The first thing to do is create a time log. It’s a simple diary to record in 15-minute increments all your daily activities. The more honest and accurate you are the more helpful the information will be. Write down everything you do regardless of how insignificant the activity may seem. Try this for a typical week or two in your schedule and you’ll have a clear snapshot of how you are spending or wasting your time.
Once you’ve completed your log, look at how you are spending your time. Group the activities into categories and add up the time you spend for each one. This is when the information becomes helpful. Now you can set limits for how much time you will devote to each category and look for ways to make significant cuts. If you need some suggestions on areas where you can cut, consider the following options.
Turn off the TV. The average American spends nearly four hours per day watching TV. If you are looking for more time to devote to your special interests, hobbies, starting a business or anything else on your wish list, you don’t need to look any further than the TV. Think of what you could accomplish if instead of four hours per day watching TV you spend that time writing a book, learning a musical instrument, learning a new language, or any other productive activity. Ask the question this way, at the end of the year would you rather look back and say, “I spend 1,460 hours in front of the TV (that’s the equivalent of 60 full days!),” or would you rather say, “I invested 1,460 hours in learning how to play the piano. Want to come to my recital?” That sort of puts things in perspective.
Maybe you don’t watch much TV. How about the time you spend on social networks such as Facebook? Leaving posts such as, “Gonna walk my dog now.” “Just ate a piece of pie.” “Helping my kids with their homework,” can eat away at your time. Facebook is a great social networking tool but do you really need to leave six or more posts per day to tell people that you just bought a new pair of shoes or spend hours reading about other people’s routine activities? Look at your time log and if your Facebook time is excessive you can limit yourself to a reasonable amount of time.
Plan your trips more efficiently. If you have errands to run, with a little planning you can shave off minutes or hours just by mapping out your route to avoid congested traffic areas, avoid unnecessary back tracking, reducing the number of left turns you make to reduce idle time (which also saves gas). Part of your planning should include the best times to visit the stores on your list to avoid long lines at the register.
Consider buying more routine purchases online. If you don’t have to see it, taste it or try it on and you know you exactly what you are going to buy, plan ahead, buy it online and save yourself the time and gas you would spend going to the store and have it delivered right to your front door. In many cases you get better prices that make up for the shipping you pay.
Consider getting out of bed 15 minutes or more each day and spend that time on specific projects or goals. You waste a lot of time hitting the snooze button five or six times and the extra few minutes of your semi-conscious state doesn’t provide any more rest. Knowing that you scheduled that time in the morning to devote to a project should give you enough motivation to fight through the yawns and get up on that first alarm.
If you have a lunch break everyday and spend time socializing with co-workers, consider dropping back to once or twice per week and the other times hibernate to read the books you’ve neglected or work on a pet project. Most of the writing I produce is done during my lunch hour. I interact with people at work all day but reserve my lunch hour for me to read, write or research information for projects I’m working on. I wrote the draft of an entire book working primarily during my lunch hour.
With a little personal analysis you can find ways to cut back on excessive activities and reward yourself with time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Take a closer look at your schedule and give yourself the gift of time.