External Time Users*: Three Examples of How Others Use Our Time

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. ― Charles Darwin


Making each day productive is a great challenge, and other people can make it even more so. Since life by necessity includes other people’s involvement or contributions, we have no choice but to engage with colleagues, clients, vendors, bosses, friends, relatives, etc. It’s difficult to control what other people do, but we can control how we react and how we let it influence our time.

In this article, we’ll talk about how to recognize external time users (aka, our fellow humans).

Here are three ways other people use our time. They usually don’t do it deliberately, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is learning how to recognize them so we can avoid them, proactively deal with the situation, and/or figure out how to work around them. (You might also find Internal Time Users: Four Ways We Use Time interesting.)


Some people figure out how to complain regardless of the situation. If the sun is out it’s too bright. If it’s a rainy day, it’s too gloomy. You know the type.

I’ve found being relentlessly cheerful will drive these people to others for their gripe sessions. If that doesn’t work for you, then be direct when they stop by your desk: “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, but I really need to get this wrapped up.” Don’t feel like you have to explain further, and don’t feel like you have to schedule another time to talk.

If it’s a friend who complains too much, and it’s a friend you otherwise value, consider gently asking how complaining about whatever it is helps, or what they’re going to do to change the situation.

And if your friends do complain about the weather, ask them what good it does to complain about something they can’t change!

Unapproachable people

There will always be people that you won’t find it easy to go along with. Some people may find you to be a threat to them or to their position. Sometimes, certain people simply don’t like you.

Once you recognize that you’re dealing with someone like this, consider whether you can do something to heal the relationship or otherwise reassure the person. Insecurities are often deeply held, but it’s worth trying. You might be surprised by what caused the rift in the first place.

If you find yourself running into constant road blocks, try to work around them: How can you accomplish what you want to do while avoiding the people who are creating obstacles? What other colleagues can you loop into the project? Would it be appropriate to say something to your boss?

Disorganized people

If you have someone working for you who’s disorganized, you can deal with the problem in a fairly straightforward way by asking for change, and ultimately by replacing him or her.

If it’s a colleague or someone else you don’t have authority over, make sure you factor their disorganization into your plans.

So, for example, don’t go to their desk to get something; ask that they bring it to you when finished. That will save you time while they hunt for whatever it is. And naturally don’t let someone who’s disorganized take the lead in planning an outing or otherwise be in charge of a group. That’s just asking to have a mess to untangle later.

If someone is chronically late, have him come by your desk when ready to go to lunch. If you’re meeting out someplace, ask for a phone call when she is actually on her way so you can leave, too. If a colleague always loses things, make sure you keep the important things you don’t want lost.

You can’t push a rope, so you’re better off making sure that the extra time they spend because they’re disorganized doesn’t in turn affect *your* time.

If it’s your boss who’s disorganized, then see what you can do to help. Work together to come up with a plan, and explain to him or her that you want to be as efficient as possible. You want her to help you help her!

More people will use up your time in more ways than these, but the more aware you are of how the behavior of others affects you, the more you can adjust what you do and work around it so you can accomplish your goals.

And consider this: Are you the one who is disorganized? Complain too much? Are insecure about your job? Keep in mind that you might be someone else’s time user….and using your own time in unproductive ways, too!

To read further:





*I originally called this article “External Time Wasters,” but that felt unduly negative. After all, everything is an experience, so ultimately we just need to make choices about how to use our time and what experiences to have.


  1. Internal Time Users: 4 Ways We Waste Time on 26 March 2016 at 8:12 pm

    […] ← 10 Tips for Better Brainstorming* External Time Users*: Three Examples of How Others Use Our Time → […]

  2. Frank Brierton on 30 March 2016 at 4:11 pm

    This article gave me a reason to pause and reflect, as the saying goes. The people who interrupt the most in my life are those who are senior (to me)relatives who don’t stop to think that you have a life too. When retired, even your spouse can forget that, and then others do it to you as a couple. Protests aren’t any good if they don’t give value to what you are doing – and that can be uncorrectable. You just roll with it.

  3. Meg Bertini on 2 April 2016 at 8:17 pm

    You’re retired! Their time is their time and your time is their time :).