by Corina Semph
A human being who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
You wonder … “Where do my days go?”
You are busier than ever before, but you have very little to show for all that time spent working and hustling.
Gurus tell you that time is your most precious resource, but it seems to fly by like never before. You’re overwhelmingly busy, but your to-do list stays a mile long. Technology promises to streamline your life, but in reality, all it seems to do is complicate it.
You spend your days rushing and being pulled in five different directions at any given moment. Priorities change constantly. Your inbox can’t go 20 minutes without a massive download of emails. Your job responsibilities are intense, and, simultaneously, your co-workers keep sending you meeting invites. Then you rush home to try and prepare a healthy dinner that your family will actually like, all the while texting your best friend and catching up with social media updates.
How are you supposed to get things done right?
It’s exhausting! You’re exhausted!
But it’s not just you. It’s happening to most of us, every single day.
You wish you lived that dream lifestyle that TV shows and magazines try to sell you, with plenty of time to relax and indulge in your passions. And although you “know” that dream is not real, you still crave some peace in your life.
Ready for life to feel a lot less stressful?
I have great news: With a few simple habit changes, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy. If you’re ready to get more value out of your limited time, then its time to…
1. Focus until completion.
Have you noticed how starting a task often demands more energy and willpower than actually doing it? Especially when it’s something you don’t enjoy?
The act of switching between tasks wastes a lot of extra energy. When a task is something that you are not used to doing, or something that doesn’t come as second nature to you, you have to mentally convince yourself that you have to do it, which is even harder. That’s why, once you have started, you should drive that effort to completion as often as possible.
Of course, you can’t be working non-stop for eight hours – you can’t write a book in one sitting, but you can do it 1,000 words at a time. The trick is to not stop for a coffee break every 50 words.
2. Use economies of scale.
When you buy in bulk at a wholesaler, each individual item is cheaper. The same principle applies to time. When you batch together similar tasks, you save.
For example, you will never convince a busy mom of three elementary-age kids that she should make one sandwich, go get ready, then make the other sandwiches; she knows that the three sandwiches made at the same time will save her precious minutes.
Think about situations in which you have several similar tasks to do. For example, perhaps you have to answer short support emails from customers. Block out 45 minutes to reply to all of them. Once they’re done, don’t look back in your email inbox until your next planned 45-minute block to handle emails.
3. Be predictable in certain areas of your life.
Sounds rather boring, right? Well, would you say Steve Jobs was boring? At first, you may not think of him as a predictable person, but if you think a little harder you’ll remember that you could bet what he was going to wear to every single keynote presentation. That’s because he’d wear the same outfit every single day. How many hours would this practice save you in a year’s time? If you’re a lady like me, the answer is a lot!
Now, wearing the same thing every day may not appeal to you, but what other things can you apply this principle to? What can you automatize and streamline in your life? Maybe it’s your finances, or your meal preparation. In any case, having a fixed plan in the right areas of your life will eliminate the wasteful time spent deliberating over excessive options.
4. Create a minimalist workstation.
Visual clutter competes for your attention. You want to keep your desk and workstation as clutter-free as possible. Of course, you’ll need certain things such as books, reports, or cups of coffee to keep you on point, but if your desk is plagued with paid and unpaid bills, pictures, and piles of papers you haven’t read in months, you will get distracted.
Concentrating on the task at hand is harder when you see a massive pile of papers and items that need to be sorted and put away. Create a peaceful space to work. Enough chaos already surrounds you; don’t add to it!
5. Plan to succeed, gradually.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. “Plan” is not just another four-letter word – it’s so much bigger than that. If you want to make the most of your life – with plenty of time to do the things you enjoy – you must come to terms with a plan that works for you.
What goes into planning? Tasks you need to do in the near-term aligned with long-term, meaningful goals you’d like to hit. You can start by making a list of goals and projects that need your attention. But don’t think of this as a daily to-do list – it’s just a guide. Keep in mind that if you try to do too much at once, you’ll become discouraged and you’ll be setting yourself up for failure, even before starting.
Use your list to classify the goals/projects and sub-tasks by importance, and keep reminding yourself that you won’t be able to get all of it done in a day. Plan on doing no more than three core activities today, depending on how time-consuming they are, and then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Build a daily ritual around this simple practice.
Also, make sure your days contain a couple of activities you really enjoy doing. Don’t just create a have-to-do list that you dread looking at. Make a pact with yourself that you’ll do at least one thing for yourself every day that you truly enjoy. Planning a life filled only with dreaded obligations is no way to plan.
