How to manage your time so you can actually accomplish what you want to.
- In a world that's always online, it's easy to feel like we have insufficient time for ourselves, or to spend with our families and loved ones.
- Working out what you need to get done each day, and how long it will take, will allow you to create priorities on which you can focus your available time.
- If you find the traditional methods of mindfulness meditation too difficult, then meditative practices such as yoga or even running can also be extremely beneficial.
Even before the world entered a "new normal" resulting from the global pandemic, time management was a challenge for many of us.
This is a particular problem for the United States. Longer paid vacations and caps on working time for many Europeans have led to a situation where Americans work, on average, around 10 percent more than their European counterparts.
Nevertheless, "time famine" is a very real phenomenon across the globe. In a world that's always online, it's easy to feel like we have insufficient time for ourselves, or to spend with our families and loved ones. In reality, there are never (no, never) more than 24 hours in any given day, and proactively choosing how we spend them can help to reduce the feeling that we're starved of time.
Here are some ways to achieve a healthier balance, so you can hopefully avoid the inevitable burnout that results from overexposure to time famine.
1. Make sure you get enough sleep
According to Harvard Medical School, around half of us get less sleep than the recommended guidelines. The average adult needs around seven or eight hours per night. If you're feeling starved for time, then the chances are that losing sleep feels like an easy compromise to cram more hours into the day. But the opposite is true.
A lack of sleep will seriously affect your productivity and creativity. One study found that even moderate sleep deprivation will impact your cognitive and motor performance to the equivalent level of having a 0.1 percent blood alcohol concentration, which is also the threshold for driving legally.So, although it may seem paradoxical, getting the right amount of sleep should provide an immediate productivity boost that will help you get through more each day.
2. Don’t let chaos control you
Hiten Shah, co-founder of document management software company FYI, has an anecdote about a friend who was asked by his boss to pull up a document while in the middle of a meeting. The friend started frantically scouring his hard drive, Google Docs and email attachments to try and locate the document.
All the while, the boss was sitting there, becoming more and more impatient, as Shah's friend was getting more and more flustered and embarrassed, which of course made it even harder for him to find the missing file. "Finally, out of cosmic mercy, someone sends him the document," Shah writes. "But my friend didn't feel relief at that point, he felt anxious."
It's a cautionary tale, to be sure. Truth be told, we've probably all had one of those moments. But if your day has become an endless cycle of looking for documents, trying to find your keys, and wondering where you put shoes when you took them off last night, then you'll benefit from getting organized.
This may mean using a document management system or simply creating a designated space for everyday objects. Doing so will mean you free up all that time spent looking for missing things and reduce your overall stress levels.
3. Schedule your time – but don’t overdo it
Effective scheduling of your time doesn't mean assigning each half-hour to specific activities. In fact, doing this will probably make you even more stressed as there's no flexibility to respond to last-minute changes.
But working out what you need to get done each day, and how long it will take, will allow you to create priorities on which you can focus your available time. In their book "The ONE Thing," authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan recommend asking yourself, "What's the ONE thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?"
While it may be difficult to find that one task, you can start to list the top one to three most important tasks each day. Prioritizing these within your available working time will ensure you're focusing on the right activities to stay productive.
4. Get more comfortable with saying no
Once you have a daily or weekly list of priorities, it becomes easier to learn how to say no. If what's being requested of you doesn't somehow make it easier to achieve your mission-critical tasks, then you'll find it easier to politely decline. In the words of Warren Buffet, "Successful people say no to almost everything."
One easy way to start saying "no" is to switch off your phone alerts. Constant notifications can be a powerful distraction from achieving your goals. When we switch between tasks, it can take around 23 minutes to get focused again. Unless your job involves managing social media accounts, chances are you don't need to be notified about the latest like on a Facebook picture.
Similarly, if you confine checking emails to scheduled slots each day, you can dedicate your productive time to working on your priorities.
5. Use the help immediately available to you
If it's not possible to say no to a particular task or request, then perhaps it's possible to simply have someone else do it instead.
In his book, "Find Your Why," Simon Sinek writes that truly knowing yourself is the key to a sense of purpose. "When we focus on our strengths and lean in to the strengths of others," he writes of collaboration and delegation, "we can make the impossible possible."
