Systems & Tips

Stop Wasting Time: 5 Tips Learned from Buyer Psychology

Impulse Buys

They’re called Impulse Buys.

You’re probably familiar with them: all the candy, gum, toys, sodas, and magazines that you’ll find right by the check-out counter of grocery stores.

They didn’t get there by mistake. A lot of thought and a lot of research have gone into arranging these impulse buy zones – because retailers know they work. They know how impulse buys work and why they work.

Interestingly, a lot of the psychology is also applicable to how we use our time – helping us to see why we waste time with “impulse actions.”

Here are five factors behind the success of impulse buys that we can use to be better stewards of our time:

1. Impulse Buys are Low Cost

The higher-priced an item is, the more rational we tend to be with our purchase decisions. The lower the price, the greater the eh, why not? factor. Likewise, it’s easier for us to waste a minute here and a few minutes there on facebook or aimless web browsing.

How we can stop wasting time:

As best as you can, honestly keep tabs on your impulse actions. Then add the daily or weekly totals to see the true impact. You can use time-tracking applications to help out if you don’t want to go the old-fashioned writing-it-down route.

Once you have your totals, look for vulnerabilities – and work hard on fighting your top impulse actions.

2. Immediate Gratification

No one buys a pack of seeds to be planted as an impulse buy. We buy things that solve our immediate problems (we have bad breath) or give us immediate pleasure (candy is yummy).

What pleasure are we seeking with our time wasting – or what unpleasant activities are we trying to avoid? Most of the time, we’re procrastinating and seeking a release from an activity that we find unpleasant.

How we can stop wasting time:

You could take the philosophical route. When tempted with procrastination, remind yourself of the long-term importance and value of the activities you have as options. (Have “a sound mind” when evaluating choices).

Or you can get down and dirty by having an impulse action be so painful that it loses its appeal. I’ve heard of people doing this by ripping up a dollar bill when they acted impulsively. I’ve also heard of people actually causing themselves physical pain, perhaps wearing a thick rubber band on your wrist and snapping it. Maybe you force yourself to get down and do 25 push-ups.

3. High Visibility

Location, location, location: impulse buys are all about visibility. Seeing the item before us is what creates that initial impulse.

How we can stop wasting time:

Think about how you could limit the visibility of your impulse actions. For me, this is making sure that time-wasting websites aren’t in the dropdown list of my URL bar.

You can also increase the visibility of the things you want to do by placing goal lists or other motivations nearby. I have a timer that I put right in my peripheral vision, reminding me that time is ticking by and I better get moving.

4. No Plan

Studies have shown that most consumers go to a store and have no idea what they’re going to buy. Those without a clear plan to buy are much more influenced by their impulses.

How we can stop wasting time:

Have a plan for what you’re going to accomplish that day and week. Break it down to projects and even brainstorm the specific actions you’ll do first. You’ll need to be flexible, of course, as things arise. But if you stare at a to-do list and don’t know where to start, it’s pretty easy to do something ineffective like checking your Email for the 100th time that day.

5. Decisions at Different Points

Going through the aisles, you’re in grocery-buying mode. You’re thinking about meals and healthy eating and budgets. In the checkout counter, your brain has already switched gears – so you’re more apt to make an impulse buy.

How we can stop wasting time:

Be on guard in times of transition. Rarely will I stop what I’m doing to log on to facebook. But I’m much more likely to waste time when switching between tasks.

One solution is to ease this transition. If you have your day planned (see #4 above), set out the materials you’ll need that day in the order that you’ll need them. Manila folders work great for this.

Another answer is to consciously take breaks – with pre-defined time limits.

What are some time wasters?

For me:
– Random internet surfing
– Grabbing some coffee or water
– Mentally checking out and thinking about another task

Take a moment and think – what are some ways that you waste time?

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