6. Use reward substitution to motivate yourself.
Everyone has a list of tasks they have to get done, but don’t like doing. It may be exercising, making difficult phone calls, or doing homework. The longer you wait to start, the longer you’ll have the guilt and stress of not doing it, and the less progress you will likely make over the long-haul.
For those difficult tasks, you can force yourself to do them by rewarding yourself with something you truly enjoy. For me it’s eating cookies, but it could be watching your favorite TV show, or going out to dinner. The secret is to put off that wonderful reward until you are done with the task. It’s a powerful force. Marc talks more about the power of reward substitution in this short video.
7. Wipe needless worries off your mind.
Worries take valuable space in your mind, and if you want to be as efficient as possible, you need to get rid of them. You simply can’t concentrate as well when part of your brain is worrying about something.
But it’s not always easy to get worries out of your mind, especially when what you need to do stresses you out. But you can control the way you think about things. If you let your mind start thinking about the worry instead of what you need to do at the time, nothing will get done, which ultimately just adds to the stress.
So what can be done? You can try writing down what’s worrying you. Identifying the worry for what it is can take away the compulsive power it has on your mind. A quick exercise break can also help you clear your mind leaving you energized and ready to work again. However, if the worry persists, or it’s something you really need to solve, you must schedule some time in to work on solving it.
8. Take advantage of waiting time.
Whether it’s waiting in line at the doctor’s office, sitting in traffic, or folding clothes at home, you’ll always have “dead time.” You don’t need to be 100 percent productive every minute of your day, but you can definitely use time wisely that would be otherwise wasted.
For example, people have used driving time to master new languages with programs like Pimsleur audio. You could be one of them. But if that sounds too ambitious, you can easily download the audiobook version of that book you’ve been meaning to read and listen to it on your way to work. What do you have to lose? A few hours of music you’ve heard a hundred times before?
You get the idea. Waiting time does not need to be wasted time.
9. Learn to speed-read.
News, emails, your Facebook feed, work documents, your favorite blog, etc. How much time do you spend reading every day? A few hours? Imagine doubling your reading speed; it could easily save you an hour a day. Granted, you’ll have to invest some time in training and practicing. But an extra hour a day is seven hours a week, so you could save almost a full workday every week.
I’m sure you are no stranger to the quote “Leaders are readers.” But even if you have no intention of being a leader, you must read constantly just to stay ahead in the world today. Becoming a faster reader is a smart investment in yourself, regardless of your ambitions. Here’s a free online tool to help you do just that.
10. Think of yourself as an efficient person.
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Have you noticed how when you think you won’t accomplish something, you end up not accomplishing it? You give up before putting up a fight.
We know that professional athletes practice winning in their minds – they think really hard about it. That tells us about the amazing power of our minds. Since a runner can run faster just by picturing it in her mind, do you think you could squeeze more out of your day by thinking of yourself as efficient? I bet the answer is YES.
Practice thinking about yourself as an efficient person first thing every morning when you wake up, and I guarantee you’ll be right by the end of each day.
We all have the same 24 hours to work with. If you want to accomplish more, you can either deprive yourself of sleep or become a more efficient person. Time will not stop for you either way.
Remember that it’s OK to be busy – if you had too little to do, you’d probably not be living a fulfilling life. But you need to reach a balance. The solution: Use the strategies above to become a more efficient person today, so that you can accomplish all you need to do and still have time for yourself too.
Which tip in this post resonated the most with you? Do you have any other time-saving or energy-saving tips to share?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know.
Author Bio: Corina Semph is a mom, designer, and blogger on a mission to help families transform their houses into peaceful and uncluttered homes, even if they have messy kids. Download her FREE Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Declutter Your Crazy Closet in Record Time.
Photo by: Marketa
Susan Rae says
#2 is the one I will focus on. I find myself going to the grocery store a lot, or running one errand at a time sometimes. It’s time to bulk up!
Also, a similar time-saving tip I’ve used while cooking at home: Keep a large bowl on the counter. Put all your chopping and peeling discards into it, then make only one trip to the garbage instead of 20.
Corina Semph says
Susan, you are so right. The little tasks add up, specially in the kitchen. Did you ever try meal planning? I know, it’s a lot of work. However, I’ve been doing it for months and I don’t think I’ll go back to cooking dinners every night.
Excellent tips! Several of these will surely save me time.
One additional tip I picked up from one of Marc’s emails awhile back is the “The 2 Minute Rule.” It was a variation of what David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” talks about. Basically, if you roughly estimate that a task is going to take you less than two minutes to accomplish, do it right now. It’s a waste of time and energy to keep small tasks like this on your to-do list.
