If you’ve ever wished there were more than 24 hours in a day, this article is for you.
We can’t change how long one day is, but we are in control of how we use those 24 hours. By implementing small, manageable tweaks to our day, we can unlock hidden minutes and squeeze the most out of every day we have.
Warren Buffet, one of the most successful businessmen of all time, has said, “I can buy anything I want, basically. But I can’t buy time.“
Well Mr. Buffet, I agree we cannot “buy time,” but if we focus on the daily improvements below, we can become more productive, creative, and achieve more each day, thereby giving us more time in a sense.
- Start your day with your body.
- Begin with your own agenda.
- Make a list. Then do the list.
- Automate the things you repeatedly do.
- Plan your day 15 minutes at a time.
- Only schedule time in your calendar if, at the end of that time, you will have produced or created something.
- Change your habits with your phone.
1. Start your day with your body.
Activating your body will make your mind more productive. Go for a walk. Stretch. Do ten pushups. Roll out of bed and do a one-minute plank. Anything! Taking even one minute at the very beginning of your day to wake up your entire body will energize your mind and kick-start the day’s activity, thereby creating extra minutes you otherwise would have been snoozing, scrolling through your phone, or staring at the wall (until you finish cup of coffee #1).
2. Begin with your own agenda.
Don’t unlock your phone. Don’t touch your phone. Don’t even look at your phone. Start by focusing on the question, “What are the things I want to get done today?” Make a quick mental list or write them down. Then ask yourself, “Which of these three things can I do right now?” Do those three things! Feeling like you won’t have time to get three done? Do two, or even just one.
Completing at least one self-directed task at the beginning of the day has many benefits. You allow yourself to be proactive, doing what you want to do, not reacting to someone else’s email, article, or social post. It also gives you momentum; you’ve gotten one thing done, it feels great, so maybe you do one more. It takes an immense amount of energy to get a stopped train moving, but once it’s rolling down the track at a good clip, just try and stop it!
3. Make a list. Then, do the list.
It’s not enough to just write things down though. Develop a system for prioritizing your list. Then do the thing at the very top of the list. Barbara Corcoran, a businesswoman best known for her personality as a “Shark” on ABC’s Shark Tank, has a great method for lists:
- Step 1 – Write down everything you want to get done. Big, small, everything.
- Step 2 – Next to each item, give it a grade: A, B, or C.
- A’s are the things that will move your business forward, things that must get done, and they absolutely must get done today.
- B’s are things that will help you be more productive, help your business get ahead, but they aren’t the most pressing. And that leaves the C’s.
- C’s are the things that are longer term projects, or if you stop and think about them, they would be nice to do, but won’t directly move your business forward or have meaningful impact.
- Step 3 – Do the A’s. Ignore everything else until the A’s are done.
- Pro Tip – If you have too many A’s and aren’t sure which one to start with, do the exercise again looking at just the A’s, then rank those as A-B-C to see which of your top priorities are at the tippy-top.
Pick the time that fits best into your day. But do it. Taking 20, 10, even 5 minutes to shut everything down, close your eyes, get into your breath, and achieve a soft focus of the mind will do wonders for your productivity. You might think, “That will be five minutes I’ll be wasting not being productive.” True, in a sense, but which of these is really more productive? An hour of distracted, scattered work, or 55 minutes of razor-focused deep work?
Try the Headspace app for a beginner’s (or skeptic’s) guide. Download it and try it right now. The Basic lessons are free. You can do as short as a 3-minute session with it. One of the best metaphors about meditation made in the Headspace app is equating the mind to the sky. Imagine stepping outside on a bright, sunny, cloudless day. Imagine taking a deep breath as you step outside. Feels good right? Like, I-can-conquer-the-world good. That clear blue sky is a healthy mind, free of distraction, stress, and worry. That’s how our minds are when we first wake up in the morning. As the day progresses, we check our email (stress), we get pinged with notifications (distraction), and we just mucked up that presentation we didn’t prepare well for and are now wondering what the consequences will be (worry). These are the clouds. Dark, rain-filled, ominous clouds. These clouds make it hard for our mind to do the things it really wants to do. Meditation allows the mind to discard the clouds and get back to the clear blue sky.
Want a guaranteed 100% irrefutable way to get more time back in your day? See that thing you’re about to do? Don’t do it!
Can the thing you’re doing right now be delegated? Can you find the courage to let go and let someone else take over? Is there a way to break up your project to portion out pieces of it to your others so you can focus on the bits you will be best at or enjoy the most? Use the people and resources around you. If you play to others’ strengths and frame it up in a positive way (“I could really use your help with this. You’re such a natural when it comes to _____.”), you may be surprised just how easy and rewarding it can be to get others involved.
