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Time Bandits

Most of us wish we had more hours in a day, but maybe finding more time is as simple as discovering where you are wasting time or not being as productive as you can.

Gina Conroy
July 28, 2019

Time. It’s something we all have. Many of us complain we don’t have enough of it. We’re always racing against the clock. Racing to work or school. Racing through the day. Racing home — where there is even less time to do the things we enjoy with the people we love.

No matter how much we try to cram into 24 hours, our to-do lists at work and home never seem to get checked off. Our tasks multiply overnight. And our stress level increases exponentially.

If we could find more time in the day, then all our problems would be solved, right? Wrong! The amount of time we have is not a problem.

We say time is of the essence, then we dawdle through the day, finding it hard to focus on the next project if there isn’t a clear and imminent deadline. We binge watch the latest series on Netflix, and gripe and stress when the housework piles up. We complain we never have enough time to do the things we love, then lollygag on Facebook with the pretense of catching up on the news or connecting with family and friends. We mull over all the things we wish to accomplish in our lives, then hit the pillow whining about not getting anything done because there’s not enough time. Sound familiar?

Let’s face it. The problem is not needing more time. The problem is we’re not productive with the time we’re given. If you’re ready to take charge of your life and find more time in your day to increase productivity and fulfillment in your life, then start with these simple tips.

Examine your time
Before you can find more time in your day, you have to find out where you’re wasting time. Start by recording every minute of your day for three days from the moment you wake up or hit the snooze until your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes. Use a timer if you have to determine how much time you spend doing each activity during your typical day. Then write it down, so you can see where you spend your time. And be honest. Cheating won’t help you find more time in your day.

Use apps to track where, when, and how much time you spend online. Print out a daily calendar and write in how you spend your time even if it’s daydreaming. No online or phone calendars or planners. The act of writing produces better results than typing. Google the neuroscience behind it.

Prioritize your life
Taking time to prioritize your day the night before saves time wondering about what areas of life need your attention the next day. It might be work, health, or family. Maybe a little of each. But if you don’t prioritize, then chances are you might skip an area of your life that is important to you.

Write your priorities down in a notebook. It’s OK to add recreation to your priority list. Putting it on your priority list may help you stay focused as you work through the other not so fun areas needing your attention.

Just say no
Say “no” to the things that don’t line up with your priorities. Sure, watching shows sounds excellent now, but when you calculate how much time you’ll spend on it, then multiply that by a week, a month, a year, is it worth it? Think about what you could accomplish if you just said “no” to all the things outside your priority list?

Unplug the television or iPad for the week and allow yourself a binge on the weekends. Delete Facebook from your phone, and answer emails instead while you wait.

Plan backward
Want to finish a project on time? Start with the end in mind. Write down what you want to accomplish by when, then work in reverse marking dates off when smaller tasks need to be completed. Once your plan is in place, start at the beginning, checking off things as you finish or readjusting deadlines if things fall behind. If you start with the end, chances are you will hit your smaller deadlines along the way and finish on time.

It’s acceptable to use an online calendar to mark due dates, but print out a calendar also, and pencil in your project deadline. Write in smaller timeframes, adjusting if needed, so you stay on track and finish the job strong. And don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet those small deadlines.

Organize your work
Just like prioritizing your life, you should prioritize your work every day. Put the most important tasks first, and work your way down. Many successful people focus on one to three tasks during the day. While this may not be possible for the average soccer mom or multiple business owner, there is wisdom in finishing one thing at a time.

Organize your work online in one of the many project management apps like Trello and Wrike, then FOCUS: Following One Course Until Successful. Having a hand-written list of your goals is also essential.  Goals written on paper remain in the forefront of our minds better than typed goals.

Make a to-do list
Even if you know what needs to get done each day, without a daily to-do list, you will flounder, second guess your next step, and most often, get stuck. Organize your smaller to-do lists daily, or weekly, but know you may need to adjust depending on how much you accomplish daily.

You can create a to-do list the old-fashioned way on Post-it Notes and hope you don’t lose them, or you can use to-do apps like Wunderlist, Clear and Todoist, and have them with you on any online device. Do what works for you but make that list.

Avoid multitasking
Studies show that productivity of multitasking is a misconception because neuroscience proves people can’t effectively do two things at once. According to Psychology Today, when you multitask, what happens is you’re switching tasks, which is less effective (even if the switch is only a microsecond) rather than focusing on one, and it costs more time than it saves.

Try apps like 30/30, which divides your tasks into 30-minute segments. Use the Pomodoro app or method of setting a timer for 25 minutes to focus on one task, then take a break for 5 minutes doing anything else you want. You can surf Facebook, answer emails, or work on another project, but just for 5 minutes. Then it’s back to your original task until your next break. Every four cycles, take a more extended break, but no more than 15 minutes until the project is complete.

Minimize distractions
In this day and age, how can we avoid distractions? Simple. Do what you need to do to unplug from the world and zone in on tasks. If that means turning off the internet or blocking Facebook or certain websites, then do it. If you think you’ve tried everything to minimize distractions, keep searching until you find something that works for you. And if all else fails, recruit an accountability partner.

Research work focus apps that remove distractions from your screen and help you focus on the document at hand, like FocusWriter and WriteMonkey. The Freedom app shuts down the internet for a predetermined amount of time. Anti-Social allows internet access but blocks Facebook, Twitter, reddit, Tumblr, and other social media distractions. Google provides information you need without diving into search results first, which can lead you down rabbit trails. Pocket is a bookmarking app that minimizes distractions by giving you the option to save what you’re looking at for later so you can focus on what’s in front of you.

Just do it
Waiting for motivation is a time stealer. Just do it. Plain and simple. Feeling like getting the job done should not be factored into whether or not the job gets done, especially if you want to keep your job. Want to finish on time and have time left over to do what you want to do? Forget about how you feel and get to work.

If you still need the motivation to finish the job, then write down all the reasons why you should finish strong. What will you get out of completing a task on time? What are you giving up if you procrastinate? When you “don’t feel like it,” take a look at the list, then get to work.