Corina Semph says
Ben, thanks for bringing that tip up. I completely agree. What’s worse, sometimes those 2 minute tasks are instrumental in procrastinating on important stuff. You may be focusing on a task you dread, see the small task, do it, and then have to go back to the big task. Usually those interruptions cost way much more than 2 minutes.
Number 3 is one I’m working on right now. Sometimes predictability leads to exciting results. Thank you for reinforcing this.
Corina Semph says
You’re very welcome Karen!
I like how when you are predictable and have routines, you eliminate time wasting questions in your mind. For example “should I go to the gym today or tomorrow?” If you made up your mind that Tuesdays and Thursdays are gym days you won’t spend time thinking about putting it off, and it’s more difficult to procrastinate till next week.
Loved this post… the link to the speed reading app isn’t working… can you resend please? 🙂
Angel Chernoff says
Sorry about that. I fixed the link.
Jennifer Haston says
“Be Predictable in areas of your life” … sounds boring … But this is great advice! Thank you.
Corina Semph says
You are welcome Jennifer! I thought so too. Though wearing only one outfit like Steve Jobs may be too much for most of us, sticking to a few tried and true outfits, saves a lot of time. Same goes for dinner recipes, at least for me.
Jan Ramsey Brick says
I love number 3. Steve Jobs is a great example of how it’s okay to be predictable. And yes, I spend way too much time deliberating about clothes choices!
Thanks for the reminder to streamline. 🙂
Corina Semph says
You are welcome Jan! I’m on the same boat. I thought about trying the capsule wardrobe, but don’t think I could do it.
Nine days ago, I broke my shoulder (dominant side). As I start to pick up the pieces of a very different three months ahead to the one I had planned, this has been a fortifying reminder of how much we can do in small steps. Thank-you!
Corina Semph says
I’m sorry to hear that Alexa. I’m glad I was able to help in some way. I hope you have a fast and full recovery.
I need to finally clean up and organize all the mental and physical junk in my life. It’s on my new years resolution to accomplish. Maybe start on it before the new year begins. That sounds like a good idea. thank you for the good advice. Keep up the good work!
Corina Semph says
Thank you very much Sarah! Good luck with the organization. Personally, I find it hard to get much accomplished when I’m unorganized, or I finish a lot of unimportant things, or important things fall through the cracks…
I hope the cheat sheet on decluttering your closet helps 🙂
I have read your posts and newsletters for some time now but this is the first time I am to responding to your posts.
I have enjoyed thoroughly and have forwarded your posts to friends I know would probably appreciate reading those.
I’m wondering though what would you recommend to a young person of 21 years old who is attempting to sit for the civil services exams in order to obtain a prestigious position with the Government.
She is ready to commence preparing for the Civil Services Exams January 2016. Preliminary exams are in August 2016.
Passing this exam could be life altering experience for her.
Awaiting your response eagerly.
Laura J. Tong says
Such a fabulous range of concrete ideas. You really made me think with #1 – starting a task almost always takes way more energy than finishing it – love this way of looking at it. Thanks.
Corina Semph says
Thank you Laura! Yes, starting can be a struggle. I have read and develop all sorts methods and bribes (chocolate works really well) to get started with uneasy tasks.
I needed this. Thank you!
Today I will apply my reading to actually getting outside and doing the exercise that I too often spend time thinking about (and then feeling guilty for not doing).
I expect it will change the efficiency of my day too – double win 🙂
…from Australia 6am here!
Corina Semph says
Sally, I’m so happy you took that decision. Huge kudos to you! For sure you’ll be more efficient from now on. What a great attitude you have. I’m really glad I was able to help.
Valerie Parv says
I can attest to the value of #4. After spending more and more time writing at the dining table, ignoring my customized office, I realized my desk was too large and cluttered. I downsized to a table with a roll-out file cabinet underneath, and now spend far more time in my office. Cleared dining table is a bonus.
Samuel Alfreds says
Thanks for the volume!
Jullian Regina says
Getting rid of needless worries! I love it! We need to clear our mind regularly, I’m trying meditation. It helps relax the mind, though it is tough, really tough some days. One of the biggest common things that successful people do other than exercise is meditate.
Marko Zupanic says
The opening quote on begin of this post is beautiful. You give us a lot of useful tips for being more productive. Thank you for that 😉
Thank youu sooo much
It’s always such a pleasure to read your blog posts – they offer a huge amount of inspiration and motivation. Thank you so much!
Maria Elena Passanesi says
Muchas gracias, excelente!!!
Susie Miller says
Brilliant list! I have a post it on my desk that says: F.O.C.U.S – Focus on One Course Until Successful and it has helped me say no to a lot of “good things” in pursuit of the great ones! Thank you for this reminder!