9 time habits that will make you super-productive in 2018

Do you want to manage your time better in the new year? Small habits can make a big difference. Try a few of these very doable strategies to make 2018 your most productive year yet.

1. Exercise two mornings per week. Few people want to wake up at 5 a.m. daily to put in an hour at the gym. But what about getting up half an hour earlier, two days per week? You could run on that basement treadmill that’s gathering dust, or do a workout video, or do minimal-equipment strength work (push-ups, sit-ups, etc.) Do something active on each weekend day, and all of a sudden you’re the kind of person who exercises four times per week. Just by setting your alarm a little earlier twice!

2. Reflect in the shower. In the time diary study I did for Off the Clock (my next book, out May 29), I discovered that people who felt like they had enough time for the things they wanted to do were far more likely than time-stressed people to engage in reflective activities multiple times per week: meditating, praying, journaling, etc. It’s not that these people had more free time than others. After all, people with low time perception scores spent more time watching TV and perusing social media. It’s just that pausing to reflect on our lives makes us feel like time is more abundant. Anyone can find five minutes to reflect, but sometimes a cue can help. The shower is good. It’s quiet, you’re generally not distracted, you do it most days. Use this time for a gratitude practice, to meditate, to think through your day, or commune with a higher power.

3. Embrace airplane mode. Few of us wear watches anymore. We use our phones to tell us the time. The problem is that after looking at the time, we’re often tempted to look at other things: email, social media, websites, etc. Airplane mode removes this temptation. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving the phone at home, this is the next best option. (For what it’s worth, in Off the Clock, I found that people with high time perception scores look at their phones far less frequently than people with low time perception scores).

4. Give yourself a bedtime. Going to bed early is how grown ups sleep in. Figure out what time you need to get up. Figure out how much sleep you need. Now count back that number of hours from your wake-up time. Go 15 minutes farther back to allow for transitions. This is your bedtime. Being a grown-up, you can of course blow through your bedtime if you wish. But having a time nudges you to acknowledge that you’re doing it, rather than staying up late mindlessly.

5. Plan your weeks on Fridays. Make yourself a short, 3-category priority list: career, relationships, self. What are your 2-3 top priorities in each? Where can you schedule these? Try to front load the week. It is hard to describe how productive you will feel if you accomplish all your most important goals for the week by Monday night.

6. Have afternoon tea. You don’t actually have to drink tea. But following the British custom of taking a formal mid-afternoon break can help you manage your energy, and avoid the mid-afternoon slump that has people losing hours to internet rabbit holes and inefficient email checks.

7. Read in bits of time. Start noticing when small bits of time appear in your schedule: while you’re waiting for a conference call to start, while you’re waiting for the bus or for your coffee to brew. Use these bits of time to read (the Kindle app is great for this — since you always have your phone with you!) This has two great benefits. First, you turn wasted time into something meaningful. It could be a good chunk of time — 20-30 minutes a day. But as you start reading 20-30 minutes a day, you’ll also start getting into the books you’re reading, which will encourage you to turn more potential leisure time into reading time.

8. Choose two nights per week not to turn on the TV. Many people mindlessly turn on the TV after dinner, or after the kids go to bed. That’s fine for a favorite show, but not just to pass the time. Once the TV goes on, it’s hard to turn it off. So choose at least two evenings a week where it never even goes on. Use this time to pursue a hobby, read, or converse with your spouse instead.

9. Put a time-limit on chores. They can expand to fill all available space, taking over your nights and weekends. Instead, choose how much time you’ll devote to a task: maybe 15 minutes to cleaning the kitchen after dinner, or two hours to clean the house on Saturday. A short time limit forces you to prioritize, and then allows you to relax the rest of the time.

What time habits are you adopting in 2018?

In other news: Have you kept a resolution? I’d love to hear your story for an article. You can email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

23 thoughts on “9 time habits that will make you super-productive in 2018

  1. I recently discovered that the iPhone ‘clock’ app (atleast in the latest iOS?) has a ‘bedtime’ option so it sets your alarm to get up (and with much more pleasant sounds than the usual alarm) AND a bedtime reminder based on the number of hours you want to be in bed. So there’s some tech to help with #4!

    1. I love this feature but I struggle because it is really best for me NOT to have my phone in the bedroom. Otherwise I’m tempted to check it when I wake up at 2am with insomnia or to use the bathroom or whatever. not to mention having a hard time shutting it off at night too 🙁 So I ended up buying one of those Philips alarm clocks that wakes you up with a bright light (and eventually a tone). But I really wish I could use that iPhone feature 🙁

      1. @ARC- I’m with you in that for most people, a boring old “dumb” alarm clock is probably the best bet. No temptation to check email. Ideally, it’s on the other side of the room. And with no easy snooze feature. If you have to get out of bed and completely reset the alarm for 10 minutes later…you probably won’t bother.

