The most valuable asset you have in your life is time. If you had infinite time on this planet, you could achieve every single thing you wanted. The time limitation is the biggest burden of our lives. Therefore the first rule of success is to manage time wisely.
A successful person and a homeless person have the same amount of time on a day to day basis. I know that every one of us is facing a different level of life challenges, but in general, both individuals spend their time and set their priorities very differently. You can achieve only a certain level of success with a specific mind-set, which also includes setting your priorities and spending or investing your time.
To successfully achieve your goals, it is extremely important that you manage time to the full. That primarily means eliminating all unnecessary time wasters in order to make more time in your life, and, in the second step, investing every free minute you have very wisely.
Since most of us are short on time, let’s look at some very useful techniques for managing your time professionally and making more free hours in your life. Some of the techniques will even help you become a more productive and energetic person. Implementing them in everyday life is not easy, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
Since this blog post is very long it has been published in three parts:
- Part 1: The biggest time wasters
- Part 2: Eliminate distractions from your life
- Part 3: Organizing yourself
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Part 1: The biggest time wasters
If you want to have more free time in your life, the first and the smartest thing to do is to deal with all the time wasters. Time wasters are all activities you do during the day that lead to no real progress in life. Unfortunately, they usually make you feel like you are productive or give you a fake feeling of progress. However in reality you are not getting any closer to your goals. At the end of the day, you should remember that time and money can either be spent or invested.
The biggest time wasters in your life are:
E-mail and Instant Messaging
E-mail in business and chatting (IM) in personal life are two biggest time wasters. Why? Because they give you a fake feeling of progress, urgency and importance. You feel like you have actually done something and you feel connected to people, which brings a false sense of security. You feel like people need you, and that makes you feel valued and safe.
It boosts your adrenaline and serotonin level, and therefore you think we are very productive. The social proof of “value” seems like an additional benefit. But in most cases, all the messages are nothing more than a distraction. Distraction from the important work you should be doing.
Regarding e-mail, there are a few important rules that can help you save quite a lot of time every day. The first one is the zero inbox policy. You don’t want to have anything in the inbox clouding your mind. That feeling somewhere deep in your mind that you haven’t replied to something important is nothing but a mental burden to faster progress in your life. No e-mails, no burden. Delete, delegate, do immediately.
A good alternative to the zero inbox policy is keeping everything in your inbox and replying only to the important mails. If it doesn’t bother you to have hundreds of e-mails in your inbox, this kind of approach is a good possibility too.
The second important rule is that you should only answer the important e-mails. Try to reply to them in only one word or one sentence at the most. Each extra word means nothing more than a lost second; seconds that add up to lost hours in a span of a year. If you really have a lot of e-mail messages that you must answer, you can increase your productivity with e-mail templates. An example of that kind of software is Yesware. And, of course, an automatic signature is basic. You shouldn’t waste time by writing you name at the end of every e-mail.
The next good advice is to only look at your e-mail account on your desktop computer twice a day. The best time to look at your e-mail is before you start your working day and an hour before your working day ends. Each time you check your e-mail throughout the day, while you’re working, you lose important mental focus and it takes a lot of time for you to get back into the workflow. If your e-mail hooks you too much, try not checking it in the morning, but instead only when you end your working day.
Pay attention to your “online social loop” that starts by checking e-mail, and then minimize it. Checking e-mail is usually the trigger for also checking social network sites, news sites and your other favorite web destinations. Before you know it, a whole hour has passed. Consequently, if you check your e-mail several times per day, your productivity suffers a lot.
The only logical exception is checking e-mail on your smart phone when you are forced to waste your time, for example while standing in a line, waiting at the doctor’s, sitting on the subway or the train etc. For safety reasons, please don’t check your smartphone when you are driving, flying a plane, having dinner with your partner or friends, having sex or doing any other activity that needs your full attention.
Here is one more important piece of advice. If you want to have fewer messages in your inbox, send and answer fewer e-mails. Every e-mail you send or answer will usually lead to replies, and you will want to reply again and so on, which only creates a bigger mess in your inbox. Just don’t send e-mails. Add a footnote No reply needed to every e-mail that doesn't need a reply.
