Each person is unique in countless ways, but we are all alike in one way. No matter the status of our births, our heights, our weights, our experiences, our hopes, our dreams, we all have one thing in common. We will have it common from the day we’re born until the day we die.
We all have only 24 hours in a day. No matter how many times we wish for more, perhaps feel we need more, we’re stuck in time the same way as everyone else.
Instead of wishing for more hours in a day, why not take action to get the most out of your allotted 24 hours? Take these seven hacks, for instance. Implement even one of them and you’ll get more out of your time. Implement all seven, and people will wonder if you did indeed invent a machine that slows down time.
1. Structure your day
Routine gets boring. Structure adds meaning. It might sound like a pithy platitude, but the difference between the two can change your day. If you do the same exact thing, at the same time, every day, you will eventually stop doing it. Routine bores us.
Structure, though? We can use structure to build productive days that remain flexible.
So what’s the difference between structure and routine?
Routine: Get up and do your stretches, then put on coffee, then shower, then eat breakfast.
Structure: Get up and get your heart rate up. Before you shower, put on coffee. After you shower, eat breakfast.
The differences seem subtle, because they are subtle. A routine is a set of instructions you follow every day. Structure guides us in the right direction. Humans get sick of following instructions, even ones from ourselves. So ditch your daily routine and set up a structure instead.
Need some ideas for how to structure your own day? Check out Pick The Brain.
2. Automate routine tasks
While we can trade in our old routines for new structures, some of our jobs require us to perform routine tasks. Unless you have someone to whom you can delegate, you’re stuck performing these tasks. They’re typically low-level yet necessary, and so fall into either the Urgent-but-Important, or worse, the Urgent-but-Not-Important quadrant in the task management matrix.
Even if you don’t have someone below you on the company hierarchy, you can still delegate many of those routine tasks. Or, at least, you can automate them so they don’t consume your limited focus and time. Services like IFTTT — if this, then that — have become increasingly popular, especially as they’ve developed smartphone integration. Yet for business, there might be a better service, one that connects with more than your typica consumer apps.
Check it out: Zapier. It connects with services like Trello, Salesforce, Basecamp, AWeber, and more. With integtation into these business-class services, you can automate a good chunk of your day.
3. Hire an assistant
Everyone would be more productive if they could hire assistants. Yet we all know that many companies just don’t have the budget. It’s not just the assistant’s salary. It’s the cost of finding a good one. Then there are training costs, benefits packages, and all sorts of costs that HR professionals know all too well, but people outside of HR take for granted.
One emerging alternative: virtual assistants. You might find them working independently, but there are many agencies where you can find a selection of assistants. You typically pay the agency for how many hours you need per month. Then you can delegate tasks to the assistant, freeing your time to pursue more important goals. The per-hour cost of a virtual assistant is far less than that of even an entry-level on-site assistant, and there are no hidden costs. It’s the new way to hire on a budget.
Check it out: Worldwide101. While many people think that virtual assistants can handle only administrative tasks like email filtering and bookkeeping, Worldwide101 assistants can do far more. If you pay for the upper tier service, not too much more than the standard service, you can even have them write up marketing materials and conduct serious outreach. And it’s still cheaper than hiring an on-site assistant.
4. Plan ahead for gap time
Mentally run through your typical day. How often do you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get any work done? You’re sitting in traffic. You’re waiting for a reply so that you can proceed on a project. Worst of all, you’re standing around waiting for someone. We have plenty of gap time in our personal lives as well. Consider the time you spend every week waiting on line at the grocery store.
We all face considerable gap time every day.
- Carry a book with you everywhere. We all want to read more. It’s amazing how much you can read if you pull out a book during routine idle time.
- Carry a small tablet. A tablet will cost you more than a book, sure, but you can carry around a seemingly infinite number of books. Tablets are small enough now that you can often fit them in your back pocket. Or maybe you have a phablet and can comfortably read a book on your smartphone.
- Download audiobooks and podcasts. You can’t read during your drive to work, but you can pop in an audiobook or podcast. After all, as Stephen King asks, “How many times can you listen to Deep Purple sing ‘Highway Star’?” (The answer is a ton, Stephen, but the point remains.)
Plan ahead for these gaps times, and watch your productivity soar. They’re hours you didn’t even realize you had.
5. Bundle tasks
The next two hacks might seem at odds, but once we examine them more closely they’ll make more sense. In order to get more out of our days, we can bundle tasks that don’t require our full engagement. This is not akin to multitasking, but rather laying a partially engaged task on top of another partially engaged task.
For example, I like to read while watching baseball games. I love baseball, and can become fully engaged. But to be fully engaged 162 days per year is quite a lot to ask of my attention and time. And so I like to read a paragraph in between pitches, and a few pages during commercials. This works well with football (American football, at least). There is plenty of downtime between plays, and commercials abound. I’d wager you could read more than 50 pages in a book during a standard football game if you read during halftime.
There are plenty of other opportunities to bundle tasks. Exercise is a prominent example. Some people need music to keep them motivated. I once counted myself among them. But now I listen to podcasts while working out. There’s hardly a difference in how I feel, and I’m doing more of something I like doing. Get a stand for your tablet and read while doing the dishes (or listen to an audiobook or podcast).
If a task doesn’t fully engage you, try to add another partially engaging task.
6. Uni-task at work
When you bundle tasks, you’re not switching back-and-forth. You’re doing two low-engagement tasks at once. When you’re at work, oftentimes you have a number of tasks that do require your full engagement. Those are the tasks you should approach with focus. Yet so many people feel that they can get more done by multitasking — switching back and forth between many tasks. Can you be fully engaged in three or four tasks at once? Can you toggle your engagement in the same way you press the ALT + TAB keys?
Many studies show that we don’t just return to our tasks after distractions. It takes an average of 25 minutes to resume focus. Can we ever really get into the zone, really focus, if we’re toggling among many different tasks? If you’re toggling among low-level tasks, and have a time limit set, maybe. But here has to be time for deep, focused work.
A focused 25 minutes of work will yield more productive results than 90 minutes of constantly distracted work. So find some time in the day — maybe even get to the office before everyone else — turn off email and other interruption machines, and get to work. Even if you can manage only a few deeply focused blocks per day, you’ll still find you’re spending your time more efficiently.
7. Track your time (temporarily)
No one wants to micromanage her life. We all groan when a boss asks us to report how many hours we spent on a certain task or account. So when I suggest that you track how you spend your time, I’ll hear similar groans. Do we need to track every minute of our lives in order to get the most out of the day?
No, not at all. Think of time tracking as an experiment, and a loose one at that. Track your time every day for a week. That weekend, take a look at your logs. Where were you most productive? Where were you least? Having these data at hand will show you where you can improve, and where you’re strong.
Think about it this way: elite athletes analyze their own games to find their weaknesses. That’s how they get better. Why can’t we do the same with our own lives? If we understand where we’re wasting time, we can devise a plan to reclaim that time.
Check it out: Toggl. It’s a simple tool, with a free tier, that allows you to track your time. Look at your logs for the week and figure out where you can improve. Then try to improve for a few weeks. Go back in later and track another week. You don’t need to micromanage your life in perpetuity. But you can gain more time by periodically figuring out how you can better spend your time.