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The Toll of Wasted Time

Americans waste an average 18 months of their lifetime—more than it took to build the Empire State Building—on things beyond their control, from waiting in a doctor’s office to pairing up socks and standing in line at the DMV, according to a new report.

But for 63 percent, by far the biggest time suck is sitting in traffic, with 69 percent spending up to four hours and 31 percent spending five or more hours per week in traffic.

In two surveys of 1,000 people each for Traffic Intelligence specialist TomTom.com, 88 percent of Americans say they waste valuable time every day—either on purpose or accidentally—and the cost, in dollars and happiness, can make a big impact on their lives.

Time is valuable, yet those surveyed say they estimate that with every hour they waste, they lose on average $54, or $1,296 a day.

According to the survey, people waste time at least twice a day, with 63 percent lamenting they waste upwards of 40 minutes a day.

And that leaves 59 percent of Americans annoyed, 57 percent frustrated, 32 percent stressed and 32 percent feeling anxious. Not good on any given day.

But once its over, 55 percent are relieved, and one in six say they are calm.

One in three Americans says they value their time above all else, with 81 percent admitting they are constantly on the lookout for ways to cut corners.

“Studies show that irritations such as sitting in traffic can lead to psychological distress, ” said Jocelyn Vigreux, president of TomTom. “There are so many ways that people can get around the frustration and find shortcuts. In the end it makes us happier people and helps us get closer to our goals.”

According to an April 2013 study in Psychological Science, chronic stresses such as sitting in traffic or having an argument at work or home can cause psychological damage many years later.

In fact, 83 percent of Americans think they would be happier if they could find better ways to prevent wasting time.

Take your daily tasks, for instance. “Have a list of at list six things a day to do and do them, stay off the phone as much as possible,” suggests one respondent. “Get up early. If someone does call, make it brief, don’t stay on the phone all morning and don’t watch television shows that have no meaning.”

Among other tips:

“On the weekends, make a few meals ahead of time, so you just have to heat them—stew, chili, spaghetti sauce and so on. Freeze leftovers, so they stay fresh and are available when in a rush.”

“On your day off, do as much housework in the morning, so you can be prepared for any of life’s mishaps later in the day.”

Before you get into the car, “try to schedule trips when there is less traffic.”

Stuck in traffic? Pay attention to which lanes those big 18-wheelers are using. Usually truck drivers stay in contact with each other and know which lanes to avoid.

And by all means, wherever you go, “always bring a book,” a respondent suggested.

But the key, says many of those surveyed, is a good attitude.

“You have to accept that other people do not value your time in the same way you do. It does no good to get frustrated, angry or annoyed, and, in fact, that is a major time waster,” said another.

More than half of Americans now use some sort of technology or device to help them save time.

“Our lives are so busy these days. It’s gotten so that we need that extra help to get us through the day with less stress and greater peace of mind,” said Vigreux.

Travelers’ Top Ten Time Wasters

Sitting in traffic (63%)
Dealing with customer service on the phone (55%)
Waiting in the doctor’s/dentist’s office (47%)
Waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles (42%)
Waiting for a spouse/partner (17%)
Waiting for friends (15%)
Pairing up socks from the laundry (14%)
Riding on public transportation (12%)
Waiting to pick up children (5%)
Cooking a meal (4%)
#What could you do with 18 months?

Run 3,128 marathons
Get your teeth cleaned 26,280 times
Take 39 two-week vacations
Watch all 92 episodes of the hit TV series “Mad Men” 190 times
Roast 2,389 12-pound turkeys

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