By Dr. Mercola
If you're like most people, you'd like to find more time in your day to accomplish more tasks or achieve a goal that's been on a back burner for months. Although 98 percent of Americans value balance in their lives, only 35 percent make enough time for themselves each day.1
Americans often keep a frenetic pace, leading to high levels of stress. How can you create more time in your life when everyone is given the same 24 hours? How do some people seem to achieve more in those 24 hours than others?
Time is a valuable non-renewable commodity that is distributed evenly to everyone, but used differently. The choices you make each day determine the results you get at the end of the day.
If you're constantly running through your day with little time to stop and enjoy the small moments with friends and family, it might be time to make a major change in the way you're doing things.
How to Alter Your Perception of Time
Although time is a constant, how you perceive the passage of time is not. When you're having fun it often seems to pass more quickly, but when you're bored it may feel like the seconds are ticking by at a snail's pace.
Did you know you may be able to gain some control over the pace of your life, and therefore improve your productivity?
Outside of your health, your time is one of your most valuable possessions. Since you can't replace time lost, renew time that has past or live in the future, it's important to pay close attention to the time you have in the here and now, and use it productively.
Some drugs can speed or slow your perception of time, such as caffeine or valium. However, your best tool is your mind.
David Eagleman, Ph.D., neuroscientist and adjunct professor at Stanford University, explains the perception of the passage of time as it is related to the amount of new information your brain is recording in memory.2
One of the areas of the brain responsible for emotion and memory is the amygdala. The more detailed the memory the longer the moment appears to last. This is one of the reasons why it can feel forever when you're stuck in traffic, but your memory of the event will be that it passed quickly, as you didn't lay down any new memory.
The important idea is that if you are moving through your day, doing things without thinking, you're probably not as productive as you could be. Pay attention to what you're doing and learn something new while you're doing it.
Sleep Also Affects Your Productivity
It may feel counterintuitive but sleep will make you more productive, not to mention a healthier individual. Although scientists continue to debate why sleep is important to your health, there is demonstrable evidence that when you are sleep deprived your cognitive function will suffer.3
It also appears that cognitive recovery is more difficult when you aren't getting enough sleep each night, or when you're pulling an all-nighter.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression, weight gain, increased risk of diabetes and cancer and increased risk of accidents. Sleep is necessary to feel alert, be productive and creative, and for optimal body functioning.
So, as you look through the following time savers4 to free up more time in your week, remember not to fill the time with more to-dos but to relax, sleep and learn something new instead.
Declutter Your Life
You might think that multi-tasking will help you get more done but you'll discover in my interview with Dr. Theo Compernolle how we limit our productivity using this strategy.
Like multi-tasking, when your desk, workspace and mind are cluttered it is far more difficult to achieve your goals than when you are working in a clean space. The following tips can help you declutter your brain and surroundings, allowing your productivity to soar.
• Clean Your Home and Desk. You don't need to be a neat freak; just spend 15 minutes a day straightening your desk at work or 15 minutes cleaning your home. You'll be surprised how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes.
• Evaluate Your Current Productivity. Don't rationalize the time you weren't productive. Instead, ask yourself if you attack the issues or spend more time putting off the difficult challenges. Most people are productive approximately seven hours of time while awake. Make those hours count.
• Write It Down. When your mind is cluttered with what you want to get done, you don't focus your whole mind on the task at hand. This reduces your productivity in the current moment, leads to feeling overwhelmed and reduces the amount of free time you might have.
Declutter your mind by writing down what you need to accomplish, when, and then forget it until it's time to get it done.
• Declutter Your Closet. You likely have clothes in your closet you never wear. After pulling out the clothes you know you never wear, turn all the hangers around so they are backward. As you wear something, hang it back the right way.
At the end of the season you'll find more clothes you didn't wear. Having less to choose from reduces the time it takes to get dressed and frees more space.
• Remove Temptation. Remove what distracts you from the project at hand. If it's your phone, then lock it away until the job is done.
Are you spending too much time on websites that waste your time, like Facebook or YouTube? Try an app to lock you out for a few hours at a time, such as StayFocused5 or FocusBooster.6
Re-Evaluate the Cult of Busy
In American society busy people appear to be more valuable than those who find time to sit and smell the roses. However, you need both busy and rest for your mind and body to work optimally. To regain your balance:
- Invoke the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule. Named after the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, the rule essentially means that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts.
You'll likely wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time, and 80 percent of your time is spent on 20 percent of your to-do list. Keep the important things at the top of the list where you'll spend 80 percent of your time.
- Identify the Most Valuable Task. Much like the Pareto Principle, identify the most important task for the day and do it as early in the day as possible. There's an app for that — Wunderlist7 is a free computer application that allows you to make lists, prioritize them and even put in recurring tasks.
- If It Takes Minutes, Do It Now. It takes longer to sort the mail to open later than it does to open the mail and take care of it immediately. If something takes two minutes, do it immediately and save the extra five minutes it takes to plan to do it later.
