Time flies! Where does it go?
Is your life a constant race where you are dashing from one thing to the next – constantly running but never getting anywhere? Is your To-Do list, a Never-Quite-Done list because there’s not enough time? Do the days, weeks and months seem to fly by, faster and faster?
It’s easy to blame our lack of time on the pace of modern-day life, but even in the 1st Century humans were time wasters as this quote from Seneca shows:
“You live as if you were destined to live forever... You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
We all face the same problem with time: there are 1,440 minutes available to us, every day. However, unlike money, when you run out of time you can’t earn more. Once the time has passed, it’s gone.
This graphic from the “Wait But Why” blog shows very clearly the limits of time in our lives. Each box represents a week and, optimistically, assumes a 90-year life span. If you do live to be 90 then you will live for 4,680 weeks. Somehow that doesn’t seem as many as I’d like!
So how do we manage our time better? A good start is to find out how you spend your time, and one of the simplest ways to do this is to keep a time log.
How to keep a time log
There are no hard and fast rules about how to keep a time log, but here are 2 suggestions
1. Keep a time diary where you track each task and the time it tasks – for example:
- 6.15 am – 6.30 am: Breakfast
- 6.30 am – 7.05 am: Prep for work
- 7.05 am – 8.15 am: Commute to work
2. Record all tasks and the time you spent on them, each day for a week.
- Record what you are doing at each time interval during the day. You get to decide what time interval makes the most sense for you. If you want to get very detailed, then a 15-minute interval would be best. If you only need a general idea, then tracking each hour may work for you. For most people a 30-minute interval is best. Track your time each day for a week
- If you struggle (like me!) to remember to record what you are doing each interval, then set a timer. When it goes off write down what you are doing.
Once you’ve collected your time data for the week, take a look at it and see what you can learn about how you spend your time, how you waste your time and maybe some clues as to how you could use your time more effectively.
When I tracked my time, here were some of the things I learned:
- It seems that I have the memory of a goldfish, so would often forget to record what I was doing. Setting a regular reminder was a huge help!
- I am also very bad at estimating how long it will take me to complete a task. I would set aside 30 minutes to do something and then 60 minutes later I was still working on it.
- I also discovered that I rarely do one thing at a time. Often, I am doing 2 or 3 things in the same time interval – perhaps this is why my time estimates are so bad!
- I also underestimate (a lot!) how much time I spend surfing the Internet, checking social media, etc.
As well as learning some interesting things about how you spend your time, you can also use the time log to help you change your behavior.
I want to find time to do more of what I love
If you are looking to find more time in your day, then use your time log to help you evaluate the tasks you are currently doing. Ask yourself:
Can I completely eliminate any tasks?
- Are you doing any tasks that bring you little or no value?
- Can you eliminate any time-wasting tasks; like spending too much time on social media or watching TV?
Can I reduce the amount of time I spend on certain low-value tasks?
- Brainstorm some ways that you could do some of these tasks more efficiently
- Is “good enough” good enough? So instead of aiming for perfect, you commit to 80% of your usual time, which means it’s still done well, but maybe not perfectly.
- If you can’t totally eliminate some of your no/low value tasks, why not try eliminating them for a short period – e.g. a “media fast” for one day a week: no Internet, no social media, no TV?
Can I save time by changing the order in which I do my tasks?
- Perhaps you could try “batching” similar tasks together to be more efficient?
- Or if you time log shows that you concentrate better at a certain time of day, why not reschedule your focus-intensive tasks to be done at that time?
Can I save time by automating some tasks?
- For example, automate your bill payments, or
- Automate your shopping with services like Amazon’s Subscribe and Save.
Can I free up more time by paying a little extra?
- You could pay someone else to do the task for you – e.g. a cleaner.
- You could pay for convenience– e.g. food that is already prepared such as grated cheese or chopped vegetables.
I want to use my time more effectively
If you google productivity you will find countless articles and posts about how to work more efficiently. Here’s a few that I like and use when I need to be more productive:
Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one task until the timer goes off. Then take a break for 5 minutes. Once you have completed 4 “Pomodoro’s” (100 minutes of work time and 15 minutes of break time) you take a longer 15-20-minute break.
This is a technique that does help me to focus on one thing at a time. Setting a timer for a limited amount of time somehow sharpens my focus. If you’re a compulsive multi-tasker like me, you might want to try this!
Finishing tasks can often be difficult, but I also struggle with getting started in the first place! This is where the 10-minute hack helps. Basically you decide you’ll work on something for just 10 minutes (or 5 minutes or 2-minutes – your choice). If you can get it done in that time: hooray for you! If not, I usually find that once I start it’s usually easier to carry on and finish.
Start by estimating how long your task will take – this estimate is the “time-box” for that task. Then schedule your day by deciding which time-boxes to work on, and in what order. When you start a task, work on it for the scheduled amount of time. Once the time-box time has elapsed, move onto the next task.
I liked this technique as it really does help me to plan my day. However, I struggled with completing tasks in the allotted time-box, but thanks to my time log I now know it’s because I multi-task too much! If you have a lot of tasks that need to get done or you are guilty of perfectionism, then time-boxing may be a good technique to help you get stuff done without eating up a lot of time.
Do you have any effective time management techniques that work for you? If so, I’d love to hear about them!
I feel that time is flying by, how can I slow it down?
It’s a fact that time passes at exactly the same speed each day. The reason it seems to speed up or slow down is due to our perception of it.
Ever had the experience of being on “auto-pilot” – for example, maybe you’re driving somewhere and you arrive with no recollection of the journey? Or maybe you’re too focused on your phone, checking emails, looking at Instagram or Facebook, and time just flies by?
One way to slow down time is to be more mindful of what is going on in and around your life. When you are more aware, you notice more things, which in turn makes them more memorable. If you don’t recall many memorable moments when you look back over your day or your week, , then it will seem as if time has flown by more quickly. So being more attentive to what’s happening in the moment, and taking the time to make more unique memories, will help you feel like time is moving slower.
Becoming more mindful does take practice, and meditation is one way to achieve this. There are great apps out there like Headspace or Calm that can help get you started for free. I use both of them, so I know how great they are!
Alternatively, you can try this “Do Nothing” exercise for a few weeks to help you slow down, relax and become more mindful:
- Week 1: Take 5 minutes just to sit and be still. No phone, no interruptions. If it helps you can focus on something like your breath, or a soothing sound.
- Week 2: Now increase that time to 10 minutes each day. If you struggle with 10 minutes, then continue to sit for just 5 minutes.
- Week 3: In this final week, increase the time again by another 5 minutes.
Don’t worry if you struggle at first to sit still, even for a few minutes. If you’re driving a car at 60 miles an hour it takes time to decelerate to a complete stop. It’s the same thing for us. It takes time for us and our brains to slow down.
I’d also recommend have a pen and paper next to you, so you can note down any thoughts, ideas, worries that come up as you sit there. This will help free up your mind.
Lastly, let your family know what you are doing to minimize interruptions – maybe they might want to join you!
Time is a precious commodity for all of us, and it’s very easy to waste it. I hope that you feel this post was worth your time, and please share with me what you learn from your time logs!