The thing I hear most from friends, family, and the guys I date is “you don’t have enough time.”
What they mean is “you don’t have enough time for what I want you to have time for.”
The easy way out would be for me to say that we all make time for what we want to make time for. And yeah, it a very basic level, that’s absolutely true: if you want to do something badly enough, you will make time for it. Of course, organizing your life and budgeting your time is more nuanced than just “want to do” versus “don’t want to do.”
To be clear, I didn’t always live my life this way. When I got out of a long-term relationship and my ex moved out, I made a concerted effort to really live my life how I wanted to. That meant pushing myself, learning more, working more, and creating a schedule that worked for me consistently. I had let a lot of my life go when I was in that relationship, and I was determined not to let that continue.
So, this is what works for me. But honestly, it probably won’t work for you. Productivity and routines are different for everyone. For example, I really like this blog, but what she does would never work for me.
1. Sleep less. Seriously, this is the #1 reason I am productive. It’s not that I am wildly efficient in the hours that I have, it’s that I just have more of them than you do. During the week, I sleep 4-5 hours a night. I get up around 2 hours before I need to be at work, and those hours are for either completing a project when I’m on deadline or for doing housework, laundry, etc.
2. To expand on that, get out of bed if you wake up before your alarm. If I wake up at 4, I’m gonna get up at 4 and I will use that extra hour.
3. The last point on sleep: if you’re not tired, don’t go to bed. That sounds so silly, but if it’s 1 a.m. and I’m not tired, I will keep doing whatever it is that I want to do.
4. Teach yourself to “put the blinders on.” I work best when I plow through something all at once. When I’m writing copy or doing a big project, I simply cannot do it in small chunks. I waste so much time starting and stopping. Being able to put the blinders on and finish a project in one sitting makes me infinitely more productive.
5. Be active. At least 30 minutes a day. Preferably in the morning. Or at least at the same time every day. Everyone gives this advice, but it’s true.
6. Recharge. Literally, put your phone on the charger and then don’t look at it for XX hours. I don’t care if it’s 1 hour or 6, but not having a small electronic device controlling your life for awhile is super helpful. You can’t look at Twitter if your phone is upstairs!
7. Recharge, part two: I try to give myself one night a week where I have NOTHING on my calendar. And no one gets that time. Doesn’t matter how much I like you. I absolutely 100% need time without humans.
8. Use your car time wisely. I schedule conference calls for when I’ll be driving. I also only return calls when I’m driving. Then I’m not just sitting at my kitchen table, on the phone, annoyed.
9. Figure out when you’re naturally most productive. For me, it’s definitely the hours between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Once noon hits, my productivity starts waning. By 4 p.m., I’m totally worthless. My creativity, speed, focus, etc, all peak in the morning. I used to think I was a night owl, and to some extent I am, but that’s not when I am most productive. I just like reading and hanging out at night.
10. Schedule out all your time. This sounds extreme, but anything I want to do gets put on my calendar. If I want to play piano tonight, I’ll literally put it on my calendar. If I want to finish a book by a certain date, I put that on the calendar too. I know that my entire life is in my iPhone calendar–due dates for every bill, everyone’s birthday, holidays, every event, whatever. It gives me a realistic idea of how much time I actually have each day, and that’s super helpful.
11. Be realistic and be honest. If you only have an hour to give someone, tell them 45 minutes and then make sure you’re out door in 60 minutes. If you don’t have any time until next Tuesday, make a date for next Tuesday and do your best to stick with it. When you’re with them, make sure they feel like they are the #1 priority while you’re there!
12. Decide what (and who) is worth canceling for. If I cancel plans with you, you can be damn sure that it’s something important. For me to break plans or not show up to a meeting, it’s one of three things– work crisis, health issue, friend/family crisis. The end. And at this age, yeah, work comes first a lot of the time.
13. Remember that consistency is different for everyone. There are very few things I do every single day. I go to work, I’m active, and I write for at least an hour. If it’s shitty, that’s okay. But I do it. It’s part of the routine. Eventually, I’ll write out all the stupid shit and it’ll be good. But some people need a strict routine. I know that some days of the week are different than others for me, so I plan accordingly.
14. Know what factors make you unproductive. Food, music, TV, whatever it is, know what makes you unproductive and learn to eliminate it. I absolutely can’t eat while I work. It slows me down and makes me tired. I can listen to music, but not to podcasts. Definitely no TV. However, I can work just about anywhere–bedroom, kitchen, public park. If you know that you suck on Fridays, then frontload your week and take the pressure off of Friday. If you usually have a meeting or activity on Tuesdays, then take the pressure off of Wednesday. Instead of trying to push through and make yourself feel bad/unproductive/lazy, schedule that less-productive time into your week.
15. Lastly, keep improving. When I do the above 14 things really consistently, I typically have more free time to do whatever I want (though, let’s be honest, I typically schedule out my free time too). But by “keep improving,” I really mean to keep improving your process so that it stays fresh and applicable. For me, I need to always be working on a project just for me–whether that’s learning something new or home improvement. I have to make time for that, otherwise I will get burned out.
Honorable mention…just know that some days will suck. You’ll be hung over, you’ll just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you’ll get dumped, whatever. It’s okay for some days to be a total wash. It happens. The next day is a new day.