Step One: Remove Big Chunks
The first step to reclaiming more time from your day is to get hold of the big chunks that aren’t being put to good use. “Good use” is a fairly subjective term here, but it could mean both work that doesn’t get much done or leisure time that isn’t enjoyable. Here are some places to start looking:
- Television – This is a good starting point if you need more time. If you don’t completely eliminate it, cut it down to only the key shows you enjoy viewing or news you need to hear. Otherwise power-off this timewaster.
- Internet – Quickly replacing television as a huge time consumer is the internet. Try going on an internet diet where you halve your net usage for two weeks. The first few days will be hard, but each time I’ve done this my results have been that almost no work was lost in the cutback.
- Games – A friend once told me that World of Warcraft was electronic crack. I’ve seen 14-Day subscription CD’s for dirt cheap, so I can see they’re even using the drug dealer business model. In all seriousness though, cutting back on game playing can give you more time.
- E-mail – It’s easy to get lured into checking your inbox, just one more time. Unfortunately, if you are checking it every hour or two, it can waste more time than it’s worth. In the past I’ve maintained a once per day inbox clearing routine and found it saved a lot of time. Now I’d like to aim for twice per day.
- Work – Cutting time from work isn’t easy. But as Tim Ferriss demonstrated in the 4-Hour Workweek, if you can maintain productivity or increase it, then cutting low-value work is possible. Outsourcing menial tasks to virtual assistants or simply cutting work that isn’t useful can help you reclaim work hours.
- Chores – Beyond just hiring a maid, there are ways you can reduce time from your chores. Cooking meals in advance, keeping things perpetually tidy, maintaining an organizing system to reduce the need for overhauls can all cut down your time usage.
- Schoolwork – For students, the classroom offers a lot of opportunities to save time without ruining your GPA. Most of these involve changing how you try to learn things to reduce wasted time in cram sessions. Read this article for more on how to do that.
Step Two: Reclaim Gap Time
Anywhere from 2-5 hours of your day is probably spent in “gap time.” Gap times are those between meaningful activities but aren’t normally long enough to get more done. Commuting to work, waiting in line, time spent cooking foods, commercial breaks in television programs and small breaks in your schedule all count. Here are seven ways you can fill those gaps:
- Books – Bring a book with you at all times and get a few minutes of reading in.
- Listen – Put some audio books in your iPod and listen while you drive or walk.
- Problems – Solve problems in advance during gap periods so you won’t waste as much time on them later.
- Articles – Print off longer articles and read them while waiting for food to cook or in lines.
- Creativity – I use gap time to come up with new article ideas. You can use it to come up with new ideas for work or life.
- Rehearsal – Use gap minutes to visualize important parts of your day you want to perform well in.
- Engage – Make your gap minutes more enjoyable by focusing on what you are doing. Focus completely on the drive to work or observe everything when waiting in line.
Tip #1 – Use your Diary Properly
People often overlook how fantastic a time management tool a simple diary can be. They simply use one to track the general outline of the day – and so that they can ensure that they don’t get double booked – but often overlook the fact that it can be the most valuable thing they own because it manages your time for you and enables you to be proactive everyday.
I always do this exercise at the end of the day ready for the following day – as then I know I can wake up with a plan of action – and won’t waste time procrastinating in the morning about what I feel like doing (and this is a weakness of mine – I have wasted DAYS like this!)
As and when you get appointments and unmoveable items – add them into your diary – and – as Duncan Bannatyne Suggests in his book “How to be smart with your time” – don’t just add in that it starts at say 10am – actually mark out a block of time that covers the event, travel time both ways, prep time etc….
Note – This system works brilliantly – as long as you only have one diary! If you work – use different colours for work and home if that helps – but always keep them together – you are only one person so treat your diary the same way.
Tip #2 – Don’t let yourself get sidetracked or interrupted
In the home, it’s usually the phone – with recent years the laptop (think email, social media etc….) adding to this. Basically its however people can reach you in your home at any time of the day where you feel that you have to answer their call right there and then.
My way of getting round this is to do two things. Get a phone with number recognition – that way you can avoid numbers you don’t know, and answer those that you do (ONLY if you have the time there and then of course!).
Sound harsh? well not really – pretty much everything can wait. I will always pick up if it’s wherever my daughter is – no matter what – as she is my responsibility and I want her to know I am always there for her, but everyone else won’t mind me getting back to them when I have the time to talk. It’s actually a better way of doing things, as then you will call and talk probably more in depth and with no distractions when you have finished whatever you were doing that stopped you picking up initially.
There are stats out there aplenty about how much time is spent getting back into a task once you have been interrupted, so stopping interruptions before they happen will ensure you get your tasks done quickly and more efficiently.
The time spent per day being interrupted and trying to refocus is 2.1 hours. (2009, Basex)
My husband and I have gone one step further with this. We have a deal that if we really can’t talk when the other calls, then we can divert to voicemail. HOWEVER – if it’s urgent and we really need to talk to them, if we call back immediately then they know it’s serious and will pick up and drop whatever they are doing. This works brilliantly but we have had to make sure we don’t abuse it!
And as for emails and social media – limit yourself to looking at it once your jobs are done for the day – that way it’s a bonus to your day, a reward for getting things done, and won’t distract you while trying to work if you know that you have given yourself time later.