How many times have you said “I don’t have time” to yourself or others this week? No need to tell me, I already know it’s probably a sizable number. I recently had the realization that I am always saying this myself.
I’ve turned down hanging out with friends (virtually, of course), playing my favorite game, and trying that new restaurant up the street all because I don’t have time.
How is this even possible when being on lock-down has actually given me more free time than ever before?
A few weeks of self-investigation revealed the not-so-shocking truth. Who would have guessed that the two largest offenders were general procrastination and my phone?
The procrastination I can understand (ADD will do that to you), however I was genuinely shocked by my phone usage. I’ve never considered myself a heavy phone user, but a quick peek at my iPhone’s Screen Time data revealed the truth: I spend almost 3 hours on my phone every day. Doing what?!? Well, not much actually, but more on that in a bit.
My research found multiple other areas where I waste time, but I also discovered a lot of ways that I save a ton of time. We all have different habits that can either add to, or subtract from that precious pool of spare time.
The biggest time-savers that I already use are ones that have strong habits built around them. They execute every day without fail because they are second-nature. It’s very feasible to slash old habits and replace them with new ones that will save us heaps of time.
I’ve pulled together a list of habits that, if adopted, could easily bring back multiple hours of free time into your life. But don’t be alarmed by the long list of ideas below! Any one of the habits could potentially yield incredible time savings, and it is not necessary to adopt them all.
So without further ado, let’s start hacking time!
Habit #1: Reduce Phone Usage
For most of us, this will probably the most impactful change of the whole list. I know it was for me. If you haven’t already, take a look at your iPhone’s Screen Time, or Android’s Device Usage. Does the number surprise you?
Without a doubt, most of us spend our lives with our phones practically glued to our hands. These devices can be one of the greatest tools we possess, and also one of the greatest time-wasters.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to completely cut out the things you do on your phone, but when you really evaluate the time you spend on various activities and apps, you’ll easily see areas where you can reduce.
In just three weeks, I managed to get my average down to around 45 minutes of time per day.
I cut out my random scrolling in various apps that served no real purpose, and turned off a whole host of notifications to keep me from constantly checking my phone. It only took me a few minutes to make the changes, and now I’ve nearly regained 2 hours per day of time back compared to just a few weeks ago. That’s how I had time to write this article!
Another consideration for reducing your time on your phone is to leverage tools to automate various tasks. For instance, the IFTTT app can automate tons of monotonous things that you probably do on your phone.
iPhone users can also use the Shortcuts app to streamline common tasks on their phone. Check out some of our favorite iOS shortcuts here.
Read Also: iOS 15 Features That Will Save You Time
Habit #2: Reduce Social Media and TV
Hopefully if you’re already making a change after reading the section above, you’ll already be planning to reduce your Social Media time. If you’re not quite convinced, then read on!
It’s no exaggeration to say that Social Media is fun and downright addicting. Have you ever wondered why, or perhaps how? It’s all science and psychology. In short, our brains are addicted to the dopamine hits we get when using Social Media. These companies know this, and intentionally engineer their platforms to take full advantage of this fact.
Many of us have forgotten, but there was a time when Facebook didn’t have an endless scroll function. Platforms wouldn’t send you quite as many notifications as they do today. All of this has changed over the years by design, to keep you engaged and on the platforms for as long as possible.
Time seems to work differently when we are on an endless Social Media scrolling binge. You know what else is endless, and circumvents the normal passage of time? Netflix binge sessions. Who says time travel isn’t possible? We do it every time we endlessly scroll Social Media or watch Netflix and other Streaming platforms.
Ever notice how streaming services by default play the next episode or movie as soon as the one you’re on ended? Forget the credits, there’s no dopamine there. Again, the systems are designed to keep you engaged and excited for as long as possible.
So what can be done to curb this addiction, you ask? While some experts will tell you it’s best to ditch TV and Social Media entirely, I’m not a total heartless monster. I believe there is value in staying connected and temporarily disconnecting from reality. The key here is moderation.
The best way to ensure you don’t fall into the “endless scroll” pitfall is to set limits on the amount of time you spend on these platforms. Use your phone’s timer, or perhaps commit to just 1/2/3 episodes before you must call it quits. Leverage your phone’s App Limits and set them for apps that you know are your weakness.
Moreover, better time management skills and techniques will help you find more than enough time to enjoy Social Media and TV responsibly.
Speaking of time management…
Habit #3: Plan Your Days
Have you ever had one of those days where you “planned” to get a lot done, and reached the end of the day with nothing done, but tons of time wasted? You’re not alone.
Many of us set goals or line up items to accomplish every single day, but come up short at the end. We reflect back and wonder where all the time went, and it seems really difficult to account for sometimes. On the one hand, you knew you were “busy” all day, but yet somehow you didn’t have time to accomplish the things you wanted.
