10 Ways to Simplify and Eliminate Waste in Your Life


September 11, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Everyone gets too busy. They pile up their tasks, responsibilities and often over-promise while struggling to maintain any kind of work life balance. It’s a hectic lifestyle that many lead and while I’ve written some articles on how to simplify your life and mind to get around this, there are other ways to help address this problem with the work and tasks you face.

I learned a key principle while going through a training course for work and while reading Lean Thinking. The idea is to identify and eliminate waste. This can apply not only in a production environment like the book is targeted for, but in life in general. There is so much going on around us every day we need to really strive to find and eliminate the waste that consumes our valuable time in life.

Finding Waste
When I first read the book, I didn’t connect the dots. Most people understand that creating waste in a production environment results in lost resources and money. However, as my thinking expanded outside of work, I saw areas of waste in everything. Some of the areas I quickly identified are:

  • Repetitive communication in multiple formats
  • Entry of data or documents in multiple locations/formats
  • Dependencies between people waiting for each other
  • Tools that make development slower or difficult
  • The workplace environment with policies / procedures that exist but are not always useful
  • Rework to fix problems caused internally
  • Rewrites of software due to unexpected changes
  • Failed attempts to solve a problem

The list could carry on for a long time in nearly everything we do. Anyone can find waste in life and there is always room for eliminating some of it. I’ve learned a couple of areas that drastically help with finding and identifying the waste we each experience.

Time Analysis

One of the best ways I know to find waste is to spend a week recording your actions in 15 minute intervals. I learned this technique from Peter Drucker in his timeless masterpiece The Effective Executive in a process he calls the Drucker analysis. You basically capture all your actions on a notepad for an entire week in 15 minute intervals. At the end of the week, you categorize your time spent and look at the overall time spent in each of those categories. Doing this will reveal a lot of time spent on things that don’t really have any lasting impact or importance to you or others around you. Those are the areas of waste!

Ask Others
Another technique is to ask others what they think you spend most of your time on. Generally the impression you give others has some foundation so someone else’s opinion on what you spend your time on is going to be fairly accurate. It may not be what you want them to see or believe, but it likely has merit from normal observation. Again, you can then classify this feedback into groups (if you ask multiple people) and collectively review all the things you spend your time on to see the areas that you consider to be waste.

Review Your Goals and Passions
Look next at your goals and passions in life. What are all the things that are holding you back from those? Everything that holds you back from what is important is potentially waste. For some people, critical thinking comes naturally so it’s often a lot easier to explore the areas that are getting in the way of the important things in life and work. Create a list of 10-20 things that get in the way of your goals and passions and look at which of those you’d consider waste. It’s quite likely that most of them are.

What is YOUR Life Waste Anyway?
The stuff you desire, dream for and long for are the areas you wish to experience more of. Maybe these are your adventures, travels, sports, family, friends, work, hobbies, etc. It’s different for each person of course and the important items in your life are the things that are often the hardest to find time to do. All that stuff that gets in the way is waste. It can seem that daily activities are endless and that most people really don’t want to be doing them. All these are waste:

  • Driving to/from work
  • Paying bills
  • Doing dishes and cleaning the house
  • Mowing the lawn and other yard work
  • Preparing meals and shopping / buying living essentials

Most people would agree with those areas that they don’t have any real lasting value. More debatable areas of waste are often in our pastimes:

  • Watching TV
  • Surfing the web
  • Sleeping more than we need
  • Line ups and delays for simple things like coffee and lunch
  • Work

These are not considered waste for everybody but there is definitely some waste here, it just varies from person to person about how they feel about those activities.

All the other things in life that you HAVE to do may be areas of waste as well. Do they support some other activity that you want to do and spend more time at? Work perhaps? What about your lifestyle and how you manage your time to commute and look after your groceries and bills? All that is wasteful and is worth adding to your list so you can look to eliminate it next!

I was inspired to expand on this topic and build this list because of a post by Andrew Bolis from Personal Hack who wrote that the biggest productivity tip is elimination . My list however, looks specifically at the physical time factor and tasks undertaken in life that are wasteful. Here’s my list:

10 Ways to Eliminate Waste

In order to eliminate waste there are many options, some simple, some drastic. Here are a 10 areas you could easily use to eliminate waste in your life.

    1. Don’t be so Patient!
      Patience is definitely a virtue and it is something that most people who know me would say I have little of. The advantage of that however is that I don’t have the patience to wait around for things. I see it as a huge waste and is an area I’ve learned to eliminate. I avoid line ups at all costs. I don’t wait in lines for simple pleasures like a drink or lunch. I’m not a coffee drinker but I see everyday hundreds of people waiting in line at coffee shops just wasting their time! I grocery shop late in the evening when things are not as busy and lines are shorter. I go to the bank or go shopping when places first open so I can get in and out fast without having to wait in line. If you have less patience with day to day things it is easy to find places to eliminate waste.


