10 Ways to Find Time to Follow Your Dreams

What would you do with an extra half-hour a day? Is there a “One Day Novel” in you (as in, “one day I’ll write a novel”)? Have you been thinking of learning a new skill but don’t know how to free up the time? Or would you just spend a few extra minutes with your family, really sharing?

No matter how busy we are, most of use can free up a half-hour a day. We may have to make sacrifices, but they’re not big sacrifices – a TV show, the freedom of driving your own car, the freshest possible food every night, stuff like that.

A half-hour doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up – even if we just count weekdays, that 250 half-hours a year, or 125 hours. That’d over five days of free time a year, straight through, or three-plus full-time working weeks. What could you get done if you could take three weeks off and work 8 hours a day on your own projects?

Here are ten ways to “rescue” a half-hour a day (at least). Not all of them will be feasible for everyone, or have the same return, but at least one of them should be what it takes to give yourself a little extra time.

1. Cut out a TV show every day.

Eliminate TV altogether if you can – I promise you won’t miss it – but I know some people need that bit of mindless entertainment at night, and it might be the only time you can get your kids to sit still with the rest of the family. Fair enough, but surely you can cut out at least one show. Whatever filler is on between your comedy and your crime procedural, for instance.

2. Ditch your car.

The average commute in the US is something like 25 minutes. If you carpool or take public transportation, you gain an average of 50 minutes each day (maybe every other day or two out of every three days if you have a driving turn in your carpool). You lose some time for “overhead” – finding a place on the bus, changing trains, exchanging pleasantries with your carpool partners – but you should be able to squeeze 15 minutes of productive time each way out of your commute. Get a PDA or smartphone and you can be writing, doing research, or filling out spreadsheets on the go.

(Personal note: I worked full-time all the way through graduate school, and wrote dozens of papers on a Palm Pilot hanging from a strap on the NYC subway. I deeply miss that hour-and-a-half of productive time now that I live too far out from town to make public transportation an option.)

3. Wake up earlier.

Getting up at 6 instead of 6:30 (or whenever) can give you a good half-hour of quiet time before your day gets going – perfect for writing or working on other personal projects. The idea here is not to sleep less, though – you’ll pay a cost in lost productivity as your lost sleep adds up, and be back where you started. Instead, cut the last half-hour of TV or whatever else you do at night and shift that time to the morning, when everyone’s still asleep, there’s nothing tempting on TV, and you can start the day with a half-hour well-spent behind you.

4. Batch chores.

Instead of responding to household clutter as it arises, let a little clutter build up and take care of it all in one fall swoop every few days or on the weekend. This will be especially painful if you’re a particularly committed neat freak, but the daily cleaning never gets done, and in the end, you’re not going to regret not picking up the kids toys nearly as much as you’ll regret not having written a few more pages or not having spent more time on your studies.

5. Go to your kids’ practices.

Instead of dropping the kids off at soccer, karate, or gymnastics, driving home, and driving back an hour later, find a nearby place (the bleachers, a coffee shop, even your car) to sit and work. Get a small laptop or PDA, or carry a notepad with you. You’ll save the drive time and the slack time in between where, let’s face it, you were just going to clean house or watch TV.

6. Cook in advance.

Just like you can batch housecleaning to save time throughout the week, you can batch your cooking and save 20 minutes or so of meal preparation each night. Cook large quantities of food on Sundays and freeze them, or cook food whose leftovers can provide several nights meals. For example, I make a big pot of chili that will last two nights and leave enough leftover for chili dogs the 3rd night.

7. Reclaim your lunch break.

Bring your own lunches to work, find a quiet place, and eat and work during your lunch break. Make it something with little preparation – a sandwich, chips, celery or carrot sticks, or similar foods are great. You’ll save the time of walking or driving somewhere, ordering, and walking back – and you’ll eat more nutritiously and save money to boot.

8. Have a YOYO night.

Another way to save time on food preparation is not to prepare food. This won’t gain you time every day, but can gain you an evening for yourself. Instead of cooking and sitting down for family dinner, make one night a week for “You’re On Your Own” (YOYO). Kids and spouses make their own dinner (using leftovers or food chosen in advance – obviously you need older kids for this to work) and entertain themselves while mom or dad gets to work undisturbed. Don’t do this every night, though, or your kids will forget who you are and will be frightened if they ever accidentally meet you in the hallway!

9. Use slack time.

Set yourself up to make use of those little scraps of time that come along when you’re not expecting them – standing in lines, waiting for a meeting to start, while on hold with your power company, whenever. It might only be 5 minutes here, 8 minutes there, but it adds up.

10. Shop with a list during non-peak times.

Grocery shopping after work can easily suck up an hour-and-a-half as you fight through crowded aisles and wait in interminable lines to check out. Make up a good, solid list that’s organized according to the aisles in your grocery store, and go early in the morning on the weekend or late at night when the store is empty. You’ll walk in, walk up and down empty aisles, hitting each aisle only once, and waltz through the checkout. I can do the same shopping trip on Sunday morning at 9 am in 45 minutes that takes me over 90 minutes on a weekday evening. And having a good list with everything you need for the week – make sure you plan out your menues! – minimizes those “short” trips to the store throughout the week to pick up a gallon of milk, an extra loaf of bread, or whatever else you ran out of. We all know that a “short” trip is at least a half-hour!

You’ll need a little bit of discipline to make any of these tips work, or the time you save will just get filled with something else. Just keep telling yourself that what you’re giving up isn’t nearly as important as what you’re gaining – the time to move yourself closer to the fulfillment of your dreams!

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