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7 Ways To Free Up Time and Declutter Your Day

7 Ways To Free Up Time and Declutter Your Day
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I went through this phase where I couldn’t get a grip on anything. The harder I tried to simplify my lifestyle and free up time to, you know, breathe, the more complicated and cluttered it became. Sigh! I ended up stuck in that nauseating tilt-a-whirl where the beeping, buzzing, and ringing made me feel like everything was urgent. I couldn’t tell the difference between my priorities and the unimportant. What’s a girl to do?

If you’re like me, you’ll keep going until you drop – literally. You’ll burn yourself out so you’re too tired to screw up your life anymore. Or, if you’re smart you’ll free up time immediately and simplify your life using the tips below. (See what I did there?)

1. Step Away From The Chaos

The only way you’re going to free up time is by stepping back and looking at your life from an objective perspective. Ask yourself: Why do I do the things I do? How does each thing make me feel? What do I want to free up time for?

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Once you define how you really want to spend your time, it gives you a clear goal to strive for and keeps you motivated if you run into rough patches during the transition. Focus on one change at a time until your day feels as good as you look (rawr!)

2. Drop/Delegate What You Can

It’s amazing the number of things we do because we feel obligated to, not because we legitimately want to. Look through your entire list of obligations and categorize them:

  • Drop what you absolutely don’t want to do anymore. As difficult as it will be, your friends and family will have to deal with it.
  • For things you do enjoy but need to pause, put them on hiatus until further notice.
  • Delegate what still needs to get done but isn’t as important as…well, your priorities. Put your Type A personality on the back burner and see what you can transfer to someone else at work and at home.
  • For things you have to keep doing but eventually want to transition out of, put them on the outsource pile.

Tackle one task at a time – from easiest to more difficult – until your calendar is as clutter-free as possible.

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3. Batch Tasks Together

When you free up time you’re able to think mindfully. From this point on, you’ll be able to assess everything you want to do and decide the most time-effective way to get things done.

For example, I’m a big fan of batching tasks together at work and at home. I batch together each phase of the writing process – brainstorming, outlining, research, etc. – so I’m able to effectively work on each of my assignments. (As other writers already know, “outline brain” is totally different from “research brain,” though “need coffee brain” trumps them all!)

The same goes for my personal tasks: I batch all of my shopping or errands into one trip, I do my food prep for the following week in one shot, and so forth. It’s best to stay in one zone and stick to it until you’re done, and this is a great way to stay away from “multi-tasking brain,” which is always in denial.

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4. Eliminate Distractions

Do what you can to stay on track by eliminating distractions: get up earlier, only check your email at certain times, don’t read a text until you legitimately have time to, and put your phone on silent at night so you can actually unwind. Watch your television shows on the Internet so you can watch them at your own time and on your own terms.

Also, a larger coffee mug saves trips to the coffee maker. Just sayin’.

5. Define Boundaries

Instead of saying, “Yes,” to everything, start saying, “I’ll get back to you.” This will give you time to make an informed decision about every new request that comes your way – both professionally and personally. Once you’ve defined your time off, consider it as ironclad as a doctor’s appointment (so you don’t end up needing a doctor’s appointment!)

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6. Leave Your Days Off Blank

Do what you can to finish your work and errands during your work days and leave your days off as obligation-free as possible. There’s nothing more freeing than knowing you have an entire day to do what you feel compelled to do in the moment. It’s something your inner four-year-old will really appreciate.

7. Recap On A Regular Basis

It’s not like one day we say to ourselves, “Gee, I want to be so busy having time for bathroom breaks is like a vacation!” It’s a gradual build-up of I’d-love-tos and sure-why-nots that slip under the radar until we can’t remember the last time we did the laundry or washed our hair. Once you’ve successfully cut back your schedule to a level a human can handle, reassess weekly to make sure you don’t fall back into old habits.

What techniques have you used to free up time?

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More by this author

Krissy Brady

A women's health & wellness writer with a short-term goal to leave women feeling a little more empowered and a little less verklempt.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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