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10 Ways to Find Time to Follow Your Dreams

10 Ways to Find Time to Follow Your Dreams

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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