Five Techniques for Creating The Time You Need In Your Day

photo credit: conradoplg via photopin cc

Are you too busy to do what’s good for you? I just finished watching Nigel Marsh’s brilliant TEDxSydney talk on how to make work-life balance work. It reminded me of a comment I hear a lot from people as they express their regrets for not showing up for a networking event.  They’ll say they can’t make the event because they are so busy. There are a couple of problems with that statement, but let’s see if I can help with just one of them. Maybe you can have more room for all of the things that matter (including building professional relationships) if you could just create a bit more time. 

Here are some strategies you might try...

1) Make a list of things to stop doing.

If you made a list of everything that takes up your time in a day, you can probably stop doing ten percent of them and nobody will notice.  In a week you’ll wonder why you ever thought they were important.  At the end of the day today make a list of everything you did.  Look at the list and put a circle next to every item likely to come up again tomorrow.  Then scratch through every one you think you could stop doing.  My guess is you get an hour a day back doing this.

2) Ask those closest to you what is the most important thing you can be doing for them.

You may not be prioritizing your efforts in a way that will have the highest impact on your life and the lives of those around you. How do you determine what’s important to them?  Ask! They may not always be right, but it is the perfect place to start a conversation. You will immediately find things that are not important at all and you can kill those projects entirely. Poof! More time for what matter most to you. If you’ve got someone who is particularly needy in your life, then make them prioritize for you.  Tell them you’ve got limited time, and ask them where they would have you to start.  It’s empowering for you and them. They know you care. You let them know what to actually expect.

3) Handle things once.

If you have three different email programs all looking at the same email inboxes, you are actually reading emails three times! Tell me I’m the only one...and I won’t believe you. Read and either respond or decide you never will immediately.  The new Google GMail inbox actually makes this much easier.  You can now scan entire categories of email, make decisions about them in bulk and make them go away. You can select them all, or all but a couple, and deal with those singles as needed.  I sign up for the events I plan to attend, and archive or delete the rest. The same thing goes for actual mail.  Is it a bill? Put it in the bill paying stack and know you will get to it at the right time.  Don’t shuffle through your paper mail every day looking for a bill.  This wastes countless hours you could be using for bigger projects (like hanging out with friends or playing with the cat.)

4) Schedule your interruptions (and regain focus.)

As a rule, I don’t let emails pop up on my screen and interrupt my focus time. To make this work for me, I have disabled email popups, and I grab the tab of my browser and pull it away from the others so I have a single window open and the object of my attention when trying to do focused work.  If I’m writing, it can be hard to get back into a thought. I keep the interruptions to a minimum.

5) Work while you wait.

Casual gaming nearly ruined me. While I never got into Farmville, there have been others that sapped my every free second.  While I didn’t (usually) stop work to play a game, I would find myself waiting for a car, or sitting on an airplane or waiting in an office and firing up some game because I thought it needed me to do some sort of maintenance.  I know it’s likely just me, but is a game, Facebook, Twitter, or texting stealing a valuable part of your day?

6) Singletask.

Be here now. Your brain is processing lots of other things, but there is no reason in the world to ask it to try to process multiple conversational threads at one time. We’d like to think that this is something we are really good at, but the truth of the matter is that will take our brain several minutes to recover from an interruption. Even if it takes only 30 seconds to answer the question , it will take us a few more minutes to recover and return to work.  That’s quite a loss and one that few factor into their day. Allow yourself an uninterrupted time to work on what’s important. The focus is a force multiplier.

There you go.  Hopefully one or two of these strategies will help you create some additional time to get the things done that are important to you and the stakeholders in your life.  If you have got some ideas or have some feedback, use the comments section or drop me a line.

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.