The same goes for instant messaging and chatting online. It feels good to “catch up” with your friends, to share some updates, opinions on world news and to complain about how hard life can be. But in reality, you are just wasting your time again.
The rule for IM is simple. You want to chat and IM with friends who encourage you to achieve your goals. And of course this goes both ways so you should do the same for others. The more you give, the more you shall receive. You are the average of the ten people you spend most of your time with, offline and online. So it is wise to choose offline and online friends very carefully.
If your chat application is open while you are doing your work, and you keep getting popups saying “hi”, you’re going to find it really hard to concentrate. Therefore open your chat window / sign-in to your favorite IM only:
- When you face some creative challenges or life challenges for which you cannot find a solution on Google
- When you need additional motivation to conquer your daily goals
- When you need to relax after your daily working capacities have run out
- When you feel like you need to have a deep conversation with someone
- When someone really needs your help and advice
Meetings and socializing
It goes the same for the “offline version” of e-mail and instant messaging. In business, meetings are the biggest time wasters, beside e-mail. More than half of the meetings are completely unnecessary and useless. Probably only one in ten meetings really add value and are sensible. For most of the meetings, you need to prepare, change the location, greet people, do small talk, exchange opinions etc. And the conclusion of most meetings is that even more meetings will be necessary in the future.
Meetings can add value when you are brainstorming, setting the strategy, business planning, and building relationships or doing other similar activities with your team. They are miraculous for all activities where collective brainpower is needed and everybody must agree on the common goals. But having meetings just because it sounds good to have a meeting, or for talking about things you can settle with a phone call? No thanks.
Having managed projects and teams for many years, I have found out that there is another situation in which meetings are very useful and can dramatically increase team productivity. The agile management philosophy advocates having 15 minute meetings with your small agile team every morning, before the working day starts. At the meeting, everyone explains, as fast as possible, what work had been done the day before, what they will do during the current day and if they are facing any problems in the current work package (tasks given).
These kinds of meetings are really great, but you have to make sure you have a small team and keep it limited to 15 minutes. Without a timer, the meetings can quickly convert into hour-long morning socializing and gossiping activities.
Try to have as few meetings as possible, finish your daily work faster, and focus more on the things that really matter in your life. If you don't know how to avoid meetings plan no interruption days in your schedule.
The same goes for too much socializing. The fact remains that we are social animals and being social is an important part of feeling happy in life. But on the other hand, being too social is a big obstacle to your progress in life. Nothing big or worthwhile has been accomplished in bars, restaurants or clubs.
In Europe, you can see this difference very well. People in Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Slovenia…) are extremely socially oriented towards hanging out in restaurants and bars throughout afternoons and nights. But their economy doesn’t do very well. On the other hand, northern European countries (Germany, Finland…) are much more work oriented, and have a modest social life, but a much better economic position.
Balance is definitely the way to go in the long run. But if you want to achieve something in your life, some sacrifices have to be made. Nothing too extreme, because no extreme is good, but some rational optimization makes sense. Sure you can find happiness in life balance, but great results can only be achieved with extreme focus and sacrifices.
Social Networks Time Management Hacks
Social networks have become an important part of our lives. For most people, it is extremely hard to escape from being on the most popular social networks. This means at least Facebook and Twitter, but I can probably also add Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and many others to the list. It won’t get any better in the future. There will be even more websites fighting for our time and attention.
I think it is too hard or even impossible to simply close all your social network accounts and completely forget about them. They have become a too important part of our lives. But there is one trick you can do. You can unsubscribe from most of your “friends”, because who cares what they are doing, and you can fill your news feed with some motivational quotes, life hack news, and other articles and pictures that will boost your motivation.
That is a simple trick for turning a big time waster into a life asset.
This can be a big shift for you. Constantly seeing other people “having fun” means nothing but more social pressure, envy and desire to get additional social proof (prove yourself socially). After all, you are a social animal and you must make sure you are high on the social ladder.
