What is time?
To some, it's just numbers on a clock. To others, it's the boss that dictates their every waking moment. To many of us, it's a strange, mystical substance that we never seem to have enough of. Honestly, if I had a penny for every time I'd heard somebody confess to a secret ambition, fail to deliver what was expected of them or put off an event or task with "I just don't have time"... well, I'd have a whole load of pennies.
How often do you feel as if you just don't have the time to get everything done? How many times have you passed up an opportunity, postponed a goal that you really wanted to work on or just felt as if you were burning out because you just didn't have enough time? In this modern, fast-paced world, it seems to be something that we're becoming less and less adept at using. But think; what would you do if time didn't constrain you? What wonderful things would you be able to experience; what dreams would you start putting into action?
Well, the problem might not be that you don't have time as much as that you're not utilising it effectively. I'm not talking about scoffing a croissant as you run to catch that bus, skipping lunch and losing out on vital hours of sleep; while those things might seem, on the surface, to be buying you more time, in the long run you'll end up with even less.
So, here are 7 tips for getting more time (and some might surprise you):
1) Keep a diary of where your time is going - perhaps just for two or three days. Be specific. It might shock you to realise just how much time you spend trawling your Facebook news feed.
I worked out, at one point, that 3 or 4 hours of my day were essentially being wasted on "surfing the net" - that is, getting involved in heated debates over my friends' statuses with strangers that did absolutely nothing but leave me feeling stressed and wound up. I have now limited myself to five minutes of looking at the news feed before going to do something else. Once you see how much time you're spending on things like that, you can set yourself limits, before you go to step 2...
2) Schedule your day! - this one seems pretty obvious, but I don't know many people who do it. I don't mean keeping a super-strict schedule of when you're allowed to take a bathroom break; the idea is, whenever you're invited to a party or a meeting or given a deadline, write it down. If you put it in your phone you can set alarms, but I personally find a paper organiser works best because I can see it all laid out and edit it easily.
Of course, not every single minute of your day needs to be planned out (plans can change), but if there's something that you want to have more time for, this way you can see exactly when you have time to do it, and squeeze it in there. Sure, you might need five hours to write that business proposal, but if you have two free (formerly "Facebook surfing") hours on Thursday, a free hour on Friday and two more on Saturday afternoon, then perhaps you can fit them in there?
3) Take a lunch break - research by Aviva shows that one in three people in the UK are likely to skip lunch breaks. You might think that lunch is an unnecessary waste of your time when you have important deadlines to meet, but the irony is that your productivity is likely to drop a whole lot when you skip lunch. Food fuels the brain, and you must know from those ten-hour study marathons you attempted at school that focusing on something for too long wears your brain out. Have you ever spent ages stressing over a problem, only for the answer to come to you later when you weren't even thinking about it? Giving yourself distance will help you come back to it later, perhaps with a fresh perspective.
So, by taking a lunch break (and taking your mind off work, so bring an unrelated book or magazine or meet a friend for a chat) you are actually helping yourself to work more effectively in the afternoon - and if you're working more effectively, you might actually get that report done sooner than you would if you were crashing from overwork and a lack of energy. Oh, and please try to make sure it's healthy...
4) Exercise and eat right! - The exercise part is my weakness, I'll admit... but exercise reduces stress levels and increases energy levels, leading to a more productive you! How effectively are you going to get everything done if you're always feeling anxious about it? So, while that hour at the gym might seem like a waste of time, in the long run it will actually buy you more time - plus, exercise increases your endorphin levels, making you feel better all around!
As for food, I am a massive fan and supporter of Jamie Oliver - and when he switched up various schools' lunch menus from junk food to natural, unprocessed food made from scratch, children's productivity and attention spans improved, too. Get the hint? I'll talk about food a lot more on here, but basically your lifestyle could be affecting how well you use the time that you have!
5) Multitask (within reason) - I'm not talking about brushing your hair, eating toast and running to the bus at the same time - feeling rushed is only likely to increase your feelings of stress (and in case you didn't know, lots of stress is not good for you). But how about those TV shows that you like to watch - could you watch them while, say, preparing food or doing some other task that doesn't require your full mental attention? Some people even install a treadmill in front of their TV - perfect!
Do a lot of your hours get eaten up by travelling? Well, why not use public transport time to read something that you need/want to read, or if you drive perhaps you can listen to helpful audio tapes (great if you're learning a language or just want to read some books) - just make sure they don't distract you from the road, of course. I personally catch up with my TV shows while I prepare food or exercise, and use time on public transport to read up on coaching (or just fun fiction, of course).
6) Prioritise! - another one that seems obvious, but is surprisingly uncommon. Too often have I heard people say something like "Well, I really want to get it done, but I don't have time - I have to meet my friends for drinks tonight, and then tomorrow there's this exhibition thing I told my friend I'd go to, and then in the evening I'm volunteering at the orphanage" - OK, great! I'm not going to tell you not to volunteer. But are you putting your own needs last?
You might be like me - I take on new projects as if I have all the time in the world, only to find myself burning the candle at both ends very quickly. A lot of the time we just agree to things to please our friends, and then feel that we can't back out because of how angry they might be with us. Now, I'm definitely not saying that you shouldn't hang out with your friends, but if you're feeling pressed for time then perhaps a couple of those parties can wait. True friends will understand. Just make sure that you use that extra time actually doing what you wanted to do with it!
7) Sleep - according to the results of many studies (i.e. the National Sleep Foundation), most of us don't get enough quality sleep. I'm talking between 7 and 9 hours a night, and the link above leads to more information. How many times have you stayed up late (or all night) trying to get something finished? If you had scheduled your time effectively, you wouldn't need to be up that late doing it. There's an old saying - "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" - well, perhaps that's a good place to start! This goes along the same lines as eating right and exercising, of course - more energy = more productivity = better use of time. Take an early night (around 10pm or even earlier) and see how you feel tomorrow!
So, I hope you can use some of these ideas. Of course, if you have a lot of issues with time management a life coach might be able to really help you - so get in touch!