  • Just stop doing it!
    If you have the desire, motivation and will power, you may be able to simply stop doing things you consider waste. The article that is linked covers a bit more of the how to actually do this. If you can simply decide to stop something, it is the easiest way to eliminate waste from your life. Oh, and the quickest!



  • Make Wasteful Activities More Difficult to Do
    You intend to kill (waste) 30 minutes watching TV but instead, you get drawn in and it turns into 2 hours. To prevent this, you can purposefully make a wasteful activity more difficult to do.


For example, if you want to spend less time watching TV, you can put the remote in the garage for a month, or put a wall timer on the TV that automatically shuts it off every night at a certain hour. Even unplugging the TV so you have to find the cord and plug it in to use it will help you reduce the time spend in that activity since you can’t as easily do the activity mindlessly. Move your couch so it doesn’t face the TV, put a barricade in place that must be moved to watch or perhaps you might want to simply get rid of one or more televisions. If you have to share one or use it only in one place that is less convenient, so you won’t waste nearly as much time with it.

This tip works for any activity that requires some object or physical device. Pushing the ‘power’ button on the remote is too simple, make it tough.

  • Be more efficient
    Unfortunately there are many tasks we don’t want to do, but we still have to. If that’s the case, we should look to be more efficient at them so they don’t waste as much time. If you do a bunch of things at once, don’t prioritize your tasks or just have a huge list of things to do, you will be switching back and forth which always add some waste. Learn to prioritize tasks and find ways to be more efficient with them and you can get done those wasteful tasks quicker. Look to find efficiencies in all your tasks. 
  • Focus on Finishing with Your Waste
    The last thing you want is to recycle your waste. Don’t take on tasks and activities that are wasteful without following through and finishing them. Finish them so they are out of the way for good. If you deal with some of it, put it off and then have to revisit it, you start all over and things take more and more time to complete. Put your mind to finish with your waste and look forward to then having time made for the things you want to do. 
  • Double Up
    Even though I just listed in #5 to have focus, there are often times where your mind is on autopilot and you can easily multitask. For example, while doing house work or exercising, you could easily listen to music or audio books if those are things you enjoy and it allows you to turn time spent from be wasted to something you actually value. You can listen to audio books while driving or exercising instead of having to do that time separately and you will find even MORE time for the things you love. 
  • Reduce Your Travel Time
    A drastic change here would be to buy a house closer to work or change jobs so you are close to home. There are other ways to either reduce your travel time or maximize that time for other things. You could car pool or use public transit so you can multitask on your commute to work with other tasks. You could change your working hours so that traveling while traffic is light enables you to commute in less time. 
  • Take time to spiritually reflect on your life
    It’s amazing how just a few minutes each day in prayer, meditation, or spiritual study can impact your ability to focus on what matters in life. The time spent doing this won’t eliminate any other areas directly (unless it simply replaces them) but it will definitely give you more peace of mind and relaxation that will greatly assist you in simplifying your life and eliminating the things that are not that meaningful to you. If no time is spent thinking about your purpose and life goals, you will have a hard time identifying what is and isn’t waste. Commit some time to reflect on your life and use that to eliminate the areas that don’t fit your purpose. 
  • Find Someone else to Handle Your Waste
    You might have put a lot of your waste items in a must do category feeling that they are necessary even though you don’t want to do them and would label them as waste. Well, the good news is that for what you consider waste, there is often someone out there would doesn’t think that or might even value what you don’t want to do. This is especially true with service jobs such as yard work. You don’t have to do them yourself and there are companies and individuals who would welcome the work to take care of it for you. This is an easy way (even though it will often cost some money) to eliminate waste. 
  • Say NO!
    The most lasting way to eliminate waste is to learn to say no. Say no to buying new stuff you don’t need, say no to tasks you don’t want to do, say no to your habits that kill your time! Practice saying no to things you are comfortable eliminating and work to expand that no to other areas. If you can say no to anything that complicates and adds waste in your life, you can keep time available on the things that matter to you and to keep eliminating waste you already have. You certainly don’t need to eliminate one area of waste and just replace it with a new one. You must be able to say NO when its wasteful to you.

So, those are the things I find work best to eliminate waste. What are yours? I’d love to hear if these work for you or if you have your own tools to eliminate waste. I hope this gives you a way to look for the things you can stop doing, can say no to and I encourage you to help others learn to eliminate waste as well.


Written on 9/11/2008 by Mike King. Aside from being a unicyclist and product development manager, Mike blogs at Learn This, a productivity blog for passionately learning career, leadership and life improvement tips. Photo Credit: Grahambones

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