A twenty five hour day isn’t coming any time soon. As long as your feet stay planted on the ground here, twenty four is all you’re going to get. However, with a bit of skill you can squeeze out a couple more hours to add to your day. Here’s how:
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.
Step Three: Triage
The final step is to use the principle of triage to focus on what’s important and ignore what isn’t. The easiest way to waste hours of your day is to do “work” that isn’t getting much done. Here are some things to think about when using triage:
E-mail – Consider an autoresponder for common messages. Use concise yes or no answers for questions that don’t need a length explanation.
Reading – If your purpose for reading is information, learn to change your pace from a knowledge absorbing crawl up to a fast skim over unimportant details. Ignore whole chapters and focus first on the ideas that are crucial to understand.
Television – If you still watch TV, tape in advance and cut the commercials. You can save fifteen minutes from an hour program by doing this.
Exercise – Plan workouts in advance so you can get the most exercising done without time spent flipping though fitness magazines or too much rest.
Meetings – A good management trick is to conduct all meetings standing to speed them up.
Relationships – I hesitate to say this, since relationships aren’t the normal domain of productivity time-cutting. But there are people in your life who use up much of your time without adding to the relationship. Not entirely caustic, these relationships drain your energy without providing much benefit. Navigate away from those people and focus on friends where the investment is worthwhile.
Final Tip: Prioritize Work
The final question isn’t just of doing things faster, but of doing the right things. Constantly measure and be aware of the actual value each of your work activities brings. Those that don’t add much should be simplified or eliminated entirely to focus on those that do.