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7 Ways to Make Better Use of Your Time

7 Ways to Make Better Use of Your Time
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You only get 24 hours every day, and while there are plenty of ways to wring more out of the time you have, there isn’t a way to get more of the stuff. But no need to worrythere are plenty of ways to use the time to have better. Here are 7 of them!

1. Slow down

Slowing down to get more out of your time may seem counterintuitive, but when you actually slow down, you will find that what you do becomes a lot more meaningful.

Imagine for a second that you’re driving through a beautiful forest. Your stereo is blasting a new song, you’re talking to a friend in the passenger’s seat, and before you know itwhooshyou passed right through the forest, and it was like you weren’t there at all.

Now imagine that instead of driving in a noisy car, you’re walking through the same forest. Summer is changing to fall, and as the leaves fall around you, you take in a deep breath of warm, October air.

Your walk is ten times more meaningful, because you slowed down. You were able to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you, and what you were doing became much more meaningful. Slowing down brings meaning to how you spend your time, whether you’re walking through a forest, spending time with a loved one, playing an instrument, or even working on a report at work.

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2. Structure your free time

According to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow”, Sunday at noon is the “unhappiest hour in America” because that’s the time people are the least productive. According to his research, people are oddly more motivated and focused at work because of the structure work provides, and he recommends structuring your free time.

That might sound counterintuitive: shouldn’t your free time be, well, free?

Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHEEK-sent-me-hi-ee, if you’re playing along at home) argues that when we don’t structure our time, we either spend it on pointless stuff, or just ruminate without much care or focus. Structuring your timeeven your free timeis proven to make you more motivated, focused, and ultimately, happier, because it gives you a direction and a purpose.

It’s totally counterintuitive, but when you have a purpose behind your actions, you will feel much more productive and happier (even if that purpose is to do nothing for an hour or two!)

3. Keep a time diary to see what you’re doing wrong

Keeping a time diary of how exactly you spend your time throughout the day is one of the most powerful ways to discover how you can better use your time. Keeping a time diary:

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  • Allows you to see patterns and trends (favorable or otherwise) in how you spend your time
  • Lets you see what activities impact your productivity the most (e.g. whether getting a good night’s sleep affects your motivation the next day)
  • Makes you second-guess yourself when you want to spend your time on low-leverage stuff
  • Lets you see whether how you spend your time matches up with your priorities (e.g. if you consider family important, but spend every night watching TV)

When you keep a time diary, it’s much easier to make changes to how you spend your time, because you can see, right in front of you, exactly what changes you need to make with how you spend your time. When I track my time, I keep it as simple as possible in order to reduce the mental friction I have to actually tracking my time. In front of me, throughout the course of a week, I keep a notepad that tracks: what I’m doing, when I start/stopped an activity, and any observations I have.

Keeping a diary of exactly how you spend your time seems simple on the surface, but produces profound results when you actually do it.

4. Do less

Apple is one of the largest and most successful companies in the world for one big reason: they make only four main product lines. Apple makes the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the Mac (with software to support them), and that’s pretty much it. Apple is a $431 billion company that puts all of its weight behind four small product lines.

Taking a similar approach with your life is also incredibly powerful. When you do fewer things, you spread your time over less, and so you have much more of yourself to give to everything you do. I think one of the best ways to boost your focus, become a better person, and use your time better is to do less.

Question the elements of your life, and constantly ask yourself if you’re doing too much. Doing less may seem like a counterintuitive way to better use your time, but it boosts your focus and success because you can invest so much more of yourself into the things you want to do.

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5. Think about what matters most to you

Everyone spends their time differently: one person may invest a lot of time into developing a successful career, while another may care more about investing their time into building a rewarding family life.

Take the time to think about what you really, truly care the most about, then invest your time in what you care about. This seems like simple advice, yet hardly anyone does it. A lot of people wing their way through each day, not thinking about whether how they’re spending their time will produce meaningful results.

I think the only way to make sure you get the most out of your time is to start with what matters the most to you, and work backward to your actions to figure out how you should act.

6. Focus on high-leverage activities

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule, which says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. I like looking at the 80/20 rule a different way: every action you take is either high or low leverage. The higher leverage an activity is, the more you’ll get out of a small amount of effort.

Some people invest their time into low-leverage activities, which they get almost nothing out of. Take watching TV, for example. If you watch 3 hours of TV a day (the average is more than 4) and you live until you’re 80, you’ll spend 10 years of your life watching TV! That’s time you’ll never get back, and time you could have invested into a much higher leverage activity, like reading a book, having a coffee with someone you want to learn from, exercising, writing, or meditating.

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When you invest your time in high-leverage activities, you can cut the cruft from your life and make sure that what you invest your time in the activities that produce the greatest returns on your time.

7. Know how little time you have, and live accordingly

This may sound like a corny tip, but it isn’t. You really don’t have that much time.

If you’re average (I know you’re not, but bear with me), according to the American Time Use Survey, each work day you’ll spend: 7.6 hours sleeping, 8.8 hours working, 1.1 hours eating, and 1.1 hours doing chores around the house, leaving you with about five and half hours left over for doing what you want to do. And these figures don’t include investing time into your relationships, caring for others, or any other commitments you have already.

You start every day with 24 hours, but once you subtract all of commitments from that, you’re not left with much. When you constantly remind yourself how little time you have, you light a fire under yourself to make the most out of your time. You start to say “no” to commitments that don’t mean much to you. You bring more energy and drive to your work. You become more defensive of your free time, and make the most of it.

Knowing just how little time you have will let you put the time you do have to much better use.

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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.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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