“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin
How often do you hear someone around you complaining that they “don’t have time,” or are “too busy” to do something they love, to pursue a passion or project, or even to finish a task to which they’d already committed?
What those people might not realize is that they are literally leaking time every single day. In their morning routine, during their workday, through their never-ending housework list, by over-committing and under-preparing. Settling into routines may be comfortable, but if those routines are costing us hours we could be devoting to higher priorities, we ought to put those routines on the chopping block.
Rather than go into great detail about the time we waste, let’s jump straight into real ways you can create more time in your life by getting smarter about how you spend each day.
Create your week with intention
Even if you’re not yet a ‘planner person,’ consider what it means to create your week.
Life’s demands often lead us into a reactionary rhythm, asking us to juggle many requests and distractions while still getting our most important work done. What life doesn’t do is tell you the truth: you are the creator of not just your schedule, but of your entire day.
What you’ll need: 30 minutes – 1 hour each week, a planner or digital calendar, and an overview of your commitments and projects.
- Establish time boundaries. Your boundaries are the non-negotiables in your schedule, which include sleep, morning and night routines, meals, family schedules, and your self-care.
- Double-check your appointments. Does anything overlap? Did you factor in travel time to-and-from your destinations? Did you leave enough time for a meal? Ask yourself these questions and always remember when committing to appointment times and remember it is better to undercommit and overdeliver than to overcommit and underdeliver.
- Review and pencil in your projects. Each of your projects should (hopefully) have a general timeline. Working toward any goal takes time, and by estimating how much time each step will take during the project-planning stage, you make it easy to pencil in your steps as they fit your schedule. Should you need to ramp up your time delegated to a project or goal, you’ll know exactly how much space you need to create by shifting other commitments.
- Establish time for physical activity and self-care. We are our better selves when we are cared for and physically active, so keep in mind that by creating time in your schedule for these self-investments, you’re establishing a stronger, healthier you who will spend less time sick, tired, and out of commission.
- Identify and alleviate overcommitments. This may seem like a constant struggle, but try switching your mindset to seeing this as a puzzle to solve rather than a big problem. For the next couple weeks, pay attention to where you find yourself rushed, overcommitted, or underprepared for a commitment. Journaling about these instances is tremendously helpful; when you look back and see what triggers you to overcommit and spiral into a busy frenzy, you can set yourself up for success in the future to avoid those pitfalls.
Set up your mornings the night before
I don’t know about you, but I’m not my best self first thing in the morning. Sleepy, stumbling, slightly irritated by a loud alarm, and already overwhelmed with the amount of work it’ll take to make myself presentable and prepared for the day. Clothes, breakfast, bags, partners and pets, there’s so much to think about and your brain simply isn’t all there quite yet.
Not sure what to set up the night before? Take stock of your morning routine this week and make a list of all the tasks you complete in any given morning, whether it’s a work morning or a day off.
Your night-before routine might include tasks like these:
- Set out your outfit, shoes, and accessories. Does getting dressed slow you down with decision fatigue? Try adopting a “uniform” for a couple of weeks and see if it can de-stress the process for you. Your “uniform” is a simple formula — for example, every day I wear 1. a blouse 2. a sweater 3. a skirt and 4. flat shoes — that takes the complexity out of getting dressed. It just might save you precious mental energy and time every day.
- Prepare breakfast ahead of time. Breakfast burritos, bagel sandwiches, frozen produce for a smoothie… set your breakfast up for success so it takes less than five minutes to prepare in the morning. Tip: eat before you leave home and start pounding coffee, your stomach will thank you.
- Pack your work bag. If you’re the type to unload your bag at the end of the day or carry different bags depending on the day’s demands, this is a must. Leaving an important item at home can derail an entire day and cause you to waste time working without the item (or going back to get it). Pack your bag while you’re fresh in the evening so you can simply pick it up and go in the foggy-brained morning hours.
- Prepare any pet or family needs. Kids, dogs, or your kid’s dog… they might be the biggest time wasters of all. We can’t rely on our loved ones to have the same sense of urgency and timeliness as we have in the morning, so it’s up to us to prepare them for success ahead of time. Work with your child to set out their clothes and to pack their school bag, have your dog’s leash and bowl ready for the morning duties, and consider bringing everyone in your house in on a “morning setup” routine each evening.
- Empty your brain onto a list you can review and implement tomorrow. Racing thoughts not only keep you up at night, they totally derail your morning. Forgetting a to-do item until 2pm the next day leaves you mentally distracted from the present, so dump your brain before bed. If you’re feeling up to it, put the list into implementation by adding items to your calendar, creating reminders, and delegating what you can to others.
- Set an alarm that leaves time for your full morning routine. As much as you want that extra 15 minutes of sleep, an extra 15 minutes to wake up will give you much more return, I promise! Leave time for your full morning routine and for at least ONE THING to not go as planned. Running out the door in a hurry makes messes, causes us to forget things, and ultimately leaks time.
