How to Take Your Time Back When You Feel Like You Have None
Many people think money is the most precious commodity, but I think it's time. When it comes down to it, time is really the only thing you have on this earth and there never seems to be enough of it. Between working a full-time job or being a full-time stay-at-home mom, to running your kids to band practice or soccer, to family gatherings, to church, the list goes on and on, but if you're anything like me, there's always something on your calendar. And even though you already have a fully booked schedule, you may feel like you still have so much more that you want to do and that you're not doing enough. I know that I feel like this all too often. In the wise words of David Allen, remember that, "You can do anything but not everything." While it's impossible for us to do everything we want all of the time, it is possible to be more efficient with your time and to create more time for yourself where you thought you had none.
Tips to Help You Create More Time in Your Life:
Create a schedule. Creating a schedule for how you want your days to run will keep you more organized, clear up any confusion so that you're not wasting time wondering what you should be doing in between appointments/tasks, and keep you on track for the day. Your schedule might differ from day to day, but start by creating what a typical daily schedule would look like for you. You might wake up at 7am, eat breakfast, go to work, go to the gym after work, come home and cook dinner, spend time with your family, tuck your kids into bed, and read before going to sleep for example.
Plan out your week. Once you know what your schedule looks like on a daily basis, you can plan out your week either in a paper planner or Google Calendar. By planning out your week ahead of time, you'll know exactly what to expect for the upcoming week, what you have time to do, and you'll know when to do each task. Learn all about how to use a Google Calendar to plan your week for success here.
Use a time tracking app. I recently started using a time tracking app called ATracker, which you can download for free in the app store. You simply enter the different categories you want to track (e.g., work, exercise, reading, errands, etc.) and then you click the category whenever you're engaging in that activity. By using this app, I can see what I spend my time on so that I know which areas need improvement. For instance, I was surprised to see how much time I spend watching TV and since TV is not a big priority in my life, I'd like to reduce the number of hours I watch TV and replace that time with a more productive habit. More importantly though, this app has brought awareness to my habits so that I can more easily choose whether or not I want to do one of them. For instance, I don't want to be spending much time on social media and I've noticed that when I'm about to track my time for social media, I'm like hmm I don't think I want to be doing this actually. Speaking of habits, I also recommend using a habit tracker. While I use the time tracking app to track all of my behaviors, I use my habit tracker to track only the habits I want to cultivate. I track things that I want to do (almost) every day like exercise, read, eat at home, and meditate. For every day I do the habit, the habit tracker gets a check mark in the box for that habit. It's so satisfying looking back at the month and seeing my habit tracker full of checkmarks that indicate all the healthy habits I engaged in. Make sure to grab a copy of my free habit tracker!
Start with the most important task of the day. It's natural to want to save the biggest or most important thing you have to do for the end of the day because the task might seem daunting or you might think you can focus on the task better once you have the little things out of the way. I recommend starting with your hardest task first because that task will likely require the most energy, so you don't want to wait until the end of the day when you're tired. Plus, you'll feel so good about the rest of the day if you finish your big task first.
Do one task at a time. Have you ever heard anyone say that they're a great multitasker? My mom says this all the time and sorry mom, but that's just not true. It's actually not possible for someone to multitask for things that take real brain power. Of course you can chew gum and walk at the same time, but you can't do things like answer an email and have a conversation with someone and be present with both. What you're actually doing is task-switching, not multitasking. While you think you may be saving time by "multitasking," you're actually dropping your efficiency by as much as 40% and each time you switch from task to task, it can take you up to 15 minutes to reorient yourself. So please don't try to multitask and just focus on doing one thing at a time.
Batch tasks. This step builds off of step #5. We've established that you're the most productive when you focus on one task at a time. Similarly, you'll be more productive when you do a number of like tasks together instead of jumping around between different types of tasks. For instance, you'll be more productive and save time if you group all of your house chores together and do them back-to-back rather than doing the laundry, then spending time on email, then doing the dishes, then looking at your email again, etc. Instead, you'll want to do your laundry, do your dishes, and finish any other house-related chores you have on your list.
Set an alarm to take breaks. When I say to batch tasks, I don't mean that you can't take breaks. Breaks are necessary for productive work. Research suggests that people should take a break every 60 - 90 minutes and the most productive people work 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes. An easy way to remember to take breaks is to set an alarm for every 60 - 90 minutes.
Minimize distractions. Working on the couch with the tv on in the background can feel comfortable in the moment, but it may be hindering your progress on what you're working on. Excess noise or visual stimuli from things like the tv, your phone, or people around you can distract you from your work. Try to find a calm, quiet place where you can do your best work.
If it's not a hell yes, it's a hell no. If you're feeling that your calendar is overwhelmed with obligations that you aren't excited about, it's time to start saying no. Of course honor the commitments you've already made, but in the future, before accepting any invitation ask yourself, "Is this a hell yes?" If it's not, my motto is that it's a hell no. Unfortunately this won't apply to all things in life like work obligations that we have to say yes to, but you'd be surprised at how many things you can say no to and the world keeps spinning. It can be hard to say no to people, especially at first, but just remember that every time you say yes to something you don't want to be doing, you're really saying no to something else you could be doing that you enjoy.
Harness your strengths. If you're a night owl, work at night. If you work better in a coffee shop, do work there. If you are in a better mood throughout the day when you exercise in the morning, make sure to go to the gym first thing. People will tell you the best time to work, exercise, and whatever else, but you know yourself better than anyone. Do what feels right to your mind and body and forget what anyone else says.
Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. As a recovering perfectionist, I find it hard to do things if I can't do them perfectly, but that's something I'm working on and writing blog posts like these is definitely helping me get over that. Ultimately, it's better to have done something poorly than to not have done it at all and if you're always trying to do something perfectly, you're probably wasting a lot of time doing so. Take exercise for example. Showing up and doing a crappy workout is better than not doing it at all (unless of course you're sick or not in the right mental space). Remember that done is better than perfect.
Outsource. Whether in business or in your personal life, outsourcing is a great way to save time. You can outsource by doing things like ordering a meal delivery system, hiring housekeeping, hiring a bookkeeper, getting your car washed and detailed by a professional, having your pet groomed, or hiring a dog walker. Unfortunately everyone can't afford to outsource things, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
I'm not sure if we'll ever feel like we have enough time, but I hope these tips help you create more time in your busy lives.