Do you ever feel as if there are never enough hours in the day?
Your to-do list is getting longer, and in the effort to be productive, you cut back on the things that you enjoy doing. You think, “If only I had more time…”
Good news! You do.
No, I haven’t unlocked the secrets of the time-space continuum, but I’ve learned a few (super practical) tricks that are almost as good.
Having worked as Kate’s assistant for a year (while also attending graduate school full time), there was always something more that I could be doing. I felt like every choice I made was a tradeoff. Do I spend my time on work, on school, or on something for me? Every now and then, the choice alone seemed to paralyze me, and I got nothing done.
Luckily, I work for the productivity guru, herself, and I began to pick up on good time-management habits from Kate. Now, I’m sharing them with you.
- Plan ahead. So maybe this is a no-brainer. You probably know that proper planning can help you make better use of your time, but it’s so important that I’m putting it at the top of my list and saying it again. Plan ahead. I’ve never been a procrastinator, but learning how to time-block my days has made a huge difference. At the beginning of each week, I write in the non-negotiables (meetings, deadlines, etc.) in permanent pen. Then, I pencil in the remaining tasks I know I need to get done. Usually, these tasks have a little bit of flexibility, but by writing them down in my Spark Notebook, I’m more likely to follow through at a time when I’m most productive. For me, the key is making the decision to do something in advance. I’m not wasting time trying to think about what I need to do next.
- Save email for those awkward 15 minute intervals. Email is SUCH a time suck because it never ends. As you dutifully chip away at your inbox, messages will continue to come in. I have lost hours of productive work time tethered to my email. Now, I try to use the period of time between meetings or focused work to respond to email. This is time I would normally waste on social media or news sites, so refocusing my attention means that I’m able to use this time more productively. Often, I’m only able to respond to a handful of emails during this time. First, I look for urgent emails from Kate or clients. I respond right away if a response is needed. I also scan, sort and select multiple message to delete at once. Then, I look for messages that I know I can reply to quickly (e.g. people requesting a PDF of the Spark Planner). I star messages that need more thoughtful responses, and, at the end of the day, I set aside a longer period of time dedicated to writing these emails. By managing email during “dead” periods in the day, I’m able to sort and stay on top of my inbox without wasting tons of time.
- Listen to audiobooks on your commute. I quickly adopted this habit from Kate, who makes the most of her long commutes by listening to books written by other successful leaders and entrepreneurs or by setting up hands-free phone meetings through her car’s console. Since I take the bus to work, phone meetings are out of the question (too noisy!), but I do use this time to listen to my favorite audiobooks. This is a great way to gain new knowledge, boost cognitive capacity and reduce stress. I like to alternate between fantasy novels and inspiring nonfiction works that I download through Overdrive, Seattle Public Library’s free audio app. Audible, Amazon and iTunes also offer audiobook options. By listening a little bit each day during my commute, I’ve finished over 20 books in the last four months!
- Fold laundry while on a speaker phone. I know that text messages and Snapchat are the preferred way of communicating these days, but when you have friends and family all over the world, there is something reassuring about hearing their voice in real time. That said, I try not to sit on my butt during these long phone calls. Usually, I find a task that I can do absent mindedly while I focus on my conversation. Folding laundry is the perfect filler because the action is silent and the movements are mechanical. I also feel like I can focus better when I have something to do with my hands. In fact, research has shown that there is a correlation between working with our hands and increased memory and creativity.
- Exercise in line. This is one of my favorite things to do when I can’t make it to the gym. For instance, if I’m waiting for an elevator (there are 20 floors in my building…). I do as many squats as I can. When I’m waiting in line for coffee, I will practices a series of small dégagés, a ballet term for when you move your straight leg and pointed foot off the floor to the front, back or side. Depending on how long I am waiting, I will do about 16 in each direction for each side. I’ll even do a few pliés while I style my hair in the morning. These simple moves activate your core, glutes and leg muscles to help prevent stiffness and fatigue over the course of a work day.
- Don’t multi-task when in matters. These last three bullets have involved some form of multitasking, however, it’s important to realize when multitasking doesn’t work, and when it can be downright harmful to your productivity. Scientific studies have shown that it actually takes longer to switch between complicated tasks than it does to focus on each task one at a time. Imagine the last time you tried to carry a conversation while reading something completely different at the same time. You probably found yourself reading the same sentence over and over again, getting nowhere. That is what happens when our brains try to take on too many tasks at once. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are more productive when we shift back and forth from email to writing up a report to chatting with a colleague to watching an online webinar. The truth is that each time you switch tasks, you waste about 1/10th of a second, which over the course of the day can comprise up to 40% of your time, and you are more likely to commit errors. However, research does not find the same productivity loss when doing a physical activity with a mental activity, which is why walking and talking at the same time comes easy to most people. Save your mental energy and your time by focusing on one mental task at a time.
- Schedule work dates with friends. When I get busy, one of the first things to suffer is my social life. I cancel plans, convincing myself that I have to finish everything on my to-do list before I can enjoy some company. Not only is this a good way to ruin relationships, but feelings of guilt can impact your productivity. However, with a little planning, you can incorporate friends and family into a routine that doesn’t compromise work duties. For instance, invite your friend to join you for a run or suggest having an early dinner in lieu of happy hour. I like to schedule work dates with friends who I know are equally busy as myself. You may not be able to spend the whole time talking, but you’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company and take comfort in the idea that you have an ally in this battle against time.
- Know when to take a break. You can only run in high gear for so long before you burn out. Consider taking a personal day to recharge and refocus. If you’re at this point, you’ll need to think about long-term strategies for reducing your workload and not just managing it. For instance, if you’re starting a new project that has begun to take off, consider hiring more help. The thought may not even occur to you if you’re so used to doing all of the work yourself, but delegating is crucial if you want to see progress. Even if you’re not in a position to hire someone else, you might be able to automate some of the work. When I started using Text Expander, an application that allows you to key in frequently used phrases or paragraphs, I immediately noticed a reduction in time it took me to respond to email.
Following these tips does not necessarily mean you’ll be able to do everything you’d like in a given day. You will still have to make hard choices. However, planning ahead will help you anticipate those choices and be prepared to make the most of the time you do have.
If you have a great tip to add to the list we would love to hear it. Just tag us on social media, we are @inkandvolt on Facebook and Instagram.