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10 Ways to Put Time to Work for You

10 Ways to Put Time to Work for You

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” -Jim Rohn

If you’re looking for a walking (well . . . ticking) contradiction, time fits the bill. It’s our most precious resource—and our biggest nemesis. It’s impossible to get rid of it, but there’s never enough of it. You can’t save it up, speed it up, or slow it down. So what can you do with it? Make the most of it.

Check out these 10 tips for making time work for you.

1. Strategize It

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    You probably already sense that you get more done at certain times of day. Some people naturally feel their best and brightest in the morning, while others are just beginning to get their groove on around midnight. Put time to work for you by making a concerted effort to learn when you work most productively,then get deliberate about scheduling your most important to-do’s done during that time.

    How will you know when you’ve found your peak productivity hours? Daniel Gold, author of  Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, says you’ll know you’ve hit peak productivity hours when you’re able to work on a given task for about 90 minutes without getting distracted.

    And how do you figure that out?

    2. Track It

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      Take guesswork out of the ways you’re using your time and when you’re operating at peak capacity, by tracking it. “Patterns will show themselves if you start tracking [your time],” Gold says. What’s the best way? A tool that doesn’t use any more of your precious minutes recording tasks, adding up minutes and noting breaks.

      Mobile time tracking is an effortless way to get an easy, accurate picture of where your minutes, hours and breaks are going. TSheets Time Tracking (the top-rated mobile time tracking app on Apps.com) offers a free version for freelancers and a paid version for business (with a 14-day free trial).

      Once you have the app, all that’s left is to enter your job codes (these can be anything from “grant writing” to “lawn mowing” ), then track and switch tasks with one click from any mobile device or on the desktop. Not only will you get a more accurate view of where your minutes and hours are going (and when your peak patterns are), but you’ll have more accurate billing hours for your clients.

      3. Prioritize It

      prioritize

        It might seem like a no-brainer, but one of the best ways you can make time work for you is to prioritize it. It’s easy to get bogged down by urgent, not-important tasks. Evaluating each task based on this quadrant formula from Steven Covey can help you keep a focus on the not-urgent, important tasks that so often get pushed off your plate and give you a sense of “always running, never getting anywhere” when it comes to the really important things.

        It can also be psychologically tempting to leave the big stuff until the end, telling yourself that if you can just get all those pesky “wildfires” out of the way, you’ll be able to focus on the important things. However, it’s more likely that the Quadrant III tasks will continue to pop up, while the Quadrant II tasks are left undone.

        According to psychologist Amy Morin in Psychology Today, we also procrastinate our most important to-do’s while taking the time to put out less important brushfires because, “When we categorize a deadline as being in the present, we’re likely to start working on the goal. When we decide something falls into the future category, we file it in our “someday” archives, making it easy for those goals to be neglected.”

        How to overcome the focus on urgent and non-important goals? Take a look at your non-urgent, important tasks and add a “now” component to them, so you get the ball rolling. Morin says, “Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach … you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now.”

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        4. Focus It

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          While it’s important to look at the big picture so you know where you’re going and what your overall goals are, doing so constantly without honing in on the specifics that will get you there can leave you feeling unfocused and overwhelmed. Read: not maximizing your time. Choose just a few things per hour to accomplish, then keep your focus on them.

          The time window and number of tasks will depend on what you want to accomplish and how you break down your tasks. However, keep in mind that the key to making this tip effective is to choose bite-sized tasks (or break larger tasks into bite-sized tasks first). Instead of saying “I will contact everyone on my client list today about our new promotion,” decide you’ll contact three clients in the next half an hour, accomplish your task, and repeat.

          The buzz from setting out to accomplish–and then accomplishing these tasks is no small reward, which will keep you motivated to continue onward. As author David Nowell states in Psychology Today, “It’s a great feeling, when your head is full of 50 things you could be doing right now, to know [you’re] in exactly the right place and doing exactly the right thing right now.”

          For more tips on focus, check out this article about how successful people plan their time!

          5. Time It

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            What should you do with those bite-sized tasks you’ve set out to accomplish in a given amount of time? Make yourself accountable and stay on task by using a timer. Any stopwatch (or stopwatch app) will do, but if you’re looking for the real deal you’ll want to get yourself a little tomato-shaped timer. Why? Keep reading.

            Pomodoro means “tomato” in italian. And the Pomodoro time management principles are, as Pomodoro itself says, “at once deceptively simple to learn and life-changing to use.” It pretty much hinges on using a timer system to keep yourself on track with those segmented tasks you’ve made for yourself, with an immediate reminder that there is a NOW deadline associated with them (in the form of a timer).

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            It works by setting your tiny tomato timer to 25 minutes, then working on a given task without interruptions until the timer goes off. Then taking a 5-minute break and repeat the process. After every four pomodoros, take a longer break.

            6. Stop It

            stop

              The human brain can only survive for about 11 days without sleep, and yet, sleep tends to be one of those things we push to the backburner in effort to make more time in the day. We work later, wake up earlier, and tell ourselves “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But recent studies show that sacrificing sleep could ensure that day comes much sooner than you think. And even if your death isn’t on the line, the death of your productivity certainly is.

