Time is our most powerful currency. Everybody has it, everybody gets to spend it once, and everybody is spending it right now. And like ordinary currencies, it pays to manage it effectively.
Over the last 6 months I’ve given more thought to this idea of time as a currency. Life has become more hectic and I’ve been struggling to fit everything I want to achieve into the day.
At times it’s felt hopeless. How could I possibly make time for everything? I couldn’t manufacture it. I couldn’t buy tokens of time to cash in at a time of my choosing. Instead, I needed to evaluate how I was spending my time and optimise my daily schedule.
The below are 8 practical steps I’m now taking to make better use of my time. I’ve skipped the usual in this list. Making to-do lists and properly organising a calendar are no brainers. And it’s a given that if you’re interested in making time in your schedule, you already have a good idea of what it is you’d like ‘to do’ in each day.
So with that, let’s get to it.
#1: Eat regularly and manage energy levels
We’ve all been there. With our energy drained by the long working day behind us, we find the first available sofa or bed and collapse in a heap. What feels like 5 minutes passes as we put off the compulsory tasks that await. But after shaking ourselves from our slumber, to our horror we realise we’ve lost a great deal more than 5 minutes.
Low energy levels sap our brain power. In turn, our lower energy levels increase our propensity to put off productive activities in favour of less brain-intensive activities. Research has shown that if we regulate our glucose levels, we’re much more likely to be able to make effective decisions and complete productive tasks.
Introducing a steadier flow of smaller meals at regular intervals can help stabilise our glucose levels throughout the day. As a result, we’re better placed to make the most of our time during and after working hours.
#2: Use your dead time effectively
Dead time is everywhere. When we stand in a queue in the canteen, sit on a train home, wait for our laptop to boot up in the morning, wait for an appointment, these are all examples of dead time. And they might seem insignificant in isolation, but these small chunks of time add up to a sizeable chunk of our days.
Just take research in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2018. This research estimates that it costs the US economy around $100 billion each year in wages paid for idle time. That’s one heck of a hit to economic productivity and demonstrates the scale of the issue on a macro-level.
So by utilising these small pockets of dead time in the day, we can see huge overall progress in productivity. If you’re studying something, why not use that wait while your laptop boots up to go over some flashcards? If you’re working on an article, why not use that time in the waiting room to continue your research?
Whatever your priorities, if a task is translatable into the environment in which you’re experiencing dead time, use that time. A mobile phone can be a great tool for productivity here, but only if used for productive purposes. (More on how they can do harm to our use of time shortly).
#3: Complete tasks in bulk to save time
By completing certain tasks in bulk, we can avoid the need to absorb time repeating tasks.
Cooking in bulk is a great example of a time saving opportunity here. Bulk cooking meals on a Sunday can save a huge amount of evening time cooking during the week. What’s more, by preparing food when we’ve got more energy, we’re better placed to avoid the temptation of eating unhealthier alternatives. I started cooking in bulk earlier this year and I’ve gained around 3-4 hours per week in the evenings by avoiding repeated cooking and food preparation.
We can also apply the idea of bulk tasks to shopping. With a bulk grocery shop, we’re not only more likely to save money on bulk purchases, but also to avoid additional ‘top-up’ shops during the week.
And of course, we can apply the concept to certain jobs in our work environment too. Being smart and efficient with our work processes can yield significant time benefits. So if you’re spending too long in the office, think about how you can complete tasks in bulk to cut time consumed.
#4: Adopt a ‘good is better than perfect’ mindset
Adopting a perfectionist mindset can be the single biggest time waster of all. As a perfectionist and skilled overthinker, I speak from experience. I’ve wasted an unthinkable number of hours trying to convert pieces of work from good to perfect.
Now, if perfection is required, perfectionism is an undoubted advantage. But that’s the problem: perfection is rarely required in the real world. And after our work has reached a good standard, we tend to experience significant diminishing marginal returns on the time we’re investing.
What’s more, the opportunity cost of perfectionism can be huge. While we’re making that presentation prettier or tweaking a sentence on that email for the fourth time, we’re losing precious time on tasks that really add value.
Discipline yourself to recognise when diminishing returns on time are reached. The gains of then shifting your time to other tasks will far outweigh those from taking work from ‘good’ to ‘perfect’.
#5: Limit your time on your mobile
Ever looked across a café to see how many people are on their mobile phones? The modern world is dominated by our mobiles – and most of us are guilty of spending too much time on them. Recent research by Ofcom suggests the average UK adult spends 2 hours 28 minutes on their phone per day, checking their phone every 12 minutes of the day.
Those are astonishing numbers – and the trend is only increasing. So by evaluating how much of our own time we spend on different mobile applications, we can get a good sense of where we are spending our time poorly. With that data at our disposal, we can then take steps to reduce our usage.
A few months back, for example, I reviewed the time I was spending on YouTube. I’d developed a habit of watching video after video before going to bed. But once I realised just how much time I’d been spending doing this, I could see I was wasting a huge amount more time than I’d first thought. This provided the impetus to take action and reduce my mobile time.
#6: Reduce your number of daily decisions
Adopting the principles of minimalism in our decision making can also help to free up time. Some of the world’s most successful business people have made a point of cutting out unnecessary decisions. It can be as simple as cutting out decisions on what to wear and eat, by sticking to an outfit and a regular meal plan.
The essence is that we can claw back time and preserve energy for more important decisions and tasks on the day’s agenda. And this is supported by research which suggests reducing decisions helps us preserve energy and make better overall choices
#7: Map out your day and identify any other waste
Another time saving approach is to record everything we do each day along with a time taken for one week. At the end of the week, the full list can be reviewed and any identified areas of waste can be highlighted.This type of granular look at our schedules can shed significant light on where we have opportunities to better use our time.
Aside from the areas already mentioned, we all have specific routines and habits that can eat up valuable time. And some of these wasteful routines may not be immediately evident without visually setting them out. This is where mapping out our days and use of time can be incredibly helpful.
#8: Rest well
It may seem counterintuitive. After all, we might be inclined to think more waking hours means we get more done. But don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Giving our bodies the rest they need means we’re better placed to make optimal use of our waking hours.
When we’re well rested and more energised, we’re much more likely to get things done quicker and be more decisive with our time. Conversely, if we’re tired and burnt out, tasks may take longer to complete, and we may feel generally more inclined to procrastinate.
But focus on good quality sleep – and put down your mobile. One of the biggest sleep disrupters in the modern age is our mobile phones. And research has shown that mobile use before sleeping can have a wide range of adverse effects on our quality of sleep and cognitive performance the following day. Putting down our mobile phones before we get into bed can therefore have a profoundly positive impact on the quality of our rest.
The magic of making time for everything…
Finding time we thought we’d never have can be lifechanging. It can allow us to pursue goals and passions we thought never possible. It can give us ‘me time’ to focus and properly reenergise. And it can even create new financial opportunities and foster new knowledge.
Being conscious of how we waste time, intentional with how we use it, and aware of what our body needs to get the most from it are crucial steps in this journey. With some simple steps, we can take our currency of time and spend it more effectively.