But in reality, you shouldn’t care what other people do, except for your life partner, family and close friends. Besides them, you should care more about your life and your progress than about what your acquaintances are doing.
To be realistic, Facebook is not even close to showing real lives that people are living. People are only posting beautiful moments, the few peaks they get in their lives. Behind these beautiful moments, every human being must face challenges, disappointments, struggles and other burdens of life. At the end of the day, looking at the good moments of your Facebook friends makes you feel like you are the only weirdo who doesn’t enjoy life to the full. But that is not the case.
When you open your Facebook newsfeed, you should get some updates from your closest friends, only from the ones you also hang out with in real life. Additionally, you should also get tons of motivational stuff and information related to your serious interests and goals. That way, Facebook is not a waste of time and a source of additional social pressure anymore, but rather a big asset that motivates you every day. You can do exactly the same with other social networks. Just make sure your feeds are filled with inspirational, motivational and informational stuff, and not additional social pressure.
The daily news and daily news websites are also big time wasters. We are all used to following the daily news, because they give us a sense of connection with the world, as well as a sense of urgency and importance. Most of the news pieces are negative and our mind loves negative information, from the evolutionary point of view. It increases adrenaline, which makes us feel more alive and important. But in reality, only time and energy are wasted on this fake feeling of being alive.
The news is history. It already happened. You have zero influence on that. If you want to co-create the future, you need to empty your mind, make some creative free time and focus on your goals. Don’t worry: even if you unsubscribe yourself from all the news, the most “important” (the most negative) news will come to you.
Great minds think and discuss ideas; average minds discuss events and news; small minds discuss people. There are “small minds” everywhere. But you, you want to make sure you think like a great mind.
People love conferences. They see them as a great business or career opportunity – new knowledge, new people, new sales, new possibilities, a big motivational bust etc. But in reality, few conferences per year can really add value to your life, and those are usually the conferences where you know exactly who you want to meet or at which you can generate some sales leads.
What is the real problem of conferences? Attending a conference usually takes the entire day – there is a lot in between time, only a few lectures are really great, and you rarely meet people who can really add value to your life, professionally or personally.
Acquiring new knowledge? At a conference, you will listen to maybe one or two really great lectures, and to a dozen or even more crappy ones. In the same amount of time, you can watch quite a few more lectures over the Internet, totally by your choice. Compare going to a conference and listening to two great lectures at the most, to watching twenty TED videos or videos relevant to your industry or goals. There’s no doubt that the second option is a much better way of acquiring new knowledge.
Meeting new people? It’s unimaginably more efficient to do targeted networking rather than just meeting people randomly at a conference. If you want to meet a certain speaker and that specific conference is the best way to do it, great choice. But if you go to the conference to randomly network, it’s usually just a waste of time. In a few years, you will just throw away thousands of business cards that are a result of random networking.
Probably the best reason to go to conferences, besides targeted networking and developing sales leads, is to get a motivational bust and have some fun, maybe even meet new friends. Conferences are more about fun and relaxation than serious business. If you need that, fine. If not, just let it go.
Smart phone and tablet
Your mobile phone and tablet can be either an asset or a big liability. Let’s start with phone calls. Every interruption with an incoming call means losing focus, switching from important work to the phone call, and getting back to work with a possible (negative) change of emotional state (if people have bad information for you). With one lousy phone call, you can lose hours of your precious life.
When doing any of important tasks, you want to make sure that your mobile phone is switched off. Same goes for any other potential interruption, from instant messaging, social network notifications and everything else that blinks, rings or attracts your attention.
But incoming calls are not the biggest problem. In today’s life, smart phones and tablets are all-in-one – news, social networks, games and similar time wasters; right in your pocket. You don’t even have to sit behind the computer screen anymore. You can waste your time any second you want, and anywhere you want.
The solution is quite simple. You want to make sure your smart phone or tablet are an asset, not a distraction. How? First you should delete all games, fun apps like 9gag (OK, maybe you can keep 9gag app) and any other applications that are not contributing to your life goals. Make sure that accessing this kind of applications is as difficult as possible.
