You have 24 hours a day, and once you take out the time needed for your responsibilities, necessities and sleep, there isn’t much time left. This article won’t show you how to get the time to train to become a professional athlete or write the novel you’ve been thinking about for years — those take far more time than these tips can give — but the tips below can give you some extra breathing time in your day.
Many of these tips will require more time. I know, I know. The title says you’ll regain time, and here I am telling you to spend even more time. Hey, like all gym trainers say to the hesitant, you have to invest in the process to see results. Here are 12 ways you can regain several minutes every day:
1. For a week, document your schedule
Figure out what you are doing and when, and how productive you are during that time. This process should give you insights into how you spend your time, when you procrastinate, and when you hit the grindstone to get things done. Once you have this information, you can then optimize your schedule to save time. Most productive in the morning? Schedule that time for demanding tasks and work. Notice a regular slump in the late afternoon? Use that time to get out and about and run your errands to stay on your feet and be productive.
2. Do the little things now
Take some advice from David Allen’s philosophy and book Getting Things Done, and do the small things first. If you think a task will take two minutes or less, do it immediately. It’s not worth thinking about or keeping on the backburner. Knock it out now to clear your mind and focus better on other tasks.
3. Create deadlines for yourself
You’d be surprised how well this mental trick works. Working under time constraints helps you focus and work more efficiently. To increase this method’s effectiveness, announce the deadline to your co-workers or a friend. Keeping your word can be added encouragement to finish by the deadline you chose. If you have a hard time keeping your determined deadline, you can try using a timer to measure your progress and see how close you are getting to your goals. Plus, the literal or metaphorical ticking of an actual clock is another good motivator to keep you on-task.
4. Track your progress
Tracking your progress will help you work more efficiently because you know exactly what you’ve done and what you still need to do, but it’s also a very useful organizational tool in other regards. Services like Asana and IFTTT allow you and coworkers to track progress, keep a calendar, navigate a private inbox, cloud storage, and an online chat, providing clarity for your work and your team.
5. Email management
Reading emails can often be distracting and a waste of time, especially if you check your email several times a day. Instead, only check your email once or twice a day, and reply to all of your emails at once. The repetition of the task will mean that you will read and compose emails faster than you would otherwise, and you cut out the time of checking your inbox to find nothing there as well as time lost getting back in the flow of your work. Avoid scheduling volleys, use email filters to cut out spam, and limit your email subscriptions to the things you really care about and those that provide a positive influence on your life to shorten the amount of time it takes to get through your inbox even more.
6. Communicate more, communicate better
Trial and error work, but they’re slow. Save yourself time by asking questions when you don’t understand something and need guidance, even if it means asking your crabby boss. Remember that email is great and a useful tool, but calling someone is much faster than waiting for an email reply if you need to initiate a dialogue. If you ever think you are incapable of something or are too busy to do it, say “no.” You can’t do everything, and it’s okay to admit that to other people.
7. Adopt elements of Agile Project Management
Agile Project Management is a software development management strategy that revolves around 2-4-week “sprints” or tasks assigned to the team that upon completion can be shipped to customers and clients. While not everyone can use development-specific management, there are a lot of lessons to be taken away from the strategy, including this “sprint” strategy. If you sell a product of any kind, getting a version of that product, even an incomplete one, out to market will be useful in the long run because you’ll have customer feedback every step of the way.
8. Set up meetings where you’re the only attendee
That’s right. There’s a party at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. A work party for a party of one. It sounds funny, but it works. Creating meetings for yourself gives you a larger window when you won’t be troubled by coworkers, allowing you to get into the flow of your work for the duration of the meeting. During this time, eliminate distractions like cell phones, email, and the Internet in order to better focus on the task at hand.
9. Use computer shortcuts
Whether you use a computer at work or at home, you should use shortcuts to increase your speed and efficiency. Learn the commands already programmed into your keyboard to save time by avoiding the mouse. Once you’ve got the hang of it, try Quicksilver (for Mac) or AutoHotkey (for PC) to setup hot keys on your keyboard and use your computer even faster. Whatever tool you use, regardless of whether it’s electronic, you should always try to find shortcuts to optimize your use of it.
10. Procrastinate productively
Struggling to get through a task? Then take a break, but don’t leap into social media or your favorite TV show. Instead, try Stanford Professor John Perry’s technique of Structured Procrastination. The technique is simple: If you are avoiding a certain task, procrastinate by doing a smaller, easier task. This way you’re still productive even when procrastinating.
11. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks
Feeling guilty will decrease your productivity. Instead, understand that you need to take breaks, and that’s okay. Take breaks regularly, and you’ll find you have better focus and are more productive. Try the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. Regardless of the schedule you pick, stick to it. If you find yourself taking breaks during allotted work time, consider moving your schedule around until you find a timetable that works for you.
12. Plan ahead
Planning ahead is more than knowing what goals you need to accomplish tomorrow (but you should know those too). If you have a commute or any time in a waiting room, find ways to use that time productively, listen to a relevant podcast or do planning for the future. When possible, try to group similar tasks together: Do all errands and shopping together, do specific types of work together. You’ll focus better and be more efficient when working repeatedly at a task instead of working all over the place trying to find the right headspace for each task.
Using any combination of these tips will give you a few more precious minutes every day, so don’t waste them. Put that extra time to good use by bettering yourself and the world around you!