  2. I am currently in my 5th trimester and went back to work on 12/27. I am determined to maintain some habits/priorities despite the fluctuating sleep/wake schedule that I currently have!

    Around 2010 I read 168 hours and decided to minimize TV watching. When people suggest TV shows that are AMAZING and MUST SEE…I just say “I don’t watch TV” to myself and to them. It keeps me from getting into any regular TV habit. It’s not that I never do- I will join my husband to watch sports here and there. I tell people it’s my secret to getting 15-20hrs more time per week than most people!

    After YEARS of reading your books, I finally bought a planner and will be starting the habit of planning my weeks before I am in them. My previous method used Excel and it’s not working for me. I also abandoned all goals/priorities during certain busy work seasons and it didn’t work for me either.

    I also really like the idea of using a timer for household chores. I tend to start at one area of my house, decide that area needs to be decluttered….and never make it to the higher priority stuff.
    Thanks again for all of your insight over the years. I’m loving the podcast and look forward to Off the Clock’s release!

    1. @Virginia- love the fifth tri reference. Good luck on planning your weeks before you are in them! It really is life changing. And yes, not watching TV is really the secret. People claim they don’t have time for hobbies. But they do! Their hobby just happens to be watching the Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Game of Thrones, etc. All of which are indeed great shows. But…we have to make choices.

      1. I also gave up tv after reading 168 hours! I like the suggestion regarding household chores. Looking forward to reading “off the clock”! This year I want to do better at routine habits so I can clean as we go and not have to devote hours to it on the weekend.

  3. Our time related issue this year wasn’t a productivity thing per se, but rather it was a commitment to completely renovate our new home in under 4 months. We used professional help since we are also raising a toddler and working two full time jobs, but we managed it without imploding.

    We did a lot of time chunking – 2 hours for house stuff, 6 hours for work, 2 hours for child rearing, etc.

  4. The first item on this post made me laugh, because a key (the key?) to my finally taking up running was embracing the reality that I want never to run before noon. So I don’t, and I never set my alarm to get up early to exercise, and that works for me. But that’s not to say that the suggestion wouldn’t work well for many others (apparently it must, as it’s so often recommended in one form or another) so — whatever. And I gave up TV long ago (I tell myself I’m going to watch Orange is the New Black and several other series I apparently should see but haven’t, sometime when I’m stuck indoors/unable to do other stuff — which I figure will happen sooner or later, but for now would rather get outdoors and do stuff), but might be well advised to stay off the internet a couple nights a week, so will consider trying that.

  5. I don’t know why I never thought of #9! In the workplace I frequently notice that tasks or meetings will expand to take up the time allotted (or languish when there is no specific time limit). But when I’m cleaning or doing chores, I have always had the mentality “it’ll take as long as it takes.” As a result I get distracted and pull in all sorts of other things. No! From now on it’s 15-20 minutes and move on!

    1. @Jeanna – definitely put a time-limit on chores! Like email, they can expand to fill all available space. I spent about 3 hours on Saturday de-cluttering the bathroom and kitchen ahead of our renovation, and it’s in no way done, but I just couldn’t face any more cleaning. Plus, the kids just make stuff messy again.

  6. I love the afternoon tea break suggestion–I was lucky enough to travel to Scotland and Ireland in college, and they take their afternoon tea break very seriously. I love it. I try to take a walk and have a cup of herbal tea around 3:00, when I might fall into a slump otherwise.

  7. The one time I allow myself TV is watching a show while on the treadmill or exercise bike. It’s a motivational treat!

  8. Similar to #8, we cut our kids screen time from Monday-Friday – no TV, phones, i-pad, etc. It was just easier to have a decision rule than debate them every day about it.
    Then, we did the same to ourselves – so no TV on weekday evenings, and we also cut out drinking during the week too (clearly for us, our kids are 6 and 8!).
    It has really made a difference to our quality of life. Sleeping better, getting more work done, reading much more, talking about topics other than kids and logistics, and really enjoying wine on Friday night now.

  9. Reading this at the end of 2018, and as a British expat I can confirm we do love our tea! I never worked anywhere which included a formal afternoon break, but my Dad (in the medical physics department of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge) did. His whole team would gather in the break room at the same time and, as well as a welcome pause and energy boost, he noticed it was the perfect opportunity for lots of “hallway” conversations, micro-meetings and creative idea swapping.
    I really think there’s something in this idea… would love to see it gain traction!

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