We’ve all got a hundred reasons why we don’t do the things we know we need to do—whether it’s exercise, eat healthfully, get our finances in order, or clean out the garage.
Most of these hundred reasons boil down to one excuse—not enough time.
The thing is, we all get the same 168 hours a week. Even if you work 50 of those hours and sleep 56, that’s still 62 hours a week at your disposal. That’s a mighty big chunk!
It’s not that the time doesn’t exist. It’s that we’re not present for it. When you get sucked in to binge-watching or shopping online, time feels short because you haven’t been paying attention.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the art of paying attention. Here are five ways to pay better attention to how you spend your time, so that you can get more of the stuff that matters done.
1. See where it’s going
To really become more mindful of your time and how you spend it, you’ve got to examine where it’s going. Meaning, you’ve got to track it…
For the next seven days, jot down everything you do that takes more than 10 minutes. There will be insights—perhaps even surprises—waiting for you when you go back and add up how many hours you spent doing different things. Once you know your baseline, you can see where your wiggle room is. I promise you, the wiggle room is there.
2. Re-think the to-do list
Think of putting a large rock into a big salad bowl—there won’t be room for anything else in the bowl. But if you break the big rock down in to a lot of smaller rocks, boom, more space for other things.
Instead of putting something big—such as “turn in that big project”—on your list, break out the smaller steps that will get you there. Seeing your progress is motivating.
3. Find the right time
Look to your natural rhythms to decide when you’ll do what. First, figure out when you are most productive. This is so simple but so powerful—do your most important work then! Just as important, don’t use your prime hours for menial things, like paying bills or tracking down a form that your son or daughter needs for school. You can do those at after dinner, or before work.
Another tip I got from time management smarty-pants Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It, is to spend 20-30 minutes on Friday afternoon planning the next week, because you know you’re not really getting work done then anyway and it will help you dive in on Monday morning.
4. Take more breaks
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but a big piece of why we distract ourselves with mindless Facebook-ing is that the brain needs breaks—despite the labor laws, your noodle was not designed to function continually from 9 to 5.
When you choose to step away from your desk and do something even remotely physical, you give your brain the chance to refresh. This could be as simple as taking a lap around your office, or sitting on the floor and taking five deep belly breaths. I work from home, so I will get up and go chop vegetables for that night’s dinner. Focusing on where my hands are in relation to the knife blade helps me clear the cobwebs from my brain, and 9 times out of 10 I get a new idea for whatever it is I’m working on.
5. Stack your life
Look for opportunities to combine several areas of your life in to one activity. Say, for example, you need to pick up some milk, return a phone call, and exercise. Instead of doing each thing individually, you could walk to the store while talking on the phone, meeting all three requirements in a third of the time.
This isn’t just about saving time. It’s about getting creative and looking for opportunities that will give you time for all the things that are important to you and for those you are obligated to do.
What are your best mindful time management tips? I would love to hear them! Come share them on the Acacia Facebook page. See you there!