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 worry—there 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 it—whoosh—you 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.
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 time—even your free time—is 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:
- 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.
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.
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.