5 Tips to Simplify Your Mornings
1. Pack Lunch the Night Before. Whether for yourself or your children, pack lunches the night before and label with the correct person's name. Now it's just grab and go in the morning.
2. Place Matching Clothing Pieces Together. Getting ready for work in the morning can be challenging as you're getting yourself and the rest of your family dressed and ready. Put matching pieces together in your closet or drawer so it's easier to pull your clothes together. Alternatively, decide what to wear the night before.
3. Create Morning Routines for the Children. Write down a routine for the children and post it. When to get up, what needs to be completed and by when they should be finished. Expect them to stay on task without constant reminders.
4. Create Your Own Morning Routine. Cut the amount of time it takes to dress, eat breakfast, pack lunch and whatever else needs doing in the morning through careful planning the night before. Prepping everything in advance will allow you to breeze through your morning without stopping to make decisions. It's easy to get sidetracked, so set a timer for your morning routine.
5. Make Important Decisions in the Morning. When your willpower is strong, make decisions about work, food, exercise and relationships, and then stick with those decisions. Now you have more mental energy later in the day when you have a difficult decision to make.
Automate, Automate, Automate!
Technology allows you to automate a variety of tasks. Here are a few tasks that can either be automated or delegated:
- Auto Bill Pay. Put as many bills on auto pay as you can. Your bank can help with this.
- Grocery Shopping. Write out a grocery list based on pre-planned recipes. This reduces impulse spending and ensures you have the food needed to make the meals planned. Shop no more than once a week. Don't like to shop? Check if Instacart8 is available in your area for delivery from local grocery stores, or order from grocers that have online shopping and at-store pickup available.
- Meals. Plan your meals for the week. This reduces the number of times you're tempted to order out. If you don't like cooking, consider meal services in your area that cook for the week and bring the food to your home. Cook more food in less time using slow cookers and incorporating fermented foods.
- Housecleaning. Don't like housekeeping? Consider using Handy,9 an app for hiring a house cleaner, or go directly to a local house cleaner to get the job done.
- Clothes. Does laundry drive you nuts? Cleanly,10 Rinse11 or FlyCleaners12 are services that pick up your laundry at your home, clean it and deliver it back to your doorstep.
Value Your Time
- Don't Be Available All the Time. In an age of digital communication and immediate feedback, you may be tempted to have your phone with you at all times. However, constantly checking email, text messages and instant messages reduces your productivity. Check it all at once, three times a day.
- Don't Walk Empty Handed. When you walk from room to room at home, pick up and put things away. It takes less time, less effort and results in a cleaner space.
- Schedule Your Sleep Hours. If you don't schedule sleep, you'll likely have unstructured sleep hours. Your body gets used to bedtime and time to wake in the morning, making you more productive and your body healthier and well rested.
- Become Really Good at What You Do. The better you are the less time it takes to complete a task. This means practicing that task each day, without exception.
- Learn to Say No. You may want to make everyone happy, but in the end, when you say "yes" to everyone else, you've said "no" to yourself.
- Use Your Down Time. Brushing your teeth, showering, commuting to work, cooking, waiting for the children at sports or any other activity during which your brain is free but your body isn't, consider listening to podcasts, books on tape or an audio conference. Waterproof Bluetooth speakers work in the bathroom, and a waterproof headset works in the pool.
3 Productivity Hacks
1. Practice Pomodoro. This is a productivity technique where you spend 30 minutes focused and concentrated on one task and one task only. The only reason you should stop what you're doing is if the building is on fire. Try Strict Workflow app13 for your computer that helps block distracting websites and is built loosely on the Pomodoro productivity strategy.
2. Prioritize Your To-Do List. Start your day with the most important task and work your way down the list in order of priority. You'll have more energy and focus for your top priorities and likely will be able to finish more of the smaller tasks at the end of the day.
3. Relaxation. Just as your body and mind need sleep, they also need rest. Practice meditation or deep breathing exercises to help clear your mind. You'll gain clarity and enjoy more creativity.
4 Ways to Cut Task Time
1. Fold the End of the Tape. When you're done with any type of tape, fold the end so it's easier and faster to use the next time.
2. Folding Clothes. Fold your T-shirts and polo shirts in seconds using the folding technique demonstrated below. Pin socks together when you take them off and they won't get lost in the laundry. Do one load of laundry per day: Put it in the wash in the morning, into the dryer in the evening and fold it before bed. It becomes routine, goes quickly and you'll always have clean clothes.
3. Set Aside Home Improvement Time. When you have a project at home, set aside 30 minutes each day to complete the task. It goes quickly. Don't skip a day, however, since it's difficult to make up the time.
4. Use a Smart Filing System. Whether at home or work, have a system that has active tasks or files and an archive of completed projects. Keep all files handy for future reference, such as warranties on appliances, repair work on the car, receipts for purchases. If you have a file already created, you just have to put in the document and you're done.