If you are real junkie to that kind of time wasters, install some kind of a mobile nanny and make sure that the only person who knows the password is one of your friends who won’t give it to you.
Then install useful apps like an e-book reader, a money management application, a time management application, mind mapping apps, Kanban apps, and applications for managing goals and so on.
To be honest, you cannot be focused and working all the time, so a few exceptions on the smartphone are welcome. When you have to waste your time, for example while queuing or waiting in a line or at the doctor’s office, and you know you won’t have a big chunk of time for doing any meaningful work, it makes sense to reply to some e-mails, check social networking sites or read industry news for extra motivation and brain refreshment.
In lean production, transport is considered to be one of the seven big wastes. Simply because it really is. Driving from one place to another can be a big waste of time. The solution is simple: if you are driving, make your vehicle a University on Wheels. Listen to audio books. You can use the Audible application on your smartphone and connect the phone to your car radio via AUX or Bluetooth. A good alternative are also podcasts, since you can find tons of podcasts related to your goals. If you are not driving, but instead taking the bus or the train, you can read a book on your smart phone, watch some educational videos, jot down some ideas or do some other useful work.
Nevertheless, you should try to reduce logistics as much as possible. Move as close to your office as possible; try to drive for business as little as possible; have a long-distance meeting via Skype rather than drive far away to meet in person etc. But still, transport will be big part of your life and your mobile phone is your savior, helping you make this time as productive as possible.
The in-between time
Going to a meeting at a distant location is the “in-between time”. Logistics and transport count as “in-between time”. Switching from e-mails to social networks and then back to your work takes “in-between time”. Waiting for people is “in-between time”. Waking up and snoozing your alarm clock 5 times before getting out of bed is “in-between time”. Waiting for your computer to load is “in-between time”. In lean production, this is called motion.
All the precious minutes that you are wasting between two tasks or two appointments count as the so called “in-between time”. And you want to make sure you have as little of “in-between time” in your life as possible. Minimize the number of meetings. Decrease the number of group activities. Avoid logistics. Forget about small and unimportant tasks. Focus on things that really matter. If you focus on only two to three important tasks per day and make sure that you accomplish them, you will successfully minimize your “in-between time”.
Here are some additional ideas for minimizing your “in-between” time:
- Buy an ultra-fast and expensive computer, and don’t overload it with applications and useless stuff that will just slow your computer down.
- Choose a top professional personal doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, insurance agent and so on. Alongside the excellent service, you also won’t have to wait in the waiting room, and professional people are always on time.
- Try to do as many things as possible via Internet or fax, use online banking, online accounting to your advantage etc. Try to have as little of post mail as possible, and try to not go to the post office at all.
- Have everything in place and nicely cleaned up, so you don’t have to look for things. Make sure your desk is tidied up; your papers are in folders, old magazines are thrown away etc. Same goes for your computer folders. Make sure everything is organized and in order. Create shortcuts for projects you are currently working on.
- Be punctual. If you respect other people’s time, they will respect yours.
TV, movies and games
Well, TV and games have been obvious time wasters for decades. TV is nothing but a “multimedia ad player”, since you more or less only watch ads that are programming you to be a good consumer. Hundreds of articles on the Internet can tell you why TV is a big waste of time.
One big trap lies here. Maybe you haven’t turned on the TV screen for decades and you can tell yourself that you don’t watch TV. But on the other hand, you still watch movies and TV shows, just not on the TV. We know video on demand now, we have Netflix, iTunes etc. Or you can even go to the movie theater too often.
So you don’t have to sit in front of the TV to watch “TV”. All other options are basically the same waste of time, you merely skip some commercials. Don’t get me wrong. A good movie or an episode of a TV show can be very relaxing from time to time. And we all need some relaxation; we are not robots. But watching movies and TV shows on your computer every night is the same as staring at a TV. Flushing your precious life away.
Set some limits. Watching movies and TV shows a few hours a week is more than enough. And remember: when you are watching TV, you are not living your life, you are wasting it. People on the other side of the screen are living their lives. Wake up.
