We all wish we had just a bit more time. Just think what you could do with an extra hour or two each day: you could finally stick to an exercise routine, or spring-clean the house, or write your novel, or learn the guitar, or get a new qualification.
I can’t magically make all your days 25 hours long. But I can help you find more hours in your day for the things that really matter.
Get Out of Bed Earlier
If you normally get up at 7.30 am, try getting up at 7 am. That half-hour might not sound like much — but it could be time that you use to meditate, to exercise, to read that book you’ve been meaning to finish, or simply to get your day off to a calm and organized start. The first hour or half-hour of the day is often a great chance to work on something important before other demands crowd in on you. And if you need your beauty sleep? Just get to bed half an hour earlier.
Use Your Commute Productively
How much time do you spend commuting every week? Unless you work from home, you’ve probably got at least a couple of hours each week when you’re travelling between your home and your workplace.
Use your commuting time for something useful. If you drive, you could listen to audiobooks. If you take the bus or train, you could read a book rather than grabbing a free newspaper. And if your workplace is quite close by, you could try walking or cycling to work — this builds exercise into the natural rhythm of your day.
Tackle the Important Tasks First
Once you get to work, take a few minutes to prioritise your tasks. Get the important ones done first (not the easy ones, or even the urgent ones). You can afford to spend at least an hour working on big, important tasks rather than on all those little urgent ones.
If you work like this, you’ll usually save time: the urgent tasks will still get done, and you won’t spend hours procrastinating over the important ones.
Don’t Check Email So Often
Your colleagues and clients can wait for a few hours — or even a day or two — for you to reply to their emails. If there’s something truly urgent, they’ll pick up the phone.
Keep your inbox closed when you’re working, and only open it when you’re ready to spend 30 minutes or so dealing with emails. It’s much more efficient to batch-process your emails than to keep popping in and out of your inbox to deal with individual ones.
If colleagues have a habit of hanging around your desk to chat, or if the phone is constantly ringing, you might find that it takes you half the day to finish a simple task like writing a letter. Constant interruptions don’t just eat up time — they also break your concentration.
When you’ve got a big task to focus on, let your calls go to voicemail. If you have an office door, close it. If you work in a cubicle, wear headphones: having them on makes it less likely that people will try to strike up a conversation (you don’t have to listen to anything through them).
Stay Focused on Your Work
You might have heard the saying “procrastination is the thief of time. When you want more hours in the day, procrastination can be a real problem. A few minutes chatting, browsing the web, updating your Facebook status, and so on, can easily turn into hours of wasted time over the course of a day.
When you’re working, work. If your concentration is slipping, take a proper break: go and get a glass of water, or stretch your legs a bit. And if you’re facing a difficult task, try breaking it into small steps or stages so that it’s easier to tackle.
Delegate Some Chores
Perhaps you seem to be the only person in your household who’s capable of unstacking the dishwasher or ironing the clothes. If your evenings get taken up with a long list of chores, see whether you can delegate some of those.
Your partner, housemates, or kids can pitch in and help out. Even if you just free up 20 or 30 minutes every evening, you’ll have a bit of extra time to spend on something important to you.
Eat Dinner at Home
Although going out for dinner might seem like it saves time (after all, you don’t have to cook) — you’ve got the time cost of traveling to the restaurant, ordering the food, waiting for it to arrive, paying the bill … and it might well be faster just to cook and eat at home.
If you don’t have much time to cook during the week, try making extra portions at the weekend so that you can freeze some. That way, you’ve got an almost-instant meal (and one that’s probably healthier and cheaper than a restaurant meal, too).
Limit Your TV Watching
If you put the TV on as soon as you get in from work, it’s easy to end up spending hours slumped on the sofa. Instead of watching whatever happens to be showing, try watching just one or two programs each night.
You might also want to have at least a couple of TV-free evenings; a great chance to read a good book, or to work on a project around the house.