Where does your time go?

GothWhat would you do if you could have more time on your hands?  Well, maybe you have more time than you know what to do with, if only you really knew where it all goes.  Apparently, the two biggest excuses for not fulfilling dreams is lack of time and money. 

It is exhausting having to be efficient every day just to keep up with life and what it throws at us, but maybe it needn’t be as difficult as that.  We need to grant time to do chores and run errands and it is best to do these swiftly, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying the process as opposed to the result i.e. savour the time spent queuing at the bank, yet be alert to whether you have joined the slowest queue. 

We needn’t be multi-tasking all the time to make the most of our time, instead, sometimes that time is wasted by ‘haste makes waste’.  If something is worth doing then it is worth doing properly, and sometimes multi-tasking just isn’t the way.  Perhaps think about areas of time which are slack and where the fat can be culled e.g. inane meeting babble.  Anyway, read on to find out how to get your extra hour in your day…

How to get an extra hour in your day

Psychologies | this life
July 2011
Rosie Ifould

Do you ever feel you just don’t have enough time to do everything?  There are some clever ways to reclaim our time, without missing out on a wink of sleep…

‘The two biggest excuses people ever give for not doing the things they really want to do are lack of money and lack of time,’ says life coach Fiona Harrold (fionaharrold.com).  That may not come as a surprise to most of us; how often do you use the ‘not enough hours in the day’ excuse yourself?

At this time of year, when some nostalgic impulse triggers memories of long childhood summers, it’s easy to feel as if our time is no longer our own.  So, how can you reclaim your time, without taking a pay cut or neglecting your friends and family?  Fortunately, there are easy ways to find more free time in your day – without sacrificing an hour of sleep.

Do a time audit

Be honest – how much of your day do you spend checking emails, or sitting in front of the television?  We’re very bad judges of how much time we spend on different tasks, and research indicates that spending time on the internet or computer games actually distorts our perception of time even further (even when we’re doing other things).  If you’ve never done a time audit, try using the exercise outlined.

Avoid ‘presenteeism’

For many of us, the number one drain on our free time is the extra half hour of overtime we do every day.  Do you leave work at 5:30pm on the dot, or do you linger, because you don’t want to be the first one out?  If your office has a culture of presenteeism, it’s up to you to challenge it.

‘Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.  It just means you work more,’ says Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of Rework (Vermilion).  According to them, workaholics ‘don’t look for ways to be more efficient because they actually like working overtime.  They enjoy feeling like heroes.  They create problems (often unwittingly), just so they can get off on working more’.  If this sounds familiar, think about whether your efforts are being duly noted, or whether anyone would really take offence if you did the hours you were paid.  You might even find that your colleagues are relieved you’ve taken a stand on the matter.

Cancel face-to-face meetings

Face-to-face meetings are highly prized by many businesses.  We believe that, as technology advances, it’s important to protect our personal contact.  But are all your meetings valuable?

‘Face-to-face meetings are one of the things you want to reduce to a minimum,’ says Harrold.  ‘People have a tendency to talk, just so it looks as if they’ve got something to say.’

Again, audit your time – when you have a meeting scheduled, do you work right up to it, or do you waste 15 minutes beforehand making a cup of tea, then waste another 15 minutes afterwards online, as a way of ‘settling back into it’?  If you’ve got time to spare, great – but if you’re constantly having to stay late in order to meet your deadlines, challenge every request for a meeting.

‘Ask yourself, do you actually need to schedule a meeting, or can you just make a decision now?’ advises Harrold.

Stop procrastinating

You know you procrastinate, but understanding why you do it can help you beat it once and for all.  For many of us, the root of our procrastination is our desire to get things right – the more perfectionist we are, the more we procrastinate, because we’re fearful of making the wrong decision or messing things up before we even start.

‘Putting a task off results in two things,’ says Harrold.  ‘First, the task takes on a life of its own.  Second, its importance becomes elevated in our mind, so we feel we have to put even more time and energy into it.’  If you have a tendency to waste time before staring important projects, remember that making a start, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, will help make things seem more possible.  And get used to the idea of things being ‘good enough’ rather than perfect – if you start now,  you’ll have time to refine later on.

Value your free time

So, you’ve got a free afternoon for the first time in months.  What are you going to do with it?  This is a crucial question.  For many of us, our lack of time is a problem with perception, not the reality of how many hours there are in the day.

You might feel guilty for spending an hour on the sofa watching TV, but if that’s the only downtime you and your partner have together, what’s wrong with valuing it?  If we can reframe what quality time means to us, we may find that we have enough time to do everything, and stop feeling as if we’re always playing catch-up.


Take our time audit

You might think all of your time is spent meeting work deadlines or running around after your family, but are you seeing the full picture?  Most of us find it difficult to pinpoint with accuracy where our time really goes.  Try using our time audit for a week – the results might surprise you.

  • Find a timer with an alarm.
  • Start from when you wake up, set the alarm to go off at 30 minute intervals.  Avoid programming it to go off exactly on every hour or half hour, advises Mark Shead of productivity501.com.  The ‘top or bottom of the hour’ times tend to be when we are ‘switching contexts’, he says, such as going to lunch, or to a meeting.  Instead, set the alarm for an odd time such as 11 or 17 minutes past the hour.
  • When the alarm goes off, write down what you are doing at that moment, then set the alarm to go off in another 30 minutes.
  • Continue this throughout the day.
  • Try again for subsequent days, but set the alarm for a different minute every day, so you don’t automatically adjust to try and ‘cheat’.  Alternatively, try auditing your time on alternative days, or seven random days in a three-week period, to give you a more accurate picture of where your time goes.
  • When you’re collected a week’s worth of data, you can go through an analyse it.  Choose how you’d like to evaluate your time – you could do it in terms of importance (‘very important’, ‘useful’, ‘somewhat useful’, ‘pointless’) or purpose (‘family time’, ‘personal admin’, ‘work’, ‘relaxation’, etc.),  You might be surprised to discover you spend a lot of time working on low-priority projects, or that you have seven hours of leisure time a week to do with as you please.
  • What conclusions can you draw from this new information?  Have you discovered a pattern in how productive you are throughout the day, perhaps?  Can you see easy ways to rearrange your priorities, to free up more time?  How could you restructure your day?

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