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7 Ways to Make Better Use of Your Time

7 Ways to Make Better Use of Your Time

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 April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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