Not into having more time in the morning? Add that extra time to your sleep schedule by going to bed 15 minutes earlier! Your body and brain will thank you.
Plan your meals and add them to your calendar
Meal planning can have a massive impact on your wallet and your schedule, depending on how well you maximize what you make. When planning your meals, take your lifestyle into account: Where will you be eating these meals? Will you have access to a microwave or toaster oven? Will these meals be shared with family or will they be an on-the-go bite after work?
What you’ll need: A few hours to research recipes, shop, and prepare your meals. This will get less and less time-intensive the more you do it, as you develop your best, quickest, and most cost effective recipes.
- Plan your meals around your commitments, preferences, and ingredients. This will take some practice – like, at least a month of practice if you’re someone who normally eats out a lot. But, honing the skill of meal preparation, disciplined grocery shopping, and meal-scheduling will create time in every quadrant of your day.
- Schedule your meal prep time and consider doubling the benefit of those hours. Calendars are not just for work commitments and appointments. By blocking your meals out on your calendar, you’re guaranteeing yourself dedicated time to sit down, eat your meal (in a healthy, non-rushed and stomach-ache-inducing manner), and to get the all the nutrition you need.
- Ensure you’ve carved time out for cooking, eating, and cleaning up. Another very easy way to leak time is to forget that it takes time to prepare and clean up at mealtimes. By not giving yourself adequate time to prepare your food and to clean up after, you’re leaving yourself open to neglect your prepared meal all-together (and spend additional time and money ordering out), or to leave a mess you’ll have to spend time cleaning up later.
Automate and simplify your daily drains
Daily drains are the bane of any productive person’s existence… and most of us don’t actually know what our drains are. Get to know yourself over the next week by paying attention to where you’re being drained throughout your day.
Some pesky time stealers include: pointless calls, uninteresting email newsletters, searching through disorganized files for one important document, overcommitment and under-preparing.
- Take fifteen minutes to brainstorm all of the time wasters, time consumers, and inefficiencies that impact you. Do this weekly, or a little bit each day. Start to identify time-wasters and time-thieves in writing, keeping a record of what you discover.
- Make a goal to tackle 1 – 2 inefficiencies per week, depending on their breadth. With the record you’ve created above, you now have the power of awareness to break down the inefficiencies in your schedule and to restructure.
- Tackle some simple drains: Unroll.me is the easiest way to unsubscribe from junk and newsletters en masse and to group what you do want to keep into a daily digest, delivered at a chosen time that won’t derail your productivity. Donotcall.gov is the US list to which you add your phone number if you want to stop receiving automated robot and soliciting calls. Moment App for iOS and Android tracks how long you spend on each app in your phone. It’s staggering to see what we actually do with our phone time.
- When project planning or taking on tasks, generously estimate their time drain and record it in your calendar. Block the time to prevent yourself from being pulled away (as best you can) and to help you maintain a realistic value of how much time you have left in your day.
Minimize the number of things you deal with
The more you have, the more time you spend. It’s a simple equation. Big house? Lots to clean. Tons of clothes? Never-ending laundry. Folders and folders of paper you will probably never review? All of it is in your way when you’re searching for the one important piece.
The more you have to touch, rearrange, move around, clean, sort, analyze, and keep track of, the more time you’re wasting on things that don’t serve your higher priorities.
Minimizing is tough, there’s no doubt about it. While I’m not asking you to KonMari your entire house, I strongly suggest you begin to tackle the unnecessary and the excess in your life. When there is less to deal with, you spend less time dealing with it.
What you’ll need: Strong sense of commitment to diminishing the unnecessary and the excess in your life. And, an ongoing commitment to not bringing in additional unnecessary and excess items into your space.
- Declutter your fridge this weekend. Toss what’s bad, what you know you won’t eat (be honest, even if it means tossing something “technically” still good), and what you probably can’t use within its expiry.
- Rather than attacking your wardrobe all in one pass, consider reorganizing first. By color or by style are my go-to. When you reorganize, turn all of your clothing hangers backwards. As you wear and rehang washed items, the unturned hangers will dwindle and stick out. After a month or two, you’ll see what you clearly are wearing and what items could be donated or re-homed.
- If you have all of your seasonal and special occasion items mixed in or taking up space in your daily access wardrobe, consider storing them in a vacuum bag or other garment storage option. This makes for less clutter and visual distress, and less “pushing around” when picking out your daily outfits.
Identify areas of rogue clutter in your house. This can be to-go containers that may or may not have lids, loose paper and magazines that have not been sorted, in-progress book piles that will always be in-progress. Schedule 15 – 30 minutes each week as you can manage to tidy these areas for good.