“I just need a little more time…”
Nearly every person says this often enough that if they had a dollar for every time they have said it, they could retire to whatever their version of paradise is today. Every new invention promises to save us time, yet every day we seem to have a greater shortage of it, especially when it comes to our work. We develop routines and habits, and we become oblivious to things that slowly drain our productivity. This is a good time to take a fresh look at how we spend our day. Ask yourself these 5 questions and see if you can make your time more productive, so you have less reason to lament not having enough time.
5. What are my top priorities?
With a lack of focus on what is most important in your life it becomes easy to spend too much time and energy on aimless actions or work. On things that aren’t really that important, but you do out of old habit or because of other unhelpful reasons.
To keep your attention in the right place it is essential to remind yourself every day of what is truly most important to you. So ask yourself: what are the top 3 most important priorities in my life right now? Write those three things down on two notes. Put one in your workspace and the other one on your bedside table.
4. What are my most common distractions?
Be honest, what time sucks are you personally responsible for in your life? Is it Fantasy Football? Online Shopping? Happy Hours? Hangovers? YouTube motivational videos? Twitter political rants? For the person writing this article… this is tough to admit…. Free Cell. Yes, that card game that used to come standard on desktop PCs in the 1990s and can now be found in your phone’s app store for free. You are now probably thinking, “how old are you, fifteen?” Ugh.
So what is a person to do? You could go cold turkey, skipping out on the Fantasy League this year, or giving up drinking for 30 days. You could also play the punishment game, that if anyone catches you liking a Facebook post during 9-5 work hours that you owe them $20. Even better is to spend some time in self-reflection and examine what you are running from and why, and figure out how you can lean into your distractions and turn that time into accomplishment.
3. What do you hate doing?
Think of the tasks you hate, but still have to do. Not only are you miserable performing the task, you will lose a ton of mental and emotional energy in the time leading up to the task. This increases anxiety and leads to quick burn-out.
Let’s say you despise early-morning phone calls. Let’s also say that you are a person that is most productive in the hours before noon. In this scenario, you should simply state a rule: No phone calls before 10 AM. No exceptions. True, this may inconvenience and possibly alienate some colleagues or clients. But your productivity will be greatly enhanced. In some cases with unpleasant tasks, the setup of the task (time of day, location, etc.) may be in place for no other reason than “it’s always been done this way.” The task then can easily be modified to be a better fit for you.
So what is something that you hate doing? And, more importantly, how can you eliminate doing it this week so that you can get more done on what matters?
2. What should you stop doing?
“I wish I went to the UPS store more often.”… said no one ever.
Think for a moment. How many hours have you wasted standing in lines, completing $10 an hour tasks, stuck in petty arguments, and doing work that doesn’t matter and doesn’t drive you closer to your ultimate vision? There are even more such time-wasters: Arguing on the Internet. Watching reruns of The Office for the third time. Rearranging your office supplies in an OCD manner. Having meetings about other meetings.
Imagine Warren Buffett skipping a board meeting so that he could mow the lawn. Or Sarah Blakely spending an hour setting up the new conference room TV. Or Bill Gates packing boxes to move Microsoft’s HQ, or worse, packing the boxes at home to move from his house. Think about what would happen if you removed these tasks from your schedules.
Delegating some tasks allows you to contribute to the economy and create new jobs by paying other people (who just want a way to make ends meet) to do the work that doesn’t drive your life forward.
1. What is one piece of misused free time?
There is often quite a bit of open travel- or waiting-time during a year.
Perhaps you would like to read more while riding the train or while waiting for a meeting to start. You could listen to podcasts while out and about or while waiting for a meeting.
Even if you only have 10-20 minutes of commuting time each day, you still have a many, many hours in a year that you may want to, at least partly, use in a new way.
Forty percent of U.S. employees feel overworked or burned out, according to the Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index 2016. The report also found that the majority of employees (59%) believed that decreasing their workload could lead to less workplace stress.
When you start to take control of your life and time, you may struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. But stick with it. Empires aren’t built by picking up milk at the grocery store or spending 5 hours a day in the kitchen (unless, of course, you happen to be a gourmet chef). They are built by doing the things that you and only you can do…and doing them to the best of your ability.
“I try to surround myself with people who really know what they’re doing, and give them the freedom to do it,” Oprah Winfrey said in an interview. The secret to her success (and your future success) is in plain sight. You can quickly cut back on the things that make the day much more of a grind by asking these questions to ensure you are making the best use of your time.