Many people believe they have to do everything themselves to be successful. But a failure to leverage the help around you can lead to overload and fatigue. If you're in a position to delegate or outsource tasks, then do so whenever you have the opportunity.
6. Create some space for your head
According to a survey conducted by Buffer, 41 percent of workers believe that their biggest barriers to self or family care are feeling distracted and anxious. Feeling starved of time only makes it harder to be fully present doing whatever you're doing at a given moment, adding fuel to these negative emotions.
In a similar way to getting more sleep, it may seem difficult to make time for meditation if you're starting to feel overwhelmed. But studies have shown that meditation has multiple positive health benefits, including reducing stress, controlling anxiety and lengthening attention span.
If you find the traditional methods of mindfulness meditation too difficult, then meditative practices such as yoga or even running can also be extremely beneficial.
Let the feast begin
Time famine is a problem from which many of us suffer. But these few simple habits and practices can help to alleviate the feeling of overwhelm and increase productivity.
There may only be 24 hours in each day, but directing them into the right activities and priorities helps to cultivate a sense that time is a more abundant resource.
Having a goal to change the world for the better is great. But what's more important, says Chelsea Clinton, is having a plan to make it happen.
As an activist, public health professor, mom, author, and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton sure is pretty busy. Here, she explains to us that there is a divide between wanting to make the world a better place and actually having a direction and a unique goal to make it happen. In order to help others both see and meet their goals, the Clinton Foundation launched Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to give mentorship to those looking to make positive change. This video, part one in a series, is a great introduction to CGI U and to Chelsea's overall worldview. You can find out more about CGI U right here.
A Duke University study that found over 40 percent of our actions aren’t actually decisions, but habits. Here's how to build good ones.
Chocolate—the key to working out, says NY Times journalist Charles Duhigg. While I’m apt to reply, yes, chocolate is the key to most everything, Duhigg is specifically addressing a way to “trick your brain” into getting fitter. For those lacking the motivation to hit the trail or get into the gym, chocolate just might be the answer.
Kale chips, he goes on, are not the way to develop an exercise habit. He says people get it wrong—you shouldn’t punish yourself by following up a workout with something you don’t enjoy but think is good for you. (Let’s pause to remember all kale chips are not created equal. Some are truly terrible, though.)
You need an intrinsic reward, a treat that is meaningful and pleasurable. As Duhigg states,
Studies say that the best way to start an exercise habit is to give yourself a reward that you genuinely enjoy.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg writes that habits are a three-step process: a cue, routine, and reward. He cites a 2006 study at Duke University that found over 40 percent of our actions aren’t actually decisions, but habits. We think we’re putting a novel idea into action when really we’re on autopilot.
Unless you deliberately fight a habit, the habit will automatically unfold. You reach for a cigarette, you pull the phone from your pocket while in line, you don’t go to the gym in the morning. You need to introduce a new cue in order to change the routine. But if the reward isn’t there, or isn’t actually pleasurable, you’ll fall back on old patterns.
Having worked at Equinox since 2004 (and having been going to gyms since the late eighties, when my father ran his company’s exercise facilities on the side), I’ve heard innumerable excuses about why don’t people work out.
Not enough time is first uttered. Strangely, though, many of my students are extremely busy at their jobs. It’s not a matter of having time, but of budgeting it properly to ensure they’re functioning optimally in body and brain. Carving that time into your day has beneficial effects on the other parts when you are swamped with duties.
The second is not enough money to join a gym. While some are not cheap, plenty of gyms run between $10 and $40 a month. But forget the gym for a moment. All you really need is about ten feet of space. Given the number of free workouts on Youtube and Instagram, there is no dearth in available content.
Time and money aren’t the real problem. Habits are. As Duhigg says, the brain of the uninspired has not developed the proper neurological connections between routine and reward. It could be a missing cue: leaving your sneakers next to your bed so you see them first thing in the morning is well-circulated advice, in the same way that removing the office candy dish from the table curbs compulsive snacking. Cues are necessary catalysts for routines.
