6 ways to find more time
If you feel like your life is full of tasks and obligations, here are some top tips to make time for yourself and what’s important to you…
Triage your to-do list
When tasks come in, they don’t arrive neatly – they pile up like the owl post in Harry Potter. That’s why dealing with everything immediately is the shortest way to blocking your time with inessential tasks.
“The emergency room doesn’t treat patients in the order they walk in the door – and you shouldn’t work in the order tasks arrive in your inbox or by who screams the loudest,” says Laura Stack, author of What to Do When There’s Too Much To Do. “Use the medical concept of triage to reduce your to-do list to manageable proportions.”
By accepting that not everyone can have an immediate answer, you’ll retrain yourself to recognise what’s essential – your child needs picking up from school – and what’s inessential – you don’t need to call the gas company back just because they’ve left an urgent-sounding sales message.
It’s easy to overfill your time when you’re not being realistic about how long a job will take. “Many people underestimate how long it will take them to do something, so they may run out of time for anything else,” says time management expert Cory Cook. “Equally, we often procrastinate on something that feels overwhelming.”
If you don’t allow the appropriate amount of time to get things done, she adds, “we find we’ve used our peak energy of the day on menial tasks – and by the time we get to the important activity, we’re either out of time or out of energy.” Instead, block out a realistic schedule on paper, begin with the most crucial items – and don’t over-promise.
Modern life offers more distraction that ever before. “Property websites, social media and reality TV all have one characteristic in common – they are highly addictive,” says Dr Massimo Stocchi, director at Harley Street Psychology. “I liken them to junk food. We know it’s bad for us, yet we still love the taste. Similarly, we love receiving new information – but sometimes, you have to step back and ask whether your habit’s really enhancing your life.”
If you wish you had more time to exercise, spend with the kids, read, or cook from scratch, be honest about how much time is trickling away watching mindless TV or checking eBay for stuff you’ll never buy.
It takes three weeks to make or break a habit – so expect to wean yourself off slowly. When you do, you’ll be amazed how much enjoyable activities you can fit in.
It’s so tempting to say ‘yes’ to a favour for a friend, help with a project, an overnight guest… but these things can bung up entire days with preparation, extra shopping trips and lifts.
“Saying yes can overload your schedule, cause important activity to be diminished or abandoned, and cause unnecessary stress,” says Cory. “One of the best things you can do is allocate time for the activities that help you further your goals, rather than push them back.” So if your boss wants ‘volunteers’ for an event that clashes with the evening class you love, or your friend wants a catch-up moan when you were looking forward to an evening updating your blog, it’s not selfish to say no – it’s self-protective.
“If you make time for an extra demand, something else always has to go,” warns Cory. “Think very carefully before you say yes.”
Reset your clock
Plenty of time management experts suggest getting up earlier – but, says Cory, unless you’re a natural Lark, that won’t work. “The trick is to recognise your own natural body clock,” she explains. “If you try to drastically change your natural habits and patterns you’ll set yourself up for disappointment. It’s one thing to get up a bit earlier to make time for exercise or perhaps quiet time to work on something. But if you’re a night owl, suddenly getting up at 5am will be too much of a shock.”
Instead, she suggests building in an extra hour mid-evening – if you’d usually collapse in front of the TV, block off an hour after dinner for something you actually want to do. Or if mornings suit you, then try getting up just half an hour before the kids do – it’s amazing how much more relaxed you’ll feel when you have calm preparation time before the day begins.
“It only takes a tiny change to make a big difference,” says Cory. “If you’re always running to catch up, that half hour can turn things around.”
When you’re short on time, it seems logical to spend as little as possible on essentials like food shopping or answering emails. It takes less time to do a big shop once a week, than half an hour every day dashing round the supermarket, and it’s faster to answer all your emails at once than to respond individually whenever they ping in. Even cooking can be bundled. “If you don’t have much time to cook during the week, try making extra portions at the weekend so that you can freeze some,” says Laura Stack. If you’re a TV lover but your viewing habits are clogging up your time, try setting aside one ‘TV evening’ a week, storing your must-watch programmes, so you can look forward to your evening of guilt-free entertainment with a takeaway, rather than snatching time when you know you should be doing something else. Bundling similar tasks works far better than multi-tasking, says Laura Stack, adding, “Trying to do too much at once divides your attention, and one task actually gets in the way of the next. You lose track because you switch between tasks too often.”