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7 Ways To Free Up Time and Declutter Your Day

7 Ways To Free Up Time and Declutter Your Day

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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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 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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