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How to stop being busy (and get more done)

Imagine what you could do if you *finally* had enough time

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By Brigid Moss on

Anyone else feel like you never have enough time? That the more you try to plan, the more you feel you’re running out of it? Sure, you can make lists, schedule in 10-minute intervals, journal, even bullet journal, but the days are still only 24-hours long. Well, gather round, because Laura Vanderkam – author of a series of bestselling time-management books – has discovered the secret to feeling less busy but still getting shit done.

In her new book, Off The Clock, Vanderkam uncovered her time-bending formula by surveying over 900 busy people with full-time jobs and kids on whether they felt they had enough time or were time-starved. Amazingly, she found the difference in work hours between the two groups was minimal – just 18 minutes a day.

So, possibly, she thought, it’s not having more minutes free that makes the difference between whether you feel like a happy achiever or a headless chicken. “It wasn’t that the people who felt really busy and starved for time worked many many more hours,” she says. “Which is reassuring for those who have to work 14 hours a day and there’s not much they can do about it.”

What really matters, she discovered, is your mindset. You can be calm, with a lot to do, if you see yourself as in control. And you can get “time freedom” by starting with “time discipline”, which basically means being mindful about not wasting time and by planning in stuff that makes life worth living, the stuff you love.

You begin Vanderkam’s system by tracking your time in half-hour chunks for a week, or if that sounds too much, a couple of work days and a Saturday or Sunday. “Nobody knows where all their time goes,” she says. Then, look at your diary and write down what you want to spend more and less time doing. You’re now beginning to make your time your own. Here are a few more of Vanderkam’s time-management gems:

Savouring the present actually stretches your experience of time, says Vanderkam, and makes the good times feel longer. The key is to appreciate how much you’re loving it, while you’re loving it

1 Linger on the good stuff

Vanderkam wants us to plan a “daily vacation” into our day. “This is the idea of trying to savour little bits of good stuff. Plan 15 minutes of something fun every day,” she says. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it does it for you – from watching the sun set to lingering with a coffee and playing the guitar to calling an old friend. Look forward to it, enjoy it while it’s happening, think about it afterwards.”

Savouring the present actually stretches your experience of time, says Vanderkam, and makes the good times feel longer. The key is to appreciate how much you’re loving it, while you’re loving it. You can do this by telling people you’re with, or think about how you’re going to share the moment later. “Any good event can be deepened in these simple, doable ways,” she says.

2 Make small time tweaks

For example, you want to exercise but you’re not sure when you can fit it in. Look at your timesheet. “You may notice you’re up later than you need to be consistently at night. You’re puttering around for 45 minutes before you go to bed,” says Vanderkam. Try to go to bed and get up 30 minutes earlier. Then, two mornings a week, use that time to exercise. Or you may spot a gap at lunchtime, or after work or at the weekend. “It’s always a process – don't expect it to happen overnight.” Vanderkam has found changing over a six-month timeframe works. So ask yourself, what do I want my life look like in six months? What can I do to make that happen?

3 Take real breaks

You know when you’ve read the same email four times in the afternoon because you just cannot concentrate? Or you keep switching jobs and end up falling down the internet hole? “Most people have an energy slump in the afternoon,” says Vanderkam. This is the time for a real break. “You come back with more energy. It helps you get more done.” On a recent stay in the UK, Vanderkam became a big fan of afternoon tea with friends. Or maybe you could take a 20-minute walk to a park to smell the flowers, watch the insects. Exercise, fresh air and friends add to your energy levels, whereas clicking will just drain you.

4 Plan the good stuff first  

“People have it backwards,” Vanderkam thinks. “They put in the fun stuff after they’ve done everything else.” Instead, decide what you want to do at the beginning, then work everything else around that. For example, plan in adventures to create real memories and invest time in the relationships that make you happy and energised, rather than keep you watching the clock. If you feel better after a 45-minute coffee with a friend, do it instead of your emails. After all, you’re always going to answer the emails that really matter.

5 Ask yourself: would I do this tomorrow?

Do you look at your diary every week and think, why did on earth did I say yes to that? You most likely agreed ages ago; we don’t think of the real