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7 Ways To Free Yourself And Make The Most Of Your Time

7 Ways To Free Yourself And Make The Most Of Your Time

How many times have you sat there and wished for just one more hour in your day? I’ve been there. I’ve thought about taking the time to learn or do something new, like learn to speak Spanish or how to make mosaics. Even small little things that I’ve been meaning to get it done I tend to postpone them or tuck them away, like taking a trip to the shop to assess the value of my bike or calling up a magazine outlet to cancel my subscription. It took a few months for me to do it, all because then I think about how busy I am and how I just don’t have the time to add anything else.

Here’s the deal – there are lots of ways that we throw time away every day. Try out these five steps to increase the amount of time you have so that you can fit the time to learn something new into your busy schedule.

1. Make a time journal.

For a week, write down how you spend each minute of each day. This includes your time at work (and what you’re doing while you’re there) as well as at home. Keep track of things like chores, exercising, taking your kids to the park, spending time on Facebook and other social media platforms, and the like.

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You’ll be amazed at how much dead time is really built into your day. Figure out what you need to do and what you could be doing that you’re not. Also, are there things you are doing that someone else could be doing? If you are dusting while your 12-year-old son is on the couch playing on his phone, then it’s time to hand him the rag and move on to the next thing on your to-do list.

2. Set limits on your screen time.

There’s nothing wrong with a little Netflix now and then. Even a binge of that favorite show can do wonders for your mental state. But if you’re coming home from work or school and watching three hours of Netflix a night, that’s a good place to start whittling screen time away. How about cutting it down to two hours and then going to the gym for an hour? You could also use that hour to listen to French language tapes, study the new spec psychology that has been added to your units, or watch a video about how to make an impressive soufflé.

3. Organize your life.

How much time do you spend every day looking for things? These could be your car keys and your cell phone, but they could also be things on your desk at work that are simply hiding under the papers that you set on top of them the day before. When you get to work, spend the first ten to fifteen minutes organizing your area. Then put together a to-do list for the day and arrange the items on your desk so that you can knock those tasks out more efficiently.

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4. Make your chores take less time.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys doing the laundry. I do know people who like to cook, but I don’t know many people who enjoy cleaning up afterward. I really don’t know anyone who enjoys sorting through the clutter on the kitchen counter at the end of the week.

Well, I don’t have tips for the laundry, but if you do all of your cooking on Sundays for the rest of the week, then everything is ready for you when you get home from work. You don’t have to decide what to eat for dinner because you took it out of the freezer and set it out to thaw when you left that morning. You don’t have to clean any pots and pans because you did that on Sunday. As far as the counters, if you spend a minute or two keeping things tidy at the end of each day, then you don’t have a stack of letters and other stuff to go through at the week’s end.

Here’s a great list of tips to start with your household chores.

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5. Establish some boundaries.

If you’re working your way through your schedule and your son comes in and asks you for help with his geometry homework (and you feel comfortable working with triangles and spheres), you probably should stop and help for a few minutes. However, if he comes to you the third week in a row needing a last-minute trip to the store to get a bunch of supplies for a project that is due tomorrow, it’s time to sit down and talk to him about courtesy. If you’ve just sat down to listen to that Chinese language tutorial and your friend calls you and needs to talk (but you know that it’s going to be an hour of the same old complaints about her life), it is okay to ask her if you can talk to her another time. You can go up to the extent of placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign should you have a very important task to finish. These boundaries will protect your schedule- and your peace of mind.

6. Limit “unnecessary” communication.

This is a follow-up to point number five above. Not all calls need to be answered; you are not bound to reply every text message or e-mail that pops up. If you attend to every single of one them, you’ll end up being hooked with it the entire day. If you are an employer, of course this will be different since every call that are coming through are important to the company you are working. For business people, students, or anyone who wish to literally save time on this aspect, then start cutting down this unnecessary communication. Unless it is absolutely critical matter or life-or-death situation, do not instantly give in and attend to people. First thing you must do is to disconnect all instant messengers. It’s 21st century; people are more inclined to IMs instead of phone calls. Then, route all your incoming calls to your voicemail. Through this you’ll be able to sift through what’s important and what’s not. I got this idea from Tim Ferriss The 4-Hour Workweek book, implemented it, and it works like a charm.

7. Prepare for the next day.

At the end of the day, when everything’s said and done, make it a habit to set your goals and plan for the morrow. Yes, you may be tired and spent, but really, this the best time to jot down all the things needed to be done for the next. The reason behind this logic is that while our brain is slowly shifting, the information you gathered for today is still intact. There may be some tasks or appointment notices that came later on the afternoon and there’s a huge chance of forgetting it the next day, especially if it is something you haven’t expected. Also, if you do not layout the things to do tomorrow might leave you tossing and turning all night. Jotting this down will somehow rest your brain from worrying on that stressful project.

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Featured photo credit: Maizzi via themebin.com

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Junie Rutkevich

Lifestyle writer and author of "Healthy Eating Habits: A Get-Healthy Guide To Tweak And Balance Your Daily Diet"

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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