Procrastination and worry
Self-discipline is not an easy thing to practice in our lives. It’s a weak muscle and our daily capacities are very limited. Therefore we all have to face procrastination and worrying as two big obstacles in the way of meeting our goals. Both of them are ridiculous and counter-productive, but stayed as a part of our ancient psychological survival mechanism.
Let’s look at worrying first. You have a goal to acquire new knowledge. But instead of sitting behind your computer and starting to learn, you lose yourself in negative thoughts and worrying. The negative thoughts can come from you doubting yourself and your potential or from questioning your decisions, wondering about what tomorrow will bring and so on. Before you know it, an hour passed and you have learned nothing. You have only spent valuable energy on nothing really productive.
The only way to overcome worry is to trust yourself more, to trust life more and to discipline your mind. Meditation is probably the best tool for learning to discipline your mind and live more in the present moment. Recognizing and turning down the volume of your inner critic can also help a lot.
If you worry a lot, do research or find appropriate help. You must release the unproductive tension as soon as possible.
The next interesting mechanism that can prevent us from meeting our goals in life is procrastination. It is the same silly concept. Instead of doing important things, you can find yourself doing everything else that is contributing absolutely nothing to your progress in life. That can usually be anything from cleaning your room, making lists, taking naps, doing too much research, eating snacks, spending time on social networks, watching TV or playing games.
It is no secret that procrastination has a deeper psychological background. If you want to overcome procrastination, you have to tackle it at its source. It is not hard to do that, but it takes some courage and being honest with yourself. Identifying the reason behind your procrastination and finding the appropriate solution is the hardest step. Then you just need to reinforce your new behaviour with daily practice.
Why do we usually procrastinate and what is the solution?
If you see yourself as a lazy person, you will have a hard time of progressing in life. The only solution to this problem is an identity shift. If you want to change your daily habits, you will first have to see yourself as an ultra-productive person.
Nevertheless, laziness can also be a big help in your life. You want to be a hard-working person, but you also want to achieve maximum results with the minimum amount of effort. That is what being productive is. Being lazy is the right mind-set to achieve that. You have to be hard-working in your life to achieve great things, but you must also be brutal with yourself about prioritizing and optimizing your work.
A lack of energy and stress
Poor diet, no exercise and too much stress in life all contribute to the lack of energy. If you don’t have energy in life, you won’t accomplish much, there are a few solutions for tackling this problem.
- First, (1) exercise at least a few times per week.
- Second, (2) watch your diet. It’s not necessary to go into details here, since you can find many online resources for a healthy diet.
- Then (3) get enough sleep every day and
- (4) drink enough water.
- (5) Have five to six meals throughout the day.
- (6) Avoid unhealthy snacks in front of the computer or TV.
- (7) Eat as much veggies as possible.
- (8) Add healthy fruit, but not too much of it, because of its sugar content.
- (9) Help yourself with core supplements if necessary.
These simple rules will help you boost your energy level to the max.
Manage your energy, not time
Another very good thing to do is being more focused on managing your energy than managing your time. At the end of the day, we are not robots, but unpredictable human beings. Forcing ourselves to do some activities just because they are written on our calendar makes no sense, especially if we harm ourselves at the same time.
You will have days when you feel super productive. And you will have days when you are totally not in the mood for work. Try to be agile in thinking and adapt working day to your emotional and energy state. Logically, if one day you are super-ultra productive, working and learning for twelve hours, expect to be less energetic and productive in the next few days. Take some rest and fill you batteries.
Having unreasonably big goals
In life, there is one simple rule; don’t bite off more than you can chew. You shouldn’t be afraid of progressing slowly; what you should be afraid of is completely quitting. And if you only have big goals in mind, for example getting rich quick, you may feel overwhelmed and consequently not start at all, preferring to procrastinate instead.
Dream big, but start small. Slice and dice your big goal into smaller steps. Steps so small you can act on them on a daily basis. Your vision must be your compass in life, but make sure that your vision isn’t also the source of your procrastination, because you don’t see the small steps you must take.
