We all complain that we don’t have enough hours in the day, so here’s how to use the ones you do have more wisely.
Time. Where does it go? Why is there never enough of it? These are not unusual questions, in fact, they pop up with alarming regularity. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, right?
Well, actually, there are 24 hours in a day and that’s not going to change any time soon. So at the risk of getting all ‘tough love’, it has to be said that the best thing someone who feels they’re always out of time can do is stop whinging and find ways to fix that problem.
All the time management techniques in the world sit in one of two categories. One set of techniques helps us be more organised. The other set helps us work out how to do less. It is important to distinguish the two. Working out what the right things are to do comes before doing those things efficiently.
Less is more
Everyone has a different threshold beyond which they feel overwhelmed with things to do. Some people can be busy every single hour they’re not asleep and absolutely thrive on that. Others get stressed with the amount of ‘stuff’ on their plate, and feel pressured if they’re busy all the time.
It’s a real skill to work out where the ‘too busy’ threshold lies, and then another skill to avoid stepping over it. Some people never get this fundamental pairing sorted, but until they do, no time management tool will ever be of use.
The only way to find out where a personal threshold lies is to sit back and work it out. One good strategy is to look at individual weeks. If you feel happy that you’re spot on with tasks and projects, aren’t carrying lots of stuff over from one week to the next, but don’t feel you’re marking time or wasting time, then you’re in equilibrium. If you’re not in that happy state, it pays to put energy into working out what to drop, or what you might take on to get there.
It helps in this exercise to find out how time is being spent. Don’t guess at this. Measure it. One way to do this is to use an app. Try a timer app like Rescue Time. Smartphone and PC apps combine to monitor time usage, and you can set alarms if you spend more than a set amount of time on one thing, such as email or Facebook, for example. Alternatively, use pen and paper. In many ways this is better than an app as you can carry it everywhere and log everything. Don’t be shy about logging the time, and at the end of the week get it all into a spreadsheet and tot up the hours.
Once you know where the time goes, perhaps you’ll be able to retrieve blocks of it and use it more fruitfully. Less time idly channel flicking means more time for yoga, for example.
But there’s still the problem of being organised. The three key attributes of being more organised are focus, focus and focus. Whatever we might like to think, we’re really not that good at doing two things at once. Old fashioned though it sounds, making a list and ticking things off it as they get done is still a great way to get through stuff.
Here are some other top tips for doing everything efficiently. Some are app based, but not all.
- Use a simple tool to capture ideas. I use Google Keep, and a small paper notebook. Both are with me all the time and at regular intervals I go through them and organise the rough notes they capture.
- Make friends with Evernote. This is a great tool for capturing all kinds of random stuff from web pages to jottings. Organise the stuff into folders in Evernote, and take it to other, more permanent locations when needed. Get the apps for whatever tablet and phone you use and you’ll always by synced up.
- Get to know Bring. This shopping list app keeps a note of what’s needed, so you no longer have to keep shopping lists on odd scraps of paper and then leave them at home when you go out! Lists can be shared, so it’s easy to know if someone else has already bought bread so you don’t need to.
- Buy an A to Z paper file with 31 dividers for days and markings for months. Use this as a forward file. Stuff you want to give to a friend when you see them next Thursday? Put it in the date divider or under the first letter of their name. Train tickets for a particular journey? File them for the day they’ll be needed. Keep a parallel system somewhere like Evernote or Dropbox for the bits that aren’t physical.
Like many things, learning to be more productive takes time. Some solutions and techniques will be more useful than others and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ sure-fire, winning approach. So be prepared to try different options till the winning combination surfaces.
This article originally appeared on Lifehacker UK