Time is the great equaliser of man. No matter who we are or where we come from, we are each given 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. Most of the time, these 24 hours don’t feel enough. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could draw a +2 or +4 card just like in UNO to add a few extra hours to our day? An hour or two to catch up with friends, relax or sleep in? Alas, 24 hours are all we have.
In recent years, time management has become an increasingly popular topic as we seek to answer the age-old question: how do we make our hours stretch further? So, let’s have a look at what works for different people.
What works for the experts
‘Expert’ is a rather subjective term. It could refer to someone who’s well-versed in a topic through academic research or workplace experience, or someone who has published relevant literature that we often refer to for advice or guidance.
The expert that I’m turning to today is Timothy Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. His book talks about escaping the 9 to 5 grind by creating work systems supported by automation that ultimately frees up hours in your schedule. The book offers a number of time management solutions to streamline tasks and minimise the number of hours spent on work altogether.
1. Pareto’s Law
According to Pareto’s Law, 80% of outputs are a result of 20% of your inputs. We handle numerous tasks every day and this law suggests that 80% of the results we enjoy are a product of just 20% of our time and effort. So, Ferriss urges us to take a good, long look at our daily tasks and identify which 20% of the lot provides the most value. He believes that the best use of our time is to focus on this high-yield 20% of tasks and cut out (if possible) the remaining 80%.
When I first started blogging, I spent way too much time obsessing over taking the right shots for my blog post. I’m not a very good photographer and I neither have nor know how to use all the fancy picture-taking equipment. Despite this, I firmly held on to the notion that my pictures were value-adding and I needed to take them myself even if it meant spending a lot of time for very little results.
Ultimately, when I started thinking about which of my actions produced the greatest output for me in terms of satisfaction, it was writing and engaging with my audience, not taking pictures. So, I decided to focus my efforts on writing and use stock images where applicable.
Of course, there are times when I want to use pictures I’ve taken myself for a more personal touch. But for other instances, if I can use a professionally taken stock image to convey my message, why not? Applying Pareto’s Law in this context has helped me save time, improve the aesthetic quality of my work, and focus on what gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction.
2. Parkinson’s Law
According to Parkinson’s Law, a task will expand to fill the time allocated to it. When we allocate a lot of time to a certain task, we tend to dilly-dally or spend too much time focusing on minor details. Ferriss suggests that setting shorter deadlines for ourselves helps to increase focus and get things done faster.
Of course, certain projects are rather big and require longer deadlines. But for other smaller tasks, this approach can be quite useful. Whenever I set aside the whole day for writing a blog post, I do tend to procrastinate and take frequent breaks in between because in my mind, I think I have a lot of time. Alternatively, whenever I set aside an hour or two for writing in between other chores or appointments, I tend to get my work done faster. I beat around the bush far less and I expand my points more succinctly than I otherwise would have.
Batching refers to doing recurring tasks all at once instead of one by one at different time intervals. For example, checking and replying emails once or twice a day at specific times as opposed to every time you get an email notification.
Ferriss explains that all tasks have a setup time, a so-called prep period before you really get into the zone. So, constantly switching between different tasks may not be very time efficient. Instead, handling one set of tasks at a time, completing them, and moving on could cut down on transition time.
I find batching quite useful for a number of tasks. In the kitchen, I try to batch make certain things that I’ll use throughout the week such as ginger-garlic paste. This saves me the time and effort of having to grind up small batches every time I need to use it. I also try to batch make the ‘Adulting Tips’ that I post on Instagram. Instead of switching between writing and designing Instagram posts every day, I dedicate an hour or so on Fridays to compile a set of tips for the week. The benefits here are two-fold: i) I feel at ease that this part of my work is done for the week, and ii) with this completed, I can focus on my writing.
What works for friends and family
4. Use shortcuts
I recall having a conversation with a dear friend once about keyboard shortcuts. I don’t really use it much in my line of work, but in some fields, I imagine it could be a game-changer. For those whose jobs require extensive usage of spreadsheets or Excel, learning and using keyboard shortcuts could shed a few seconds off each command or action, cumulatively saving you some time for other things.
Similarly, shortcuts in other areas of our life can save us precious time as well. In the kitchen, for example, using bottled sauces or store-board frozen parathas could cut down your cooking time on busy days. Another so-called shortcut that I swore by when I had a corporate job - please resist the urge to laugh here - was to buy office attire that didn’t really need ironing. If you laughed, well that’s alright, we can still be friends, I find it kind of funny too. But it definitely used to save me time in the morning, that’s for sure!
5. Make time for everything meaningful in your life
A wise man who has hopefully passed down some of that wisdom to me once told me that our plans should include time for everything meaningful in our lives – family, friends, work, hobbies. When plans are skewed to only one direction, life becomes unbalanced and unsustainable.
A great deal of our time is spent at work. Work provides us an opportunity to feel professionally fulfilled and make social connections with colleagues, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Making time for family and friends is important. Jobs may come and go; our loved ones are the true constants in this life. However, in this digital age, it’s hard to leave work behind at the workplace, especially now that more of us are working from home.
So, the wise man I told you about. This is what he used to do. He had a pretty hectic job, but he always made time for his kids. No phones at the dinner table, everyone ate together and talked about their day. After dinner, a game of UNO or whatever else was trending at the time. A knock at his door for a chat or a quick question was rarely ever turned away. The wise man taught me not through his words, but through his actions that in the pursuit of success and productivity, we should never neglect what matters most. If you haven’t guessed it yet, the wise man is my father.
What works for me
I’m not an expert in time management by a long shot, but here are a few things that have worked for me over the years:
6. Getting important tasks done by noon
There are a couple of benefits to tackling the most significant tasks of the day by lunchtime. First, you create momentum to move forward. You’ve completed the most important tasks, you can now enjoy your lunch break and come back to tackle whatever remains before calling it a day.
Second, you prevent significant tasks from being further delayed by the afternoon slump. Let’s face it, post-lunch is rarely the most productive time of the day and it’s probably better suited for repetitive, less taxing tasks such as replying emails and making calls as opposed to finalising that important report that’s due tomorrow.
7. Have a clearly defined game plan set out for the day
I’m a sucker for to-do lists. I think it’s the type-A side of me that finds joy in making a list for everything in life from grocery lists to travel checklists. In the evenings, I quite like drawing up a to-do list for the next day. I’ve come to learn that the devil is indeed in the details.
To-do lists with specific tasks and timelines are often the most effective for me. For example, a list that specifies ‘sweep and mop the living room, fold the laundry and change the floor mats’ is likely to yield better results compared to one with the general ‘do chores.’
I find the app ‘Todoist’ very useful when it comes to game planing. It has a simple user interface where you can easily enter to-do items for the week at specific times and cross them out when you’re done. Before going to bed, I think about tasks I need to get done the next day and put it into the app with estimated start and end times.
Of course, it’s not possible to plan out our day to a tee; some tasks take more or less time than originally allocated, but that’s alright. As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Ultimately, different things work for different people. Give a few of these tips a try and gauge which works best for you. Once we make the best use of our 24 hours, no +2, +4 or other power cards will be needed! Also, if you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a huge UNO fan.