There is a big difference between doing something that is a waste of a time and something that wastes your time.  It's the difference between drifting backwards or moving, if only painfully slowly, forward.  It's also the difference between doing an excellent job on the wrong thing or doggedly pursuing something great.

Many seemingly important tasks fall squarely into the category of "things that are a waste of time".  You can keep your desk perfectly tidy.  You can hold meetings with lots of discussion but never any decisions.  You can keep your plans exquisitely polished.  Then after all that, you can look up at the end of the year and feel no closer to your goals.

What about the "things that waste your time"?  These are the things that let you close in on your goals.  They are essential and need to be done but they leave you with the feeling that they took too much of your time and focus.  Keeping track of your plans falls into the category of "things that waste your time".  It gets you towards your goals, but if it takes to much of your time, it shifts your focus away from both the bigger picture and important details you should be sweating over.

The risk is always that the tactical will overwhelm the strategic.  That the approach will distract from the goal, and that you will start doing an A+ job of the wrong thing, with perfect plan in hand, beautifully minuted meetings and a tidy desk.  It is better to do an imperfect attempt of the right thing than to jet off towards a misconceived goal.

Once you have decided to eliminate things that are "a waste of time", the next trick is to put those things "that waste your time" into a box.  If you figure out how to save ten minutes a day, every weekday, for the whole year, you create a whole week of spare time at the end of year.  Thirty minutes turns into three weeks.  An hour of saved time each day is equivalent to an entire month of work weeks.   Armed with these freed weeks, you can spend more time in the big picture, prototyping ideas and tying off lose ends.  If you do something satisfying with it, then the saved time starts to feel like earned time.

There are some simple ways to save, or earn time each day.  None of them are glamorous and they are all easy to do with simple tools.

I usually try to use my daily commute to do more than just move from A to B.  I dictate notes myself, sometimes recorded, other times just aloud to myself.  Thanks to hands free cellphones, I don't look like a crazy driver talking to the voices in my head.  And while I don't type everything that I dictate, it does mean that I have a whole series of ideas lined up before I even arrive.  I have just earned my first ten minutes.

I also set detailed meeting agendas as often as I can.  An agenda works like a road map and when we get the end of an agenda we adjourn the meeting.  If it takes fifty minutes do this and we have one hour scheduled for the meeting we immediately adjourn.  I have earned another ten minutes and so has everyone else.  If we don't get to the end of the agenda, any items that can wait until next week get deferred.  We still adjourn.  This means that the most important items always go to the top of the agenda.

If the meeting has done what it is supposed to, there are decisions and actions that now need to be made to stick.  I take my note form minutes and give them to someone else to put into the web based work management system.  Technology produces this insidious temptation to do everything yourself.  A kind of DIY for the Web 2.0 World.  But if someone else types in my minutes, costs significant less per hour than myself to do it, and they want a trickle of gap-filler tasks in their inbox, everybody wins.  I've earned another ten minutes before lunchtime.

Finally, a powerful way to earn ten minutes a day is to keep your e-mail from eating you alive.  One way is to use automated rules to categorize your inbox, letting the cream rise to the top and the spam sink to the bottom.  Another is to cut short the long e-mail back and forth discussions.  If everyone works in the same building, then there is little excuse for the long, winding and grammatically correct e-mail thread.  Issues should be raised and dropped into meeting agendas where the right attendees can discuss matters face to face.  People simply talk faster than they can type grammatically correct e-mails.  They also behave better and collaborate faster.

That's it, we're done.