The excuse many of us make for not doing what we know we should be doing is, “I don’t have time.” The truth is just the opposite. Time is the only thing you have. Whether you have enough of it is mostly a matter of what you do with it. If you wish you had more time, here is how you make more time.
Determine Your Priorities
The very best way to ensure you have enough time for what’s most important is to determine your priorities (or discover them). If you don’t make values-based decisions, deciding why one project is more valuable than another, you will struggle to make smart decisions about what you do with your time.
To determine your priorities, you need a list of your goals. People who don’t know what they want often end up getting caught up in “the drift,” allowing external forces to move them in some direction. “The drift” will take you in the wrong direction and faster than you might recognize. (You really should read this post about “The Drift. You should also read this post about Intentionality and Massive Action. Both are worth your time.)
Priorities are what prevent you from being pulled in directions that don’t serve you. If you want to be productive, determining your priorities is the best place to start. Your priorities are like anchors that hold you in place.
Plan Your Work
If you are like most people, you roll out of bed, open your email, and decide what you are going to do with your day. Opening your email first thing in the morning is to put other people’s priorities above your own. What’s worse is waiting to start your day to decide what to do with it.
If you want to find more time, you will find it in abundance on a blank calendar. Your calendar tells the truth about your priorities. Because you have determined your priorities, you know what’s most important. Putting what’s most important on that calendar before the week starts ensures you have time for the things that matter. Will your plan always work as written? It’s unlikely. Will you feel as if you have more time, more control, and get more done? Yes, you will. Can you get back on the horse when you get thrown? You must.
Your intentionality here makes an enormous difference in how you feel about how much time you have.
One of the most pernicious threats to having enough time is the overwhelming number of distractions. Let’s put these distractions into two categories. The first categories are the distractions caused by the “always on-always available” world in which we now find ourselves. The second area is the distractions we choose ourselves.
The communication tools we use are always on, and they are always available. Despite the enormous value they bring our lives, they are not without their downside. Anyone can send you an email at any time, about any matter (urgent or mundane), and make any request they can conjure up, at any time, day or night. The same is true of text messaging, except for the text you receive is often accompanied by a little chime to let you know it demands your attention. You are also likely to have some sort of message service open in your browser, with your status set to available, advertising your willingness to be distracted by the rest of your organization (a sure sign of a lack of priorities).
Most of us work in an environment that some might describes as having an “open-door policy,” where people can walk into your office (if you still have one) and interrupt your work. The policy might better be expressed as an “open to all distractions policy.”
The second category, the distractions you choose, can be even more challenging for many. The internet and social apps are omnipresent, and because we are social animals, we are engineered to want to know what other humans are doing. We were addicted to gossip long before the social apps, but those apps have been engineered to feed the addiction, with the primary metric of success how long the platform can you to spend on a platform (Like a rat that pushes a button for a small bit of food). Unless your priority is “waste more time,” the social apps and the internet shouldn’t dominate your time.
If you want to find more time, removing these distractions by blocking time and training the people around you to respect those blocks, will provide you with many more hours in your day. Also, a good amount of self-discipline, or what we might call “Me Management” will give you back your wasted time.
Increase the Speed at Which You Work
I would never suggest that you don’t do good work. You should try to do exceptional work (I have ended every newsletter for the last five years with the directive to “do good work,” because it matters). The quality of your work is the quality of your outcomes. The quality of your results is the quality of your life. But that doesn’t mean you should dilly dally and take more time than necessary in producing those outcomes.
In ninety uninterrupted minutes, you can make massive progress on a project, task, or outcome. If you work with focus and a sense of urgency, you can do what others do in ninety minutes in sixty. In doing so, you will have just found yourself a half hour. If you focus and act with urgency during three blocks of ninety minutes, peeling back a half hour from each, you gain an hour and a half each day. Over a week, you get back seven and a half hours.
You have more time than you imagine if you focus it on what is vital for periods long enough to make progress.
Don’t Create Rework
I wasn’t always enamored with ideas like LEAN. And while I still don’t believe you can shrink or cut your way to greatness, the elimination of waste is a game-changer. Wasted motion is wasted time, especially if it means doing work over again and touching anything more than once.
If you are going to do something, giving it your full attention and focus improves the outcome. If you want to waste time, do something over because you didn’t do right the first time. It pays to be outcome-oriented and put forth the effort to achieve it without expending additional time and energy later.
Improve Your Energy and Your Capacity for Work
Improving your energy and your capacity for work could have been the first point here. You are, after all, the primary resource you have through which to produce the results you want. Taking care of that asset is job one because it is a huge variable when it comes to working.
If you are reading this, you are likely a knowledge worker (it is doubtful you work in a coal mine, and your hands are more likely to have carpal tunnel than callouses). Your brain lives in your body. Both of them need rest and exercise. They also need nutrition, sleep, hydration, and stress management. The better you take care of your physical self, the better your mental self. When you have more energy, you have a greater capacity for work.
There is more time available to you, if you determine your priorities, plan your work, eliminate distractions, work with a sense of urgency, eliminate wasted effort, and improve your energy.