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.