Whatever cues you choose—post-it notes, sneakers at the door, earlier settings on the alarm clock—the following three pieces of advice are the most effective catalysts I’ve witnessed:
Schedule your workouts. Putting your sessions into your calendar makes fitness part of your day. Treating your workout like everything else in life, from your job to taking care of your children, instills a mindset that this is not a hobby. We recognize that we live in a sedentary culture, yet there has never been so many opportunities to explore such a wide range of exercise options. Devoting that hour a day a few days a week will make a big impact in the rest of your hours. Scheduling it in makes it real in your mind.
Commit to daily exercise. This past weekend two different men stopped me after class to tell me they needed to commit to practicing more yoga. Both get in a class a week. But a little every day is better than one weekly session. Even ten minutes on busy days can be enough. Diversifying your workouts, between cardio, weight and bodyweight training, yoga, and meditation is a solid approach, but to begin, just get moving, daily. That said, don’t overload during your first month. Too many people hit it hard only to get injured and lose focus. This is a long game strategy we’re discussing, not a quick hit of dopamine.
Find movements you enjoy. One of the biggest reasons people stop working out is because they don’t enjoy it. Such a routine will never stick. Just as the reward needs to provide pleasure, so does the routine. If you’re not deriving pleasure during exercise—if you think it’s because you should be doing it instead of want to be doing it—there’s no chance it will last. Fortunately there are thousands of ways to move your body. Taking a running class when you have weak knees or lifting heavy weights when you have a shoulder injury makes no sense. What about ping-pong? Swimming? Hiking? Most every form movement is beneficial, provided you’re being safe and focusing on form.
In The Power of Habit, Duhigg writes,
Only when your brain starts expecting a reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
Hence, chocolate. Yet Duhigg is not repeated that tired trope exercising allows you to be gluttonous. The need for the chocolate wears off in a week and a half (or so) as your brain links the reward to the routine itself. Your brain—you, forgive the metaphysical verbiage—trick yourself into action by giving it a little boost. Then, he says,
After a week and a half your brain will learn that it enjoys the intrinsic reward of exercise.
Not to say a little chocolate is a bad thing. Let’s be real. Life without exercise or chocolate is not an optimal life. Fortunately we can have it both ways.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
The worst year of former tennis pro James Blake's life was tragic—professionally and personally. Here's how he got back on his feet after multiple setbacks.
When breaking the bone that binds your body together is described as a "good thing", you're undeniably having the worst year of your life. For former tennis pro James Blake, that was 2004, the year he broke his neck, lost his father to cancer, and came down with a stress-related virus that paralyzed his face and affected his balance, hearing, and eyesight. So how, two years later, did Blake manage to recover medically, and be ranked the #4 tennis player in the world? At a time when he couldn't even make contact with the ball on a serve, it didn't occur to Blake that he would ever play a tournament like the US Open again. The dream seemed too big, and so he focused on micro goals: trying to move his eye fast enough to follow the ball; exercising the muscles in his face to regain the ability to smile; spending five minutes on the court, then two days off recovering. For Blake, the key to bouncing back after a tragic series of setbacks was to not look further than his feet, working at small goals rather faraway wishes—and when he was on the court facing Andre Agassi in the men's quarter finals of the US Open in 2006, it just felt like the next step in a progression of manageable victories. James Blake is the author of Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together.
Goal setting is a hamster wheel, says Adam Alter. If you want to channel your best work and get off the failure circuit, set systems instead.
You've just achieved a goal you've been working towards for two years. You did it! Congratulations. Someone asks you: how does it feel? "Kind of anti-climactic, actually," you say. This scenario is quite common among those who have achieved even the highest benchmarks in business, athletics, or art, says Adam Alter, and it's because the goal setting process is broken. With long-term goals particularly, you spend the large majority of the time in a failure state, awaiting what could be a mere second of success down the track. This can be a hollow and unrewarding process. Describing an idea first proposed by Scott Adams in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Alter suggests swapping quantitative goals (I will write 1,000 words of my novel per day. I will run 1km further every week) for qualitative systems—like writing every morning with no word target, or running in a new environment each week—that nourish you psychologically, and are independently rewarding each time you do them. Adam Alter is the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.