Time can get away from me if I let it. The days are busy for everyone no doubt, so here are a couple of ways I try to make the most out of my time.
Setting Small Goals
Even amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, I’m finding it helps to plan my day and set realistic goals. Before the pandemic, it was even worse trying to balance getting the kids to school, getting them to their after-school activities, and squeezing in everything I wanted to try to get done.
Approaching each day with a plan and setting small goals helps keep my mind on track from one task to another. Each morning I set these goals, make them concrete and try to hold myself accountable. I’ve found giving myself this quick mental exercise in this morning right after I wake up gives my day a sense of organization it was lacking before I had started doing it.
I make the goals measurable. “I’m going to walk three miles today,” or “I’m going to write two scenes today,” are much more measurable than goals such as “I’m going to exercise today,” or “I’m going to write some.” Measuring goals also helps keep myself accountable, and gives myself a chance to reflect on how to improve goal setting if I didn’t reach my goal. In the software development scrum process, we call this reflection a retrospective, and it’s an important part of improving a team’s process, and it’s applicability can be justified here as well.
Sometimes it still just isn’t easy, things just go wrong and it is out of my control. I may have set goals to workout after work, and then write for thirty minutes after my shower, but then get a call from my wife and she needs me to do something else. Unexpected things happen, and that can disrupt what I had planned, but I try not to let it break down my entire plan. When this happens, I figure out which parts of my plan I can sacrifice, and I make a trade with myself—I switch out a goal, with something else I wanted to do, maybe something that won’t take as long, or something I can multitask. This is also a technique used in the scrum process. Keeping myself accountable and honest with myself is the most important tactic here.
Moderating Social Media and Other Distractions
Social media is no doubt a great way for me to communicate with family, friends, coworkers, and even reach out to like-minded individuals—hey #WritingCommunity! But it also serves as a massive distraction with how readily available it comes on my phone and other devices.
The Do Not Disturb feature on my iPhone is absolutely a god-send for me. Between incessant notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Discord, email and text messages, my phone hardly goes ten minutes without something causing it to vibrate. It is very distracting when I am trying to have quiet time, or sitting down to write; my focus goes right out the window. Of course, I try not to purposefully ignore everything all the time, but you can bet when I’m scheduling my quiet time to read, or setting aside thirty minutes to write, I’m flipping on that Do Not Disturb button.
Scheduling time for social media is also something important. Getting to it in between tasks, and minimizing my time on each platform is a must, otherwise I find the time just disappears from my day. Tools like Hootsuite and other apps allow for scheduling of tweets and updates, so I can schedule an entire lot of them in a single sitting for maximum efficiency.
As far as scheduling time, the same goes with video-games. I love video-games, but I have to really moderate how much I play or it will get out of control.
Reading E-Books on the Go
I love reading, and I often find myself overwhelmed by the amount of books out there I will never have the time to read. E-books have helped in letting me squeeze in small spurts of reading throughout my day. Waiting for a friend to come pick me up for lunch? I’ll read a couple of pages in my e-book. Sitting at my son’s soccer or basketball practice? Maybe I’ll read a couple of pages; I’ll admit that one is tough for me, because I like watching my kids play sports, but I’ll find myself doing it on occasion. The point here is I try to squeeze in small things during the gaps, and don’t always go to social media first unless that is what I had planned on doing.
Listening to Audiobooks
Audiobooks are another great tool I use to get exposure to more books. I understand completely they aren’t for everybody, but I read something like 35 books last year, a mix of both audiobooks, e-books, and physical books. That may not be a lot to some of you, but there is no way I could have done it without supplementing my physical and e-book reading with audiobooks.
Yard work, folding laundry, other chores are no longer chores. I can multi-task the mindless stuff and lose myself in an audiobook while I do them. I’ve also found I can listen to audiobooks at the gym, or going on walks or a run if the workout is not too intense. Oh and I no longer get mad at traffic; so what if I get held up on my commute and get to listen to an extra fifteen minutes in my audiobook?
Taking My Lunch to Work
I’m fortunate enough to have a job where we can take an hour for lunch if we want to, but can also choose to eat in the break-room or even at our desk. Packing my lunch and just eating over a fifteen minute break I’ve found is a great way to squeeze some extra time into my day.
Most of the time, my wife and I will cook two or three times what is needed for dinner that night, and pack the rest for lunches. Tacos and Greek bowls are a family favorite over here. A good set of Tupperware goes a long way when meal prepping. My wife and I also received a Ninja Foodi 5-in-1 from her parents for Christmas last year, and it has been an absolute game-changer for meal-prep and cooking dinners.
Taking my lunch to work also has the added benefit of saving money from eating out. That being said, I still set aside time once a week to go out to eat with a group of friends, and I found it to be a great balance.
Setting a Strict Bedtime
It sounds crazy. I have all this stuff I want to get done, so why not just force myself to stay up later to squeeze in more time and get more stuff done? Burnout, that’s why. I tried it, and it didn’t work for me. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep, and waking up refreshed every morning is what keeps me focused and ready to tackle that day’s plan. Not getting enough sleep only gave myself excuses for wanting to skip things I felt were maybe less important—like going to the gym.
Setting a strict bedtime helped build that routine, and my body knows when it is bedtime, and I typically wake up a couple of minutes before my alarm goes off. I also prefer shutting off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime—Kindle and e-book reading is fine for me during that time, as long as it is not a back-lit device. But the phone, TV, and video-games get turned off.
There are a few things I do to organize my day and squeeze some time to try to accomplish more. These may not be helpful for everybody, but perhaps some will find some benefit. What sort of techniques or tools do you use to increase your productivity and get the most out of your days?
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