zen habits : breathe

25 Painless Ways to Free Up an Hour a Day for Your Goals

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” - Henry David Thoreau

What would you do if you had an extra hour a day?

This is a common barrier I run into when I write about making positive life changes: people don’t have time to pursue their dreams. People don’t have time to exercise. People don’t have time to get organized.

Well, it’s time to make time.

By using some combination of the following, you can free up an hour or more a day. Find the ones that work for you (not all will work for everyone), and then carve out that hour a day.

Then make sure you use that extra hour a day in the best way possible — book that hour on your calendar for something you really, really want to do, whether that’s work on a goal, write a book, start a business, exercise, read more, or whatever. Don’t squander this gift of time!

  1. Make an appointment right after work. Whether it’s exercise or working on some other goal, make an appointment to do it right when you get out of work (at 5 p.m., for example). This works especially well if you have to meet someone else, such as a workout partner or other group or team or coach or partner. You’ll be sure to meet the appointment, which means you won’t stick around work too long, and you’ll be sure to finish all your tasks on time so you can leave on time. This makes you more efficient in the afternoon especially.
  2. Wake up earlier. I’ve written about this before, of course, but I’ve found time for goals that are important to me by waking a bit earlier. Exercise, writing, reading — I do those now early in the day, so it doesn’t interfere with family time. Early in the day works well for me and many others, simply because there’s not much going on to distract or interrupt at this time of day.
  3. Turn off the phones. You don’t have to turn off phones all day long, but you should have some unbroken blocks of time when you don’t take calls, so you can concentrate on your important tasks. This allows you to get more done in less time, as phone calls can eat up chunks of your day if you let them.
  4. Stop checking email. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can stop checking email except at one or two times during the day, you can free up a lot of wasted time. Checking email constantly takes up a lot of time.
  5. Brown bag it. Many people I know take an hour or more for lunch. While a relaxing lunch can be a good thing, if you take lunch to work, you can eat quickly and either spend the extra time 1) working on a goal; or 2) getting work done so you can leave earlier. Plus, brown bagging it saves money too.
  6. Figure out your core work activities. What is it that you really have to do each day? I mean, the stuff you have to do or your job would fall apart. If you really think about it, a lot of the tasks you do each day (and phone calls and emails, mentioned above, are included in these tasks) don’t really need to be done each day. Sometimes you can do them less often, sometimes you don’t need to do them at all. If you can learn to focus on your core activities, you can get your work done in less time.
  7. Cancel a meeting or two. Think about the last 4-5 meetings you’ve gone to. How many of them were really valuable? How many of them did you need to be at? It depends on your job, but sometimes you can beg out of a meeting — or just outright cancel it if you have that power — and accomplish the same thing through an email or two. You just saved yourself 30-60 minutes per meeting canceled.
  8. Delegate. Not everyone has this option, but if you can give some of the tasks on your list to others who are better suited to doing those tasks, you’ll free up time. Do you really need to be doing everything you do, or can some of those tasks be delegated?
  9. Consolidate errands. If you routinely do errands throughout the week, you’re spending a lot of time driving. Instead, try to do all errands on one day, and plan out an efficient route. Most people will save at least an hour a week in total.
  10. Know your priority. What is the one thing you need to do today? Get that done, above all else, and do it first. After you do that priority task, the rest is extra really. Cut back on some of the rest to free up time.
  11. Shrink your task list. Once you’ve identified your core work activities and your top priority for the day, go over your task list and whittle it down to the essentials. Put tasks you don’t need to do now on a someday/maybe list, delete others, delegate others. Keep your task list down to the essentials, to keep from wasting time.
  12. Say no. One of the biggest groups of time eaters is requests from other people. All day long we get requests, in person, on the phone, in email, through paperwork. Meetings, assignments, requests for information, requests to be on a committee or team … these are all requests that will eat up your time. Say no to all but the essentials.
  13. Get to the point. While I’m a fan of long, slow conversations, if you’re trying to make time for goals, you need to whittle down needlessly long conversations — especially if it’s just with a co-worker who isn’t a close friend. In person or on the phone, you need to get straight to the point with a minimum of chit-chat, and if the other person isn’t getting to the point, politely ask what he needs from you.
  14. Watch less TV. Many people watch hours of TV a day. You can easily save an hour a day if you cut TV out, or just watch your single favorite show each day. Don’t channel surf.
  15. Read less online. If you’re like me, you can spend hours a day reading online. Limit your online reading and focus on your essential tasks.
  16. Don’t talk long on the phone. Long phone conversations can eat up a lot of your time. Instead, know what you want to accomplish and try to get that done quickly. If someone else is calling you, encourage them to get to the point, and then wrap it up when you’re done. Tell them you have to go because you’ve got something else to get to.
  17. Avoid IM and Twitter and the like. I’m not saying these types of instant communication don’t have their uses, but if they’re always on and you’re always available, you’re always at the mercy of others. Instead, just make yourself available at set times if necessary, or not at all if it’s not necessary. (And yes, I know the irony of giving this advice after I just started Twittering.)
  18. Search, don’t file. I used to spend a lot of time filing all my computer files and all my emails into nice, organized folders. I’d spend time every day doing this. Now, I just archive everything, on computer and email, and search when I need something. With Quicksilver on the Mac, every file is within a few keystrokes. With Gmail, every email is accessible instantly. No time spent filing!
  19. Leave early. If you’re using these time-saving tips, you should be able to finish your essential work early. If so, don’t use the extra time to just do more work … leave early! Of course, you’ll probably have to talk to your boss about this, but many people have flexible hours and many bosses would be happy to let you go early if you get your work done. If you set your own hours, set an earlier time to leave and you’ll ensure that you get your work done by that time.
  20. Get the kids to help out. At home, if you have kids, it saves huge heaploads of time if you let the kids help with cleaning and other tasks. At first, of course, it will cost you time because you have to teach them to do things. But once they learn … it’ll free up much of your time. My kids can help clean the house, reducing by 2/3 the amount of time I have to spend cleaning. Of course, they made the mess in the first place, but that’s another story.
  21. Educate others. Is there something that other people submit to you that you routinely have to edit or reformat? Teach these people (maybe with an FAQ or tutorial) how to do it right or how you need it so you don’t have to make changes. Are there mistakes people are doing that you routinely have to fix? Are there things you have to do yourself because others don’t know how to do it? Educate them, and save yourself tons of time. It takes time at first, but the payoff is huge.
  22. Automate things. If people submit stuff to you, or if you routinely have to do routine work, find ways to have the process automated. Technology works wonders these days.
  23. Just say, “That’s enough.” Often you are overloaded with information and tasks. But if you don’t respond to all of your emails today, or don’t read all of the posts in your RSS reader, or don’t get to all the tasks on your to-do lists … what will happen? If nothing drastic will happen, consider stopping when you’ve gotten to enough.
  24. Start work early. If you work before everyone gets in the office, you won’t have constant interruptions and distractions. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. I used to do it when I worked in an office, and because I didn’t take a lunch break — I at ate my desk while working) I could get off at 2 p.m. and spend time with my kids.
  25. Give others authority. If you have to approve things or make decisions, you might be a bottleneck — things move slower if they have to be channeled through you. Instead, give others the authority to make decisions — with clear instructions about what decisions should be made under what circumstances, and what the limits of their authority are. That’ll remove a bottleneck and free you up from having to make a bunch of huge decisions. Just have a way to monitor things as necessary.


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