Skip to content
Big Think+

Need to take your time back? Try these four open-thinking strategies.

An analog clock dissolves against a black background.
An analog clock dissolves against a black background.
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Everyone has pondered what they would do with an extra hour a day. Would they get more sleep or spend more time with family? Spend time on a side project or start a hobby. Is toy voyaging still a thing?
But the question to ask first isn’t what you would do with that time. It’s, how do you get that time back?
One option is to slow down the Earth’s rotation by a few hundred miles per hour. That would net you an extra hour or two. That strategy, however, would have a few unfortunate side effects. Short-term disasters would include large-scale floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, violent disruptions in the weather, and the complete breakdown of our satellite networks. In the long-term, Earth would become a world of extremes—parts of the planet too dark and cold, others too hot and bright. Stuff like that.
Thankfully, solutions exist to eke more time from your day, ones that do not require you to kick start armageddon. In this video lesson, leadership strategist Dan Pontefract shares four such strategies for discovering and defending the hidden hours of your week.

1) Time Cushioning

  • Deconstruct your day so there’s time to do and reflect. 
  • Ask: Can I schedule meetings for 15 and 45 minutes instead of 30 and 60 minutes? Can I block out time on my calendar without meetings? 
  • Time cushioning allows you to use your creative, critical, and applied thinking in the moment.

Time cushioning (a.k.a. schedule padding) helps you find hidden pockets of time scattered throughout your day. Instead of scheduling every meeting for 30 or 60 minutes because that’s what you’ve always done, honestly assess how much time the meeting should take. You can then bank the extra time for little tasks that interfere with big projects or distract you throughout the day.
You should also block out your most productive hours—which brings us to strategy 2. 

2) Situational Capacity

  • Prioritize your tasks in terms of the energy required to complete each one. 
  • Create a system to designate how much of yourself you should devote to a given situation. 
  • Ask: What capacity do I have to address my list of objectives?

Note that Pontefract advises prioritizing tasks based on the energy required to complete them—not how long they may take or how immediate the request is. Think instead in terms of your capacity to perform. 
That’s because you can’t be at peak performance for every task every hour of every day. You’ll burn yourself out and then smolder the ashes. So you need to save your best hours for your most important tasks.
Pontefract offers the example of a star system to visualize your capacity (5-star tasks demand your attention, 2-star ones can be done later or with low energy). But feel free to ideate on a system that works for you. Other examples include arranging your to-do list in order of importance or going with triage-like color coordination on your calendar.
Once you’ve developed your system, be sure to schedule according to your situational capacity. Your most demanding tasks should be tackled when you are at your best. For most people, that will likely be in the early morning about an hour after the first cup of coffee. Block out distractions and hone during these critical hours.

3) Outsourcing

  • Delegate tasks to third-party providers. 
  • Ask: Are there projects that I don’t have the time or talent to complete? Can I outsource them? 
  • Outsourcing creates space for you to focus on what you do best.

If you only look at the invoice, third-party providers may not seem like a great deal. But invoices often hide the true costs of projects: the time, energy, and work necessary to do a job right and within a reasonable timetable.
By DIYing it, you and your team shoulder those costs, and if you don’t have the expertise in place, those costs will grow exponentially and divert your attention away from the (profitable and enjoyable) work you do best. Seen in this light, outsourcing may pay off in multiple ways, especially if it refunds your time.
This extends to your personal life, as well. Today, many outsource services are available for chores that may otherwise have cut hours or entire weekends from your schedule. For example, many grocery stores maintain services that allow you to order your groceries online for easy pickup. And while DIYing a household project can have a handy appeal, it’s entirely possible that you can save time and money by having a professional do the task lickety-split.
With the internet and globalization, you have easy access to a world’s worth of talented professionals. Take advantage.

4) Realism

  • Stop saying “yes” to everything. Learn to say “no.” 
  • Be realistic about how much time you have. Look at your time as three blocks: Sleep, Work, Personal time. Your work time is limited. 
  • Ask: During my work hours, what can I do? What can’t I do?

As Warren Buffett famously said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
That may or may not be true, but most professionals could probably say yes less often. Unfortunately, those same professionals have likely developed a knee-jerk response to requests. The trick then is to stifle that response and replace it with a thoughtful analysis.
How do you manage this feat? Pontefract suggests a time-analysis approach, but you can add additional considerations to your calculus. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Can the request be done? Should it be?
  • Does this request benefit you in some fashion?
  • Is this request part of a pattern that you need to break?
  • What will I have to give up to meet this request?
  • Is the requestor likely to reciprocate later? Are they a giver too or just a taker?
  • Is the person asking you because you have the skills or they just need someone to say yes?
  • What block of your day does this request fall into? Will you have to give up time from another block to say yes?

And remember: Just because a no is firm doesn’t mean it can’t be polite.
Onboard more open thinking strategies with lessons ‘For Business’ from Big Think+. At Big Think+, more than 350 experts, academics, and entrepreneurs come together to teach essential skills in career development and lifelong learning. Join Dan Pontefract for his expert class, “Open to Think,” and enjoy lessons in:

  • The Three D’s of Open Thinking
  • Dream with Creative Thinking
  • Decide with Critical Thinking
  • Do with Applied Thinking
  • Four Strategies for Taking Back Your Time

Request a demo today!

Join the #1 community of L&D professionals

Sign up to receive new research and insights every other Tuesday.