A while back a friend of mine asked me “how do you do it all?” I kind of looked at him perplexed. “All of the websites, your blog, reading books and blogs, getting to the gym on a routine basis, spending time with friends and family, etc.” Not knowing how to reply, I just said “Umm. I watch a lot less crappy network television than most people.”
Really though, I didn’t have an answer for him. But I thought about it more, and realized that one of my best strengths is getting things done. We all have the same 24 hours to work with. How you use those 24 hours is up to you. You might not think you have more time available to you, but I bet you’re wrong. There are always opportunities to find time where others cannot.
There needs to be a fundamental change in how you view productivity. You can get a lot done in a 45 minute pocket of time each night. A real lot done. I first realized this in college (see my productive output post), and it changed me from being “just average” when it came to getting things done to having mastered the skill. With that in mind here are 13 techniques that I use to find more time. In the context of this blog, most of these techniques are assuming you’re trying to find more time to work on your business, but they really can be applied to anything – getting work done faster in college, spending more time on a new hobby, finding more time to spend with your girlfriend, etc.
Disclaimer: as always, proceed with caution. Don’t do anything that compromises a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, or some alone time for yourself. Depriving yourself of those things are a recipe for disaster.
- Check email twice per day. You know how much I hate email, our worst distraction and productivity killer. For almost every business I know, twice per day is plenty. This means everyone gets a reply within 24 hours, which is more than fair. Meanwhile you free up all of that time most people spend hitting the Send/Receive button or changing direction mid-thought because that little pop up shows up in the bottom-right of their screen.
- Filter out unnecessary email. I auto-filter out emails like newsletters and receipts from our e-commerce stores, and check those folders less frequently than 2x/day. For the receipts I generally check daily, whereas newsletters I’ll read once per week. This removes clutter from your inbox so that all you see are the important emails that require action.
- Don’t check your email when you wake up. We start shipping around 9 AM. I have to check my email Monday – Friday prior to that in case any customers need their orders adjusted prior to shipping. However, if I don’t go to the gym and I’m up at 6 AM (or it’s a weekend) I’ll do an hour’s worth of work before opening my inbox. No distractions because the work day hasn’t started for most people. My brain is fresh instead of moving in twenty directions like it is sometimes after checking email Many times I get my best work done during this time.
- Limit the media you consume. Most of the news out there doesn’t impact you at all. It just serves as a distraction from what you’re trying to accomplish. I read a lot, but it’s mostly done only once per day via my Google Reader. I spend 15-20 minutes and I’m all caught up on my business, sports, and technology news. The beauty of RSS is that you can filter out all of the crap information and just consume what you want to. I never watch the news. Many days I don’t even turn on the TV unless there is a compelling sports event on or one of the few shows I enjoy.
- Uninstall AIM. Or whatever IM program you use to keep in touch with your friends. Tell them to email or call when they need you. This will eliminate the pointless “hey what’s up” messages they send when they’re bored and force them to only contact you when they actually need something or want to do something. I did this after my sophomore year in college and haven’t turned back since. It’s just as big of a distraction as email, probably worse. The only instant messaging I do is with my partners via Skype, and we minimize that for the most part. Announcements are made on our internal micro blog so that they don’t result in 30 minute chat sessions.
- Ditto for text messaging. I have one friend who disabled it on his phone. I find it useful for certain situations where you’re not able to talk, but I don’t send or respond to open ended “how r u?” texts. Huge distraction, total waste of time.
- Turn off the tube. I get my best work done with my tv off and my music blaring. That’s how I “get in the zone” and drown out distractions. Let’s face it – if the TV is on it’s going to distract you. And if you don’t want it to distract you, why would you bother having it on?
- Compromise tube time. This is a trick for all of you sports fans out there. I don’t need to see every second of every game, and neither do you. Every 30-45 minutes when you get up to take a break, check ESPN.com for the score. If it’s close and there’s less than 5 minutes left, turn it on. If not, skip it and catch the highlights later online or on SC.
- Leave home. I have been to every single Starbucks and place that offers free internet within an hour of my apartment. A change of scenery gets me away from the distractions of home. I tend to throw on my headphones and “get in the zone” when I’m out. I get some of my best work done during a 2-3 hour stretch at a coffee shop (having a caffeinated drink probably doesn’t hurt my focus either). Also, this eliminates the feeling of isolation you can have being cramped up in your house working. The atmosphere is great – you get to see different places you’ve never been, you get some social interaction with the people who work there (coffee shop workers have to be the happiest people on earth), and you get to be around other people who are generally focused on working. Check out wifi free spot for a list in your area.
- Utilize uncommon pockets of time. There are certain times each week when most people don’t work or even think about work. These are the times I prefer to work. Friday and Saturday nights work, but Saturday and Sunday mornings are my favorite. I love going to a coffee shop for a few hours and just ripping through work while everyone else is sleeping in. It’s so calm and peaceful. I can devote my full attention knowing that I’m not going to interrupted with a phone call or be seated next to someone chatting away on their cell phone. I love working on Saturday mornings from 7 AM – noon. I get a ton of work done and have the rest of the day to relax.
- Free up your brain. I use a pill dispenser so I remember to take my vitamins each day. I set up recurring tasks on my to-do lists for anything I do on a weekly or monthly basis. Any other tasks get added to my to-do list as soon as I think of them. My bills are all set up for auto-pay. Why? Each automated task is one less thing I have to think about. One more time I avoid stopping and thinking “wait, did I pay my credit card bill this month?”
- Give friends and family a routine. I have dinner with my parents and sister every Wednesday night. For the most part, I don’t talk to them the rest of the week. We have our Wednesdays and that’s our time to catch up. I have friends my age who field five phone calls a day from their parents! You have to ask yourself, are those really necessary? Unless it’s an emergency, it can usually wait.
- Batch process your errands. I tend to save up all of my errands and do them in one two hour span once per week. This includes grocery shopping, running to the bank, going to the mall, etc. I did all of my mall Christmas shopping this year in two hours on a Tuesday morning in early December. In late November I made a list of things to get. If I didn’t know, I called the person and asked them what they wanted. This took about an hour. I then ordered what I could online, and did the rest that Tuesday, including cards, gift bags, and wrapping paper. Then I didn’t revisit the stuff until 12/24, when I spent a whole one hour filling out cards and preparing the gifts. Why stretch your shopping over the course of two months?