It’s no secret amongst friends and family that I get bored incredibly easily. I can barely sit still in cinemas and it has nothing to do with a self-induced sugar high. I am a restless person. I’ve lived in three different cities in 3 different states in the past three years (with more plans to travel within the next year). I just get sick and tired of staring out the same window every day, enduring the same public transport system. I’ve also held down 4 different jobs within the past year.
This restlessness did not used to sit well with me. People called me flakey, assuming I had a fear of commitment, or that I was just some kind of wishy-washy person with no concrete goals. Why can’t you just make up your Goddamn mind?
It’s not true, it’s just that I’m completely committed to change and innovation. That sounds wanky, but I love the idea that there are endless possibilities wherever I go. I see potential in every outcome, a thought which energises and drives me to change gears often and with gusto. I’m an ideas machine.
There’s just one major hurdle which I can’t seem to propel myself over.
I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do.
I’m not special. “I just have so much time,” said absolutely no one, ever.
Do you ever feel like your brain is a factory? Like you’re essentially a production house for creativity? You churn out eureka moments like the opening credits to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
This is what my brain looks like every time someone says to me, “Hey, have you ever thought about….”
I have more ideas than there are hours in the day.
Maybe you feel the same way?
Do you ever feel like you’ve got too much on your plate to chase your dreams? You’re busy running your business, or working a 9-6 with a passion project on the side. You’ve got bosses, clients, family, friends, gas companies, telcos, mailmen, landlords and needy animals to keep happy.
You don’t have time for shiny objects.
So what do you do?
I’ve taken the workhorse route. You know, those 12-hour days without a break. You find that your work slowly creeps in to your weekends. Your skin takes on an eerie alabaster glow from sunny days spent huddled over your laptop, rather than basking in the weekend sunshine. You use your spare time to get on top of your novel-length to-do list, foregoing yoga and happy hour, but you don’t ever actually feel like you’ve accomplished more.
So you give up. You do what HAS to be done, not what you WANT to do.
The result? Decreased productivity. In a study done by MIT, call centre workers who took breaks and checked social media were 10% more productive than employees who slugged along without lunch and general water-cooler chit-chat.
Which is proof that working harder is a really dumb idea.
The solution? Time hacking.
The science of time hacking is the holy grail of self-help. There’s countless e-books, e-courses, seminars, webinars, workshops and blogs on how to create more of this elusive construct.
I’ve read a few of them. I’ve even paid for an e-course on how to be more productive. Some of these were worth it, and others were a waste of time, ironically.
I’m not going to list every single tip I have for making the most of your day, but I am going to list the most practical techniques and tools for effective time management.
1. Get real with yourself.
It was an incredibly enlightening moment when I realised the amount of work I actually spent doing per day was far less than the amount of work I spent time worrying about working.
Let me clarify: I spent more time worrying about working than I actually did working. And the worrying was more exhausting than the working itself.
Have a look at my day below.
As you can see, I spent very little time working. I did, however, manage to find time to spend over an hour getting ready to sit in a café and work. I also managed to run errands for 2 hours. I probably spent those 2 hours fretting about my inbox.
Here’s what you can do: use Toggl to track your time for three days. It’s a free tool that allows you to manually set a timer to track what you’re spending your time on. You’re in for a rude awakening.
Once you see where you’re really spending your time, you’ll be able to hopefully start reprioritising and start being more organised.
Of course, I’m not saying free up your time so you can spend more of it working! Just take a look at where you’re wasting time so you can be more conscientious of how you spend your day.
2. Know your rhythms
There are very few people I know who find they work better after 12pm. If you are one of these people you should be studied.
Our bodies have a sudden surge of energy around 5am. That’s your body’s built-in espresso machine, raising your cortisol levels so that you can begin the day with a natural leap in your step. It wanes around 12pm, and hits an all time low around 3pm.
This is our biology. Caffeine and other stimulants help, but I’ve found a far more natural approach to honouring my energy levels is to work in correspondence with them. Rather than shocking my body in to a state of alertness via Red Bull intravenous drip, I’ll schedule less mentally strenuous tasks for the afternoon. Like phone calls and invoicing.
I also get up really early, because those early hours are magical for getting important things done. It’s been scientifically and empirically proven. The thought of leaving your doona cocoon might be a frightening preposition at 5 in the morning, but the future of your productivity depends on mastering the right hours. I can’t really think of one super successful person who sleeps in past 8am.
Richard Branson rises at 5.45am.
Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 4.30am.
Anna Wintour, like the late Helen Gurley Brown did, gets up at 5.45am to play tennis for an hour.
These are just some of the many VIPs of the world who begin their day before the sun rises.
Mornings are proven to be the most productive time of the day. Perhaps it’s the lack of distractions, or maybe it’s because your body produces a natural espresso shot.
Either way, I urge you to not be so hard on mornings. Try setting your alarm an hour earlier and see how much you can get done.
For more tips on how to become a morning person, this article from Zen Habits is quite poignant.
3. The Art of Not Finishing
Have you ever sat in a cinema, grimacing at every pathetic excuse for acting, but stayed in your seat for the whole 2.5 agonising hours of self-inflicted torture?
Yes. The Host was pretty terrible.
We’re taught from a young age that we should finish what we start.
Like degrees we hate.
Like books we’re 30-pages in to.
Like projects which waste money, instead of providing a neat little return on investment. You feel obligated to complete these tasks, but they don’t really bring any value to your long-term happiness or success.
The notion that we must finish what we’ve started in so deeply engrained in our culture.
Stop watching the movie.
Put down the book.
The same principle can be applied to your ideas.
If you’re working on something and you’ve realised it’s a waste of time and money, you don’t have to do it anymore.
Turn your attention to more fruitful ideas. They are much more deserving of your limited time and attention.
4. Ask yourself the hard questions
I begin my day with the first thing on my to-do list. I call it my One Critical Task. Around one hour in (sometimes 10 minutes!) I get this urge. A niggling feeling sets in - usually sparked by some other item on my to-do list, which I just so happened to glance at – that I should really check on Facebook. I need to schedule more updates. I have an email from a client and I really should reply to that right away. So I stop doing my one critical task in favour of doing less important things. I basically turn low priority tasks into forms of procrastination so I can avoid what needs to be done because it’s unenjoyable or hard.
If you’ve subscribed to my emails, you’ll have read my thoughts on procrastination before. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the five main reasons we procrastinate: fear, emotions due to an external event, indifference, false sense of achievement, and intolerable mental strain.
When you find yourself lost in a Pinterest vortex, ask yourself why you’re procrastinating.
Are you afraid of failure? Your confidence is the problem, not the task.
Are you emotionally drained from an exhausting client? Go fill up your cup. Take a bath. Watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians for half an hour.
Do you just not give a damn about the task? Create an incentive. Or delegate.
Is spending 5 minutes thinking about the task as good as getting it done? Have you tricked yourself into thinking you’re productive? Don’t be fooled. Set your Toggl to see how much you’ve really achieved.
Are you avoiding the task because just thinking about it makes you want a hug? Set a timer for 15 minutes and make a solid effort. I guarantee it’ll be hard to stop.
When you’re able to identify WHY you’re procrastinating, you’ll be able to address those behaviours.
Try these hacks now.
Your time is precious. Do you overwork yourself? Have you found your flow yet? How do you manage your energy levels to get more time out of your day? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.