How to create more time in your life
Here are some tips on how to make more space in your working hours. And it isn’t about time management or productivity hacks.
Health Agenda magazine
When your calendar is filled with appointments, you can’t even take a lunch break because you have too much on at work and you have one too many social commitments, stop and take a breath.
Although our instinct is to try to fit everything in somehow, “time management is the wrong starting point,” advises Dr Helena Popovic, a doctor and authority on improving brain function.
“A more powerful question than ‘How do I manage my time better?’ is ‘How do I want to invest my time?’ because then it takes on a different quality. You recognise that time is actually your most precious commodity.”
She recommends working out what’s important to you, and then prioritising things that align with your values and goals, rather than just becoming more efficient at doing everything already on your list.
The emotional impact of overcommitting and busying yourself, especially when you’re doing things that don’t really matter to you, also leads to stress, according to clinical psychologist Cassandra Dunn.
“The stress of carrying around a to-do list in your head, and not managing your time and energy effectively, contributes to cognitive overload,” Dunn says. It then becomes a cruel cycle as stress leads to additional wasted hours.
A global survey of 34 countries by advisory company Willis Towers Watson showed that highly stressed employees lost the equivalent of more than 21 days of work productivity a year – more than twice as many as those with the lowest stress levels.
Tips to create more time in your week
Write a ‘not-do’ list
Write down everything on your plate, making sure to include even the little things, such as returning phone calls. If possible, create a ‘not-do’ list.
“Look at your list and see what is unnecessary. Ask yourself, ‘What do I not have to do to today? What have I taken on because I felt like I should?’” Dunn says.
“If it’s not adding value to your own life or not supporting you towards achieving your longer-term goals, just cross it off [if you can]. Learn to say no unapologetically and start putting boundaries on your own time, energy and resources.”
With the things that are left on your to-do list, plan what you’ll get done in advance.
“Circle the 3 most important things on your list that you’d like to get done the next day. Estimate how long each task will take and try not to take longer, because remember Parkinson’s Law: ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’,” Popovic says.
Set short deadlines
Following on from that last point, Popovic suggests trying the ‘speed thinking’ approach by setting yourself short deadlines to complete tasks.
“Don’t allow yourself time to procrastinate. When you give yourself a deadline like that, your brain releases adrenaline, which is the fight-or-flight hormone. What it does is makes us more focused, gives us more energy, and helps us concentrate and become more creative. You’ll suddenly find yourself to be a lot more effective.”
This approach works best when you’re focused but not anxious.
Know when you’re most productive
Do you get more done in the morning or at night? Start paying attention to when you’re most productive and schedule your most critical tasks for those times, suggests Popovic. That way, you’ll get more done quicker, and avoid any heavy thinking post-lunch.
“Biologically, most people are the least productive between 2pm and 4pm because our brain waves slow down. We feel transiently sleepy and it’s harder to concentrate. Our cortisol levels also drop, which means we’re less productive.”
Create a routine
“The more structure you have in your day or week, the less time you’ll waste having to constantly make decisions about what you’re going to do or not do,” Dunn says.
Admit to yourself that it’s okay to ask for help if you have too much on your plate. If you have tasks that can be shared with someone else, it’s at least worth asking if they can help.
“Explain what you want done and set up systems that can be followed. It may take more time initially, but it’s worth it,” Popovic says.
Don’t go to every meeting or social event
“People are invited to so many meetings they don’t need to attend – you can say no,” Dunn says.
If at work, you could politely ask the meeting organiser if it’s important that you attend. Or you could explain you have a conflicting deadline, but that you’ll provide some notes beforehand if helpful.
If it’s a social event, you could say something like “Thanks so much for the invite. I’d love to come but unfortunately have too much life admin that day” or “I have too much on my plate this week”.
Take a nap
While not possible for everyone, a power nap of 15-20 minutes could help you recharge.
“If NASA insists that its astronauts take a nap because they know it increases productivity, then you know napping is not a bad thing,” Popovic says.
Limit social media
“For some people, it’s an avoidance mechanism to stop you from having to look at what’s actually not going well in your life,” Dunn says.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of scrolling through social media so that a quick check of a message becomes a whole hour of your day.
Try and limit social media to a certain period of time – say 10 minutes a day – when you’ve finished your key tasks.
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