A lack of skills
Closely connected to having goals that are too big is lacking a lot of skills. From a psychological point of view, we know the comfort zone, the learning zone and the panic zone. If the task is way too challenging for our current skillset, we go directly into the panic zone, start panicking and quickly run back to our comfort zone; maybe even forever.
In the panic zone, you can face such strongly negative emotions that it becomes much harder to go out of your comfort zone for the next attempt. Therefore it is really important that you start with small steps. You should set tasks that are just a little bit more challenging than your current skillset. Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in a month and don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in a few years’ time.
We all have some (soft) addictions; from chocolate, TV shows, sleeping too much, hanging out in bars etc. I dearly hope that you don’t have to face any of the harder addictions like smoking, alcohol or drugs. In that situation, you need professional help. But for soft addictive behaviour, there is a very simple solution: you want to change bad habits with new, good ones.
How do you do that? Easy. First, you need to know that you can’t really quit your addictive habit. You can only replace it with a new habit, either a negative or a positive one. And you want to replace most of your negative habits with positive ones. Negative habits should become triggers for positive ones. For example, if you are addicted to watching TV, go read a book every time you want to turn the TV on or whenever somebody else turns it on. It’s that simple. When you feel like doing something bad for you, immediately go and do something good for your future instead.
We have two options for living our lives. The first one is being true to ourselves, living the life that we deeply want and that is connected to who we really are. The second option is living a life based on expectations of others. Family, friends, teachers, society, they all have expectations for how you should live your life. If those expectations are not aligned with your true self, frustration takes place. Suddenly, you may be living a lie.
You want to make sure that your goals are totally aligned with your own life vision, your talents, competences and values. If your goals are not true to your real self, you will never be motivated enough to achieve them, since they won’t be your real passion. As a result, you will procrastinate. You will be unhappy. Thus when setting new goals, always ask yourself if that is something that you truly want or if it’s something that someone else is expecting of you.
If you want to be successful, passionate and happy in life, follow your heart, not opinions and expectations of other people.
Fear and self-sabotage
We are all born with two fears only; the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. When facing challenges, disappointments and childhood trauma in our life, we develop new and new fears. Many of them are subconscious in nature and we are not even aware of them. And if you are fighting your subconscious fears with your discipline only, the subconscious will always win. You want to eliminate the problem at its roots.
The two most common fears that are potentially holding you back are:
- the fear of failure and
- the fear of success.
You want to make sure you are not holding yourself back with these two common fears.
Nobody likes to fail. Failing sucks big time. But it is an integral part of success. Success is nothing but going from one failure to the next without giving up; until you succeed. So if you want to succeed faster, you have to fail more. You have to learn to love failing and constantly learn from it.
On the other hand, the fear of success can also be a big burden. If you don’t see yourself as a successful person, you will never become one. Success brings things like fame, financial abundance, and good feelings about yourself etc. If you don’t feel like you deserve it, you will always self-sabotage yourself. The best solution to this problem, besides professional help, is active visualization. You want to mentally picture yourself as a highly successful person, connecting strong positive and good feelings with this picture.
And last but not least is perfectionism. When you are a perfectionist trying to acquire a new skill, it’s really hard, because you always suck at the beginning. There is a big gap between the masterpiece you want to create and your skill level. This brings frustration and a desire to quit. Remember that perfectionism is one of the cognitive distortions. There are no perfect things and situations in life.
The solution is quite simple. You have to divide the activities connected to your goal into two phases. One is the discovery phase (the search mode) and the second one is the execution phase. In the discovery phase, perfectionism is not allowed – you research, you learn, you prototype, you acquire new skills and so on. The goal is not to be perfect or to make a perfect masterpiece, but to acquire new skills and set a strategy. The goal is to learn something new.
When you acquire the desired skills and you have a clear vision of what you want to do with your new skills, it is the time for execution and perfectionism. Remember, you can spend months or even years in the search mode before executing something perfectly.
Continue to Part 2: Eliminate distractions from your life.