Only 24 Hours? Tips on How to Get More Done in Less Time
“The bad news: time flies. The good news: you are the pilot.” — Michael Altschuler
Time seems to be the scarcest “commodity” of the 21st century. Friends, family and clients I know have more than often complained about the lack of time in their lives to do the things they want. And so have I. What got me to really thinking about this further was the conversation I had with one of my clients last week.
He said: “I know that there are all these things to be done to build my executive leadership brand. But where is the time? How do I fit all this in my calendar? How do you manage?”
So his question got me thinking: is there a solution to end this war with time?
How to Find More Hours – and Stay Unflappable
It has to be said, for a long time I fought with time. I made to-do lists. Read time management books. Used fancy planners and calendars. Checked off items from my list. Multi-tasked. I did all that I could to save — and steal — any precious minute from my day.
However, instead of making me more productive and giving me the feeling that I was managing time better, it only made me more frantic. I found myself wishing for more hours, worrying about every minute that I “wasted” — and still feeling that nothing was getting done. My relationship with time strained further after the arrival of my little baby girl last year, when I began to feel that I had no time for anything.
Until one day, when I decided to befriend time. I made little changes to what I had been doing for years and finally found my secret to getting more things done in a day. Here are some tools from what I learnt.
1. Pause and Prepare
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
This is the first step. Whenever you start entering a phase when you feel overwhelmed by the pending tasks and lack of time, pause and take a moment to reflect. Here are some pointers for doing that on a regular basis in the most efficient – and serenity-inducing! — way:
- Pour all of your thoughts, ideas, pending projects and tasks, errands etc. onto paper (or your computer).
- Then review this comprehensive list to prioritize. Do this exercise at the beginning of every month.
- Next, break down bigger projects into smaller action steps. This will help you pick daily goals for the rest of the month.
- Lastly, extend this step to a daily habit: before diving straight to the routine on getting up, take twenty minutes to plan the rest of your day.
2. Write Down a Daily “Must-Achieve List” instead of a “To-Do List”
To-Do lists are supposed to help us manage time better. However, their effectiveness decreases when they become long, unrealistic, and never-ending.
So, instead, pick your battles:
- Instead of writing a massive to-do list, pick 3-5 ‘must achieve goals’ from your comprehensive list every morning.
- Don’t do anything else that day until you complete these tasks. This way you can make sure that the most important things get done before they become stress-inducingly “urgent.” It will also increase your productivity, as you will not take up tasks in a haphazard, ad-hoc way.
- Also, schedule at least one easy task for a day which is not urgent, but is important. This way you will feel more accomplished at the end of the day.
3. Say “No” More Often
In many societal and organizational cultures, people have struggled to say the simple word “No.” However, research shows that the inability to say out loud these two simple syllables can lead to stress, burnout and even depression. Whether it is a “yes” to help a colleague on a project, attend a meeting or go shopping with your friend, you are agreeing to add to your load — and therefore reducing your time to address your priorities.
So, practice saying no more often and you will have much more time for what you want to do, when you want to do and how you want to do. Here are some techniques you can use to say no more effectively.
4. Follow the 80:20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule can be applied to most life and time situations.
What is means: Identify the 20% of your top tasks, projects and customers that will lead to 80% of your business achievements and results. Then follow it most of the time. This way you can focus on what really matters, increase your productivity, and get more things done.
In your personal life: identify the 20% of your wardrobe you wear 80% of the time. Keep it organized, clean, and in good shape. You will save time every day deciding what to wear, and then the time spent looking/searching for it.
On another personal note: Note the 20% books, websites, or blogs that contribute to 80% of your information, entertainment, then make sure they are always easy-to-find and at hand.
It does not mean that you have to never venture beyond your “top 20% everything,” and repeat the same thing. Experiment every now and then, and keep discovering your new top deliverables. However, following this in your busy and stressed weeks will save you lot of time pondering over small stuff.
5. Breaks and Buffers
Another technique that has helped me is breaking down a long, lengthy project into smaller achievable tasks, and taking quick, 2-5 minute breaks between these tasks. It helps me stay focused and energized. Whenever I achieve each smaller objective leading to the bigger goal, I feel happy, motivated and more productive.
Also, you might have planned a perfect calendar for your day or month, but realize that there will almost always be curveballs thrown at you: unexpected client requests, troubleshooting, traffic delays, etc. Therefore, buffer time for these activities, and avoid planning the entire day down to the last second. If you have anticipated these unexpected things, you will be less stressed when “time-disruptors” appear, and feel more productive and creative to handle them.
To sum up: at the end of the day, to make the most of it, it is more important to be aware and conscious of your time, rather than to try to frantically “manage” it. We all have only 24 hours, no matter how many smart calendars we use on our phones and computers.
And most essential: make time for people and things you value most. Remember what high-powered social entrepreneur Zita Cobb has said:
“The most important thing is to make sure that the most important thing remains the most important thing.”30