6. Automate the things you repeatedly do.
Take note over the next week of things you do every day or several days per week. Is there a way to automate this action? Is there a piece of software, an app, or a paid service that would allow this activity to happen automatically? If so, it’s probably worth investing the resources (time, money) to make that happen. Maybe it’s something as simple as setting up an Outlook Rule. If you are constantly dragging emails into folders in Outlook, all the seconds of those actions adds up> Let’s say it takes 3 seconds to pick an email, find the folder it needs to go into, and drag it. You do this with 30 emails/day, that’s 90 seconds/day. 90 seconds/day x 5 days/week = 450 seconds/week. 450 seconds/week x 52 weeks = 22,500 seconds or 375 minutes or 6 hours and 15 minutes per year wasted dragging emails to folders. Imagine you work there for 10 years. Now you’ve wasted 62.5 hours or over 2 and a half days of your life dragging emails to folders. Would it be worth investing 15 minutes right now to set up Outlook Rules to give you 2.5 extra days in your life? What other daily or weekly actions are you taking that could be automated?
7. Plan your day 15 minutes at a time.
Plan out your entire day in 15-minute increments. You don’t have to do something different every 15 minutes, just look at your entire day and “schedule” what you are going to do in every 15-minute block. Carve out large blocks for deep work.
The next step of this experiment is refinement. Take note of any moments when you deviate from your schedule. Why did you deviate? Was the deviation a necessity or a distraction? If it was a distraction, do better next time to tune them out and say “no.” If it was a necessity, make the adjustment in the calendar for tomorrow or next week to make room for that thing.
After a period of refining your calendar this way, you will have designed a schedule with minimal wasted time that you can repeat every week.
8. Only schedule time in your calendar if, at the end of that time, you will have produced or created something.
If you say, “I’m going to make sales calls with these next 30 minutes,” do that. Shut off your email, talk to no one else, and dial. But, that activity is just half the battle. Your time will much better spent if you go into that 30 minutes with an intention or a production goal, such as, “I’m going to schedule two appointments in these 30 minutes” or “I’m going to call the 10 pending deals I have with the goal of getting one of them closed on the phone, win or lose.”
You may be thinking, “I have corporate meetings I have to attend, I don’t get to choose how I spend every minute of my day.” Fair, but you can still enter that meeting with an intention to produce or create something, or encourage your team to think of the time spent together that way. What are the desired outcomes of your meeting? Define them and make sure you walk away with those outcomes accomplished (or know why you didn’t). If you’re having a hard time coming up with desired outcomes of the meeting, you don’t need to meet.
Adopting a production mindset or a creativity mindset with each 15-minute chunk of your day gives your mind a framework to be as productive as possible with each passing minute.
9. Change your habits with your phone.
Your phone is likely your biggest minute-stealer of your day. Any time you react to your phone, you’re being taken away from the moment, from whatever you were just doing. It seem innocent. It may seem urgent; “My friend and I are planning a dinner tonight and she just texted me asking if 7pm will work, so I’m being a better friend by texting her back right away so she can better plan her evening.” Truth is, if she’s a real friend, she won’t mind hearing back from you in 5, 10, 15 minutes… however long it takes you to finish what you were just working on. Even a glance at your freshly lit-up screen will slow down your ability to complete the task at-hand. Notifications are the biggest culprit. Notifications have been widely studied and repeatedly found to be detrimental to accomplishing tasks, especially ones that are cognitively demanding. This study, The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification, from Florida State University found that “cellular notifications, even when one does not view or respond to messages or answer calls, can significantly damage performance on an attention-demanding task.” The study explains how, even though notifications are short, especially when not responded to, they prompt “task-irrelevant thoughts” or “mind wandering,” which slows down performance and causes more errors. OK, so how do you prevent your phone from stealing your minutes?
- Embrace Digital Minimalism.
- Use the Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode feature. About to sit down and get some real work done? Take 5 seconds to switch into Do Not Disturb settings on your phone, which will mute ALL notifications, calls, texts, and anything that could distract you. Bonus challenge: you’ll probably be feeling great having finished your task quickly without any distractions, so see how long you can keep your phone in that mode once you’ve successfully finished your task.
- Turn off Notifications on your phone, at least on your Lock Screen.
- Move any apps that receive Notifications off your Home Screen. Ever unlock your phone with a specific purpose in mind, but as soon as you get to your Home Screen you’re drawn to open an app with 5 Notifications and then completely forget why you picked up your phone in the first place? Stop that. By moving any notification-driven apps off the Home Screen, you will be more intentional with your minutes staring at your pocket-sized screen.
We can’t change how long it takes Earth to rotate on its axis, but we do have control over our own time and how we spend it.
Ideas are the easy part, execution is the challenge. Try implementing just one of these productivity hacks into your life each day for a week. Let me know how it goes for you.
What other ways do you unlock more time in your day? I’ve love to hear from in the comments!