it? How do you keep frittering at bay and focus on your valuable actions?
Love this point: “We tend to fritter when doing something…feels initially more comfortable than figuring out what our next truly valuable step really is.”
For me, I also tend to fritter when I’m not ready to take that next step. I may be fully aware of what it is, but for some reason, it’s just not “ripe” yet.
I also tend to fritter when I simply need a break.
So when I find myself wandering aimlessly around Facebook or reading random blogs or wishing someone would say something for me to respond to on Twitter, I’ve learned to stop and look at what’s really happening.
Often, I just need to take a break. A bike ride, a walk around the block, pulling a few weeds in the garden, or a row or two on my knitting, and my brain is back in gear again, ready to tackle the important stuff.
It’s still time away from work – but it’s far more satisfying, and leaves me far more ready to be truly productive.
Frittering is like empty calories: it leaves you unsatisfied and craving something more solid and meaningful!
Frittering is just like empty calories–good comparison!
I definitely fritter the most when I know darn well what it is but my inner five year old is stomping around shouting, “But I don’t wanna!” I haven’t done much mindless eating for years, but I do a lot of mindless consumption of content at those times. That’s my fritter activity of choice: reading every article on every blog I can get my hands on & assuring myself that it’s a valuable activity because I’m learning, after all.
Taking a break is a good idea–sometimes it takes only a few minutes away to shake off the fuzzies or the I-don’t-wannas & get back to making progress. Good call on that!
You unknowingly called me out. I am a closet fritterer.
I have a compulsion to feel busy, because on some level being busy means I’m still in business. Never mind that the hunched-over-my-monitor activity isn’t really moving me forward. The hunched busyness means that I *must* be very important because I feel Very Busy.
When I do manage to realize that around 2:15 I’ve accomplished a solid day’s work and there isn’t truly anything left to attend to until the next day, I feel guilty. Surely, everyone else will be burning the midnight oil, leaving me a lazy loser? Right?
I’ve been working on this by simply trying to be in the moment when that feeling comes up. It’s not easy, but it’s the best solution I’ve found for me. I stop, breathe, and try to feel what’s actually happening on a physical level in my immediate area. The sound of birds, laundry tumbling, my kids playing. The smell of my leftover coffee. The mist outside my window.
At the very least it brings me a sense of reality. I realize what I’ve accomplished that day and feel good about it. MMMmmmm…
Then I check Facebook. 🙂
We should really put together a closet fritterer support group. I get the feeling it would be well attended.
Out of curiosity, do you keep a to-do list of any kind? I’m wondering because for me, if I see a list of crossed off items, it makes me aware of exactly how much I’ve done, and I’m more likely to say, “Okay, I can call it a day & feel good about it” than I am if I’m just holding the day’s accomplishments in my head but not seeing them on paper (or on my whiteboard, as the case may be). Not sure if that same strategy would help you with the 2:15 guilt feelings, but thought I’d mention it.
I think your technique of reconnecting to the present moment is really smart. It’s definitely easier to lose time frittering when you’re disconnected from the present & from what’s really happening. Smart move, taking a moment to just come on back to The Now.
(See you on Facebook!) 😉