              According to Robert Oexman, Director of the Sleep to Live Institute, a sleep-deprived mind lacks focus and drive to stay on task. It’s simple: When your brain is tired and your mind is foggy, the less productive you become. Likewise, the Journal of Sleep Research claims that people tend to make smarter calls and wiser decisions after they’ve had a good night’s sleep. That’s because your brain uses your REM cycle to remove toxic proteins from its neurons–a process that can only be completed while you’re asleep. Cut that process short, or skip it entirely, and those proteins will wreak havoc on your ability to think.

              High performance coach, Cheryl Hunter, suggests changing the way you think about sleep by setting a self-imposed bedtime. This gives your mind something to aim towards and encourages you to go to bed at the same time each night–which enables you to fall asleep faster. Allowing yourself to succumb to a healthy amount of shut eye (around eight hours a night) not only increases your productivity, but all that clear thinking is guaranteed to free up some extra time.

              7. Enjoy It

              enjoy

                The less you enjoy something, the more time it takes to complete. Case in point: Think of the last time you took a bite of food you didn’t like. Chances are you probably spent a lot of time pushing that food around on your plate, and an even longer time chewing it. Now think of the last time you had to do something you didn’t enjoy. You probably procrastinated, and the task took way longer than it had to.

                However, if you can inject a little enjoyment into everything you do, the job will get done much faster.

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                Do this by turning your focus to increasing the quality of the task at hand. Whether you’re cleaning the bathroom, or working on a big project at work, focusing more on doing a great job (and less on scrubbing the toilet) turns the task into a form of art. You’ll feel motivated, productive, and much happier to do it.

                8. Refocus It

                refocus

                  The average person receives more than 85 emails per day–combine that with nearly 100 texts, Facebook notifications, and instant messages, and it’s no surprise that many people have a hard time focusing. And if you’re one of them, check out these helpful apps and websites that are guaranteed to eliminate distractions and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

                  • Self-Control: This OS X application allows you to block access to certain mail servers and websites for a predetermined amount of time. So if you’re feeling distracted by your Twitter feed, you can prevent yourself from viewing the twitter page for however long you need. But here’s the caveat: If you decide you want back in, you have to wait for the timer to run out. No amount of restarting your computer, or even deleting the app can lift the block. PC users can download Freedom, a similar app.
                  • Think: It can be hard to focus on one thing at a time when you’ve got more than a handful of windows cluttering your computer screen. Think allows you to focus on one application or page at a time by “hiding” everything else under a nearly opaque backdrop. Think is currently for Mac users only, but PC users can enjoy a similar environment through Isolator.
                  • StayFocused: While many apps and websites offer to block access for certain periods of time, StayFocused, a Google Chrome extension, increases productivity by simply limiting your access. Only want to spend 30 minutes checking email? StayFocused will kick you out when your time is up and you won’t have access to those time-sucking sites for the rest of the day.

                  9. Fuel It

                  fuel

                    You know what they say, “you are what you eat.” So if you want to be more productive, you gotta stock up on snacks that increase productivity! Some foods are more obvious than others (we all know that bananas can give you that extra boost you need each morning, and green tea helps you focus), but there are a few superfoods you might not recognize.

                    • Eggplants help improve communication between brain cells and messenger molecules–which keeps your brain sharp! But you’ll only reap maximum benefits if you also eat the skin.
                    • Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that improve your focus and concentration, and milk chocolate is proven to boost your memory.
                    • Sunflower seeds are rich in B vitamins and can increase your mental processing power. They’re also shown to increase your mood–but that’s a happy side-effect.
                    • Carrots don’t really help you see in the dark, but they are a great way to fuel your brain at a steady pace all day long–allowing you to focus on important tasks at hand!

                    10. Maximize It

                    max

                      A recent study from MIT determined that the average American spends nearly two full years of their life standing in line. From standing in line at the grocery store to standing in line for your favorite ride at an amusement park–that’s a lot of wasted time. Yet another study conducted by Vitals.com found that patients can expect to spend 21 minutes in the waiting room each time they visit their doctor or dentist. And while it can oftentimes feel like an eternity, that time adds up to wasted hours each year.

                      Maximize that time by catching up on your email, brainstorming your next big project, or jotting down a few notes that will enable you to get a head start later. Making the most of every spare second can free up veritable hours of your day.

                      Featured photo credit: pexels via pexels.com

                      More by this author

                      Dan Matthews, CPRP

                      A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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                      Last Updated on January 2, 2019

                      How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

                      How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

                      Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

                      Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

                      Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

                      This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

                      Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

                      What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

                      Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

                      When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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                      How It Leads to Financial Improvement

                      It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

                      Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

                      Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

                      It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

                      Types of Personal Finance Software

                      When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

                      Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

                      For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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                      Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

                      When to Use Personal Finance Software

                      So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

                      Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

                      1. You Have Multiple Accounts

                      There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

                      If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

                      Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

                      2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

                      Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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                      There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

                      With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

                      3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

                      Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

                      Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

                      Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

                      4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

                      Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

                      You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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                      How to Get Started

                      From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

                      Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

                      It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

                      When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

                      Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

                      Final Thoughts

                      Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

                      In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

                      Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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