Do you have enough time to do everything you want to do? If so, you’re extremely fortunate (and probably some sort of superhero!) But for the rest of us, here are some ways to claw back those extra precious minutes and hours…
“Time and tide wait for no man…”
Can you “create” time? Strictly speaking, no, which is what makes it the most precious commodity of all. Think about what you have been doing for the last hour. You will never get that hour back: it’s gone for good (did you make it count?) Learning to make better use of your time is a great area for Self-Improvement.
There is no such thing as “Time Management”: time flows by at the rate of 24 hours every day, regardless of the choices you make. You can’t manage time, you can only manage yourself.
How many individual tasks do you perform in an average day? Or week? Or month? We all do thousands of jobs, large and small, often without thinking or planning. Again assuming you’re not some sort of superhero, perhaps when it comes to using your time efficiently, there are still some improvements you could make?
One technique I use (and am still working on) is batching. Rather than spreading identical or similar tasks across a day or week, I try to group them together.
Bakers make their goods in batches. Can you imagine a baker making three loaves, then two cakes, followed by a pie, then another couple of loaves, then three more cakes, two pies, and so on? She wouldn’t get half as much done! Such a random approach seems obviously inefficient, and yet don’t we sometimes approach our daily tasks like that? Check email…reply to first email…post on Twitter…read that article…make a call…file that invoice…make lunch…check Facebook…visit client…and so on.
Batching doesn’t work for everything, and some of these suggestions will depend on your personal circumstances and work configuration. But check through and see if there are any take-aways for you:
- checking email
It’s tempting to read and respond to emails every time the notification pings or every few minutes “just in case”. Turn off the notifications, set aside a period of time once or twice a day and handle them all at once (delete, defer, delegate, do)
- opening letters
What is it about the sound of the letterbox or the sight of an unopened letter that makes us break off what we’re doing? The mail behind your door or in your office tray isn’t going anywhere. Open it and process it once or twice a day.
- making calls
Unless making calls is all you do, consider having “phone time” in a single session. Gather all the details you need for all your calls and make quick notes as you go, then process any new inputs at the end.
- receiving calls
Do you really need to be constantly available by phone? Let it ring and go to voicemail. Then process all your incoming calls at once, at a time that suits you, not the caller.
- social media
If you use social media as part of your work, set aside a block of time to read all the incoming data and respond or add new content. Consider using scheduling apps so that you can create several posts in one sitting and then have them posted at intervals. Even if your social media use is purely personal, setting yourself a fixed Facebook and Twitter session (and sticking to it) can free up your time and attention for other things.
If you spread your cleaning tasks through the week, consider one big hit as an alternative. Better still, how about outsourcing? Having a weekly cleaner may be less expensive than you think. Think carefully about just how valuable and irreplaceable your time is.
- making meals
An easy one: make multiple meals in advance and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
One well-planned and carefully-executed weekly visit to the supermarket can save endless trips to the local shop for things you forgot.
- bulk buying
If you can afford to (and have enough storage space), bulk-buy the items you know you will regularly use, such as cleaning consumables, toilet paper, personal hygiene items and any food items that keep well (tinned, dried, frozen.) This saves time in future shopping visits and buying in larger quantities is often cheaper, too.
- leisure time
Do your work, then enjoy your leisure at the end of the day. Instead of playing that game on your phone, use your coffee and lunch breaks for more productive personal tasks such as planning or exercise.
I don’t recommend leaving your assignment until the last day and then “pulling an all-nighter”, but trying to complete most of it in one timely sitting can really help you focus your attention and resources. It also avoids having to pick up the threads of where you left off each time. If circumstances allow, set aside a long block of time, go into ‘monk mode’ and make it your one and only task.
- casual reading
Do you come across websites, articles, booklets and other items you want to read? Don’t drop everything to read them: set them aside in one place, so that you can choose a time to read them all together. Having a physical or electronic folder (or both) for “Items to Read” also enables you to review the more meaningful ones and set aside or remove those that turn out to be less important than you first thought.
If your job or life requires you to schedule meetings or appointments, try to stack them back-to-back. Then have an excuse to finish meetings on time: having someone else waiting helps to focus both you and your client on the need to conclude business promptly. Otherwise, meetings can become rather open-ended…
- reviewing & planning
Planning your day is an important Self-Improvement technique, but you can spend too much time checking off every item as you go. Consider scheduling a short time out once or twice a day just to check you’re on track.
No serious goal-setting Self-Improver can go for long without measuring and tracking their progress. But set aside a specific time to do this or you might find yourself spending more time recording what you achieve than actually achieving it.
Batching your work can save a lot of time but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to put off important tasks. Saving your email for a “once-a-day hit” is good, but ignoring it completely is not! Try to intelligently schedule your batched work to fit into the flow of your day, taking account both the importance and urgency of the work involved, and also your energy levels at different times of day.
Once you get into batching your tasks, you may notice some add-on benefits:
- your work area will be tidier because you won’t have resources out for multiple tasks at once.
- you will spend less time stopping and starting: many tasks (such as writing) have a natural “warming-up” time. Doing everything in one batch means you only have to warm up once.
- the longer time you spend on a single type of task will increase your level of focus and concentration. This can improve both your productivity and the quality of your work.
When not to batch
Batching isn’t appropriate for every type of task. You probably wouldn’t, for example, eat all your daily food or drink all your water at once! Creatively selecting which types of task to batch together and which to keep separate is another important Self-Improvement skill to develop. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Some tasks have to be repeated at particular times of the day or week, such as monitoring a process or safety testing in a factory, or keeping on top of time-sensitive inputs to your workflow. Batching is not an option here.
Even if you do batch your tasks, you may have to deliberately interrupt your work when a higher priority arises unexpectedly. If this happens, make sure you are responding intelligently to the interruption rather than reacting instinctively. If it will wait, make it wait.
What tasks do you already batch? How could you apply some of these 17 ideas to save even more time? Consider both your work and home life and be sure to get creative and think outside the box. Let me know what works for you!
Make sure you download my ebook for more Self-Improvement ideas. Above all, remember that your time is precious. Spend it wisely.
To our continuing Self-Improvement and success!
The Self-Improvement Guy