One universal barrier to living and leading well is time. Being your best takes time – time to think, time to plan, time to align to your most important priorities. Here are Ten Time-Saving Techniques to get you that time.
1. Start with what you want to do, not what you have to do.
With all of the different systems out there for helping people organize their time, I have found the most effective tool to be a blank piece of paper. Every day, get out one small blank sheet. A 4×6 note card works great.
1. On the top half, write in the appointments you have today.
2. In the spaces between the appointments, schedule uninterrupted time to work on your most important priority.
3. On the bottom half, write no more than three to five actions you must accomplish – or want to accomplish – before the day is done.
You will start every day focused and end it having moved on your goals.
2. Open and close up shop.
The beginning and end of the day are the most critical for saving time, because you use them to get your thoughts organized. Reserve the first and last hour of the day for yourself.
At the beginning of the day: Take the time to consult your action plan, assess your schedule, and plan your day.
At the end of the day: Tie up any loose ends, put away projects with a note about what to do next, revisit your action plans, schedule time in your calendar for important tasks, and ready your desk for when you return.
3. Set the boundaries.
To get extra hours for yourself, try these suggestions:
• Refuse to schedule meetings when you need time for yourself. Don’t make excuses. Your time alone is just as important as your time with others. You will be more available and present for them when you return.
• Extend your day. If your meetings usually start at eight, your hour for yourself starts at seven. If your day usually lasts until five, the “last hour” you reserve goes from five to six.
• Shrink your day. If adding two high-quality hours to your day is impossible, try cutting the time you make available to others. If you need to start your day at eight and end at five, then you’re available for appointments from nine to four.
• Sweeten the deal. Make your time for yourself nurturing. Treat yourself to a good cup of coffee and some music, or some other special indulgences, routines, and niceties to remind you that the time you save is special time for you.
• Get out of there. It’s easier to resist temptation if temptation can’t find you. Try taking your hours to yourself into private, either by closing your door or by getting away from the office.
Are there barriers that sometimes make it difficult to do this? Of course. But if you can discipline yourself to make it happen, you will learn that these hours do more to help you stay on top of your work and enjoy your life more than any other hours in the day. With just a little time to get focused, you will feel complete, clear, rested and renewed.
4. “Go to the library.”
When you look back on the times you’ve had to study – really study, for something important like your hardest exams – where did you go? For many of us, it was the library. You can recreate the space and silence of the library in your everyday life.
• Turn off the phone.
• Leave your PDA, Internet connection, pager and so on behind.
• Turn off your email.
• Escape to a quiet place, alone – a conference room, an empty office, a café, your kitchen table.
• Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Just slip away.
It is so hard to concentrate in our beeping, buzzing, urgent, ever-available world. But you will accomplish exponentially more if you can escape even for an hour at a time to a place where you can think and get things done.
5. Give yourself permission.
The most common words I hear when I help leaders look for time is, “I can’t.”
• “I can’t turn off my cell phone.”
• “I can’t schedule time for myself during the day.”
• “I can’t get out of work any earlier.”
Ask yourself: Whose permission do you need to do any of these things? Chances are the one who is holding you back is you.
6. Get permission.
If there really is someone who keeps you from getting the time you need to work on your inner as well as your outer edge, ask them for time.
• Ask your boss: “I need to find at least an hour a day of uninterrupted time to concentrate on important behind-the-scenes work and stay aligned to our/my priorities. When would be the most convenient time for me to do that?”
• Ask your employees: “We could all use time to get our work done. What time of the day or week would it be possible for us to agree not to schedule meetings?”
• Ask your family: “I need some time for myself to work on some of my personal priorities so that I can be my best here at home and also at work. Let’s make a plan for when I can have that time.”
As a mother of small children, I can tell you even toddlers understand that grown-ups need some time alone. Surely reasonable people around you (who also need time for themselves) can respect your needs to get time to yourself. Give them credit. Ask for their help.
7. Lop something off.
One reason it’s hard to get big chunks of good quality time is that we’re nibbling around the edges. An hour here, fifteen minutes there, squeezed between a hasty lunch and the nagging To Dos.
Think bigger. If your time for yourself is important, what is it more important than? Look in your life for a whole area that you can eliminate, saving you several hours in one fell swoop.
The trick is to find those activities that are less important than you really thought. You can do this both in your personal life and at work.
• Gina figured out most of her clients came from referrals. She lopped off networking events and saved several hours a month.
• Mahendra chose the most valuable of her social groups (five college friends) and lopped off book club, her parenting group, and the gourmet group and saved at least two hours a week.
• Tony realized he spent hours on yard work every weekend, and he didn’t even enjoy it. He hired the neighbor kid to mow and weed, lopping off a time-consuming chore and buying him half a day every week.
• Mik recognized how tense and grumpy all his meetings were making him. He made a list of the meetings he had to attend. They tallied up to over forty hours a week. He lopped off half of them by getting off two committees and finding more efficient ways to communicate. Then the meetings only tallied up to twenty hours.
• Brian counted up to three hours a day in traffic. He lopped off drive time by shifting his schedule for a less conventional commute, saving him over two hours a day.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re the ones who fill up our time. Lop off a hunk of the time you spend on lesser-value activities and you’ll suddenly have all the time you need.
8. Bring it in.
Many of us drive all over town out to do our errands. We drive out of our way to get to our favorite gym, then swing back across town to hit our preferred supermarket, then head all the way out the other way to meet friends for dinner. This unconscious habit eats up your time, adds to your stress and hurts the environment. To eliminate the waste, think about the places you go and experiment with ways to bring them in closer – closer to each other, closer to home, or closer to your route to and from work.
A client of mine who was a master at this technique changed her entire community from all over the city into a two-mile radius. She pulled her dry cleaners, gas station, bank, drug store, doctors, mechanic and gym all closer to home. You can do the same by filling in this sentence as many times as you can: “My is too far away. How can I bring it in?” Quality services are everywhere. Give up the need to travel for miles to get them.
9. Farm it out.
Just as effective as bringing your community in closer is the strategy of farming things out. In your personal life, have you ever considered farming out:
• your cleaning?
• your laundry?
• your errands?
• your personal accounting?
• your plant care?
• your cooking?
In your professional life, have you ever considered farming out:
• your filing?
• your phone calls?
• your meetings?
• your writing?
• your sales?
• your marketing?
• your travel?
If you have ever delegated any of these items, you know it’s possible to let others do some of the work so you can get more time to yourself. Challenge yourself. What else can you farm out? Put the word out. See who’s out there to help. Save yourself time.
10. Do the hardest thing first.
It’s stressful not to get to the things that matter to us, and it exacerbates the feeling that we never have enough time. Turn that situation around by doing the thing it’s hardest for you first. Whether it’s exercising in the morning, or working on your most challenging account first thing in the day, or making the difficult decisions before doing anything else, you will feel like you’ve saved time because the pressure is off. You will actually have saved time because you won’t waste it worrying and procrastinating.
What are your best techniques for saving time? Send them to us at www.theinneredge.com. Look for updated postings on the website to help you get the time you need for the practices of personal leadership that help you live and lead well.
Please join us for The Inner Edge Book Club! This month we will be “making more time” as we apply techniques that will reduce your stress and leave you feeling peaceful and able to achieve everything that’s important to your life. For more information, click here or email info@TheInnerEdge.com.