One of the best-kept secrets of where your time goes can be explained by Parkinson’s Law. The idea is that our work/tasks will expand to take as much time as there is available for them. This also ties in with the phenomenon of being able to work much harder/faster under the pressure of a deadline.
Basically if you have all day to accomplish something, you’ll take all day to do it. What if you only had 4 hours instead? Odds are if there is an imposed deadline, you’ll find a way to get everything done in 4 hours.
The key to all of this is planning our days to allow for specific times to complete all of our tasks.
Now this doesn’t mean that we need to plan every minute of our day. Quite the opposite, in fact. The key here is merely to establish time blocks, where we will accomplish certain tasks. It’s setting a wall and a limit on how much time we have for things, so that we help keep ourselves accountable.
Let’s go through an example. Let’s say every morning at work you need to complete the following tasks: Make coffee, run reports, reply to urgent emails, and send a status update to the boss. Since each task may vary in the time required to complete it, there is no reason to make a schedule like this: Make coffee from 9:00am – 9:05am. Run reports from 9:05 – 9:10am. Reply to urgent emails from 9:10am – 9:35am. Write and send Status Report to Boss from 9:35am – 10:00am.
That schedule doesn’t account for any possibility for one task to take longer than anticipated. What if the coffee maker wasn’t hot and you took 10 minutes to make coffee? Now your whole schedule is off-track.
Instead, just block off the hour of 9am – 10am for completing “morning tasks.” You’ve now allotted for enough time to complete everything, but without the need to micromanage yourself.
What’s more, it’s important to consider booking “flex time” on your calendar. This is a block of time, usually 30 minutes or an hour, where you have absolutely nothing planned. These time blocks can help you catch up on your overflow and attack unexpected items that have come up.
Here’s an example of this type of planning (right) vs. what your calendar might currently look like (left):
I will offer one additional word of advice when it comes to planning. Don’t overthink it, or you’ll turn into a procrastiplanner. Planning should be quick, simple, and low-stress. All the time you spend planning is time that could be spent doing. Take 5 minutes in the evening and plan a few time blocks for your next day with one or two flex blocks.
It’s easy to see the time savings from this technique – it’s visible right there on your calendar!
Habit #4: Adopt a Streamlined Morning Routine
After reading about time-blocks above, it should come as no surprise that you can totally make a section on your calendar for your morning routine. I still want to emphasize the importance of not micro-managing your time, which may seem contradictory to establishing a morning “routine”.
The biggest key is to lay out the objectives to accomplish during your morning routine, and allocate sufficient time to completing them. This establishes a foundation to build upon. So long as these conditions are met, you’ll be able to start finding ways to tweak and optimize your activities to start getting things done faster, leaving more time for you or to relax.
Here are a few ideas for speeding things up in the morning:
- Shower the night before – one less thing to do in the morning!
- If you have to shower, make it a cold one to jump start the day
- Meal prep in advance, both your breakfast and lunch (if you have to pack one)
- Get a smart coffee maker and put that task on auto-pilot
- Do some light exercise to get the blood flowing
- Decide what you will wear the night before
- If you’re still going to decide what to wear in the morning, take steps to simplify your wardrobe
- Jam out to some uplifting or motivational music
- Put your alarm across the room to force you out of bed
- Use an electric toothbrush to speed things up
- Leave the blinds open when going to bed to have natural sunlight wake you up in the morning
- Don’t touch your phone until you finish your routine to avoid distraction
Our morning habits will set the stage for the rest of our day, so it’s imperative that we get everything done that we need, and without too much pressure from a lack of time. Nobody should start their day on the wrong foot and already stressed out.
Let us know in the comments if you have any morning shortcuts that you use!
Read More: Productivity 101: The Benefits of Waking Up Early
Habit #5: Meal Planning and Prep
This habit alone could save you over an hour per day if you’re not already doing it. Meal prepping allows you to take the time invested into cooking one meal, and instead make a whole weeks worth out of it. When combined with some efficient planning, you’ll have a recipe for saving time and money!
For those of you already doing meal prep, I recommend that you check out our guide for using AnyList to automate meal planning.
If you’ve never done meal prep or planning before, I will cover a few quick tips to help you get started, but this will not be a full guide on the subject.
One of the first things you will need to do to ensure maximum success with meal planning, is having the right tools. I recommend determining what you will do all of the food you prepare in bulk, before you start. Some people prefer to put everything in large containers, and dish out things on an as-needed basis, while others recommend having small containers and dishing everything into each of those to be more “grab-and-go.”
Once you know how you will handle the large output of food, you’ll need a few items to handle the cooking. The most common things are very large Crockpots, baking dishes, and pans. Your size requirements will vary depending on how many people you need to feed.
Next you’ll want to search for some recipes centered around meal prep. You can try searching things like “meal prep recipes,” “big batch recipes,” or “bulk recipes.” If the idea of sticking to one food item the whole week doesn’t sound appealing, an alternative approach I’ve found is to prepare a meat and one or two staples that can serve as a base, and then adjust the seasoning or sauces throughout the week. For instance, I can prepare a large portion of chicken without seasoning, and throughout the week that same chicken will be turned into bbq chicken, shredded chicken with rice and veggies, chicken quesadillas, and chicken alfredo with pasta.
The last preparation step is to plan your purchases. Buying in bulk is usually ideal, and the more you get into meal planning and prep, the more you’ll find it useful to buy in bulk. Places such as Sam’s Club or Costco can really help in cost savings.
Read more: 17 Items You Should be Buying in Bulk
If you get really into meal prepping and planning, it may be worth investing in one final tool: an additional freezer. They’re quite affordable, and I use mine to buy more when shopping, and store the overflow in the freezer. It drastically cuts down on my number of trips to the store, resulting in even more time saved!
Habit #6: Reply to Email and Text in Bulk
What do you do when your phone receives a text, or you get an email at work? If your answer is that you reply, then congratulations, you have an opportunity to save time!
Most of us have become wired to take action on messages as soon as we receive them. It makes sense in some ways, because it is easier to tackle the task when it’s in front of you instead of putting it off until later. Or is it?
More often than not, we receive messages as an interruption. We might be “in the zone” hammering away at our work, then our fragile concentration is broken by the notice of a new email. Some studies have found that we can easily lose out on hours of potential productivity from the waste created by switching our focus. Every new notification, text, or email requires a task switch. Even if you only lost one minute of productivity for each one – how many minutes would you lose each day?
Replying to texts and emails should be a task that you complete periodically throughout the day, in a dedicated time slot. When you do them all at once, you are able to regain the time that would have been lost by switching tasks to address each message.
If you read above about planning your day, then this would be one of the time blocks you can set. Alternatively, it could just be rolled into one of the “flex times” we mentioned as well. Whatever your approach, plan a few dedicated time blocks and stick to them.
To get the most out of this approach, you need to make sure you’re not seeing the notices either, because that’s still an unnecessary distraction. Disable your email notifications on your phone. Better yet, set your phone to only download new mail when you’re in the email app – this will save you some battery life too! Mute noisy text messages, especially the group chats. Or for best results, just use your phone’s ‘Do not Disturb’ mode and shut out all the noise.
Habit #7: Efficient Workouts
Too many of us either “don’t have time” for workouts or are unable to complete certain tasks because we spent too much time working out. Hopefully if you follow any of our other tips above, you’ll have more time now, but if you’re still lacking, we got you covered!
There are two main ways to boost our workout efficiency: accomplish something while working out, and reducing the time spent exercising without reducing the results.
Accomplishing something else while working out can take many forms, and is relatively easy to do. It can be as simple as listening to a podcast, audio book, or the news while working out. If you’re on the phone with a customer at work, keep a small weight handy and do some curls while chatting (be mindful of your breathing though). Jog in place for a few minutes when you’re watching TV or Netflix.
A friend of mine explained how they’ve married watching Netflix and exercise together. In short, they’re requiring their self to always do both at the same time. Since they always want to watch Netflix, it means they will always want to work out. And since they will get tired of working out after a while, it means they will always be limited on how much time they can spend on Netflix. It’s a pretty smart system.
Reducing the time spent working out can be a bit more tricky and not work for everyone, depending on your fitness goals. The primary means of reducing workout time is by adopting a method of workout call High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
HIIT is designed to give you the same level of calorie burn as a “normal” workout, in roughly half the time (numbers can vary). There’s a lot of science to explain why it works, but none of that really matters as long as it produces the results, right? I’m not a fitness professional, so I won’t be covering anything on this topic, but it’s worth looking into if you’re intrigued by getting more out of your workouts.
Keep in mind that HIIT is not for everyone, and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t seem like something you want/can do. I don’t personally do it because I find it easier to listen to audio books while doing a more ‘traditional’ work out.
We’ve covered a lot in this article, and I hope you were able to find some inspiration for getting more time back in your life.
Remember that you don’t need to adopt all of these as even just 1 new habit could save you an hour a day. If you feel compelled to implement more than 1 new habit, I strongly encourage you to only implement one at a time. Too much change too quickly will often set us up for failure.
As with any new habit, the key to building it and keeping it going is just consistency. Try tracking your progress and time saved so that you can see the improvements, which will keep your more motivated.
Let us know down below if you have any other habits that help you save time!
Bonus: Improve Your Work Commute
Many of us probably don’t have a commute right now, but probably will again in the not too distant future when the world goes back to normal. For those of you that do, or to prepare for when that day arrives, be sure to check out our 6 Ways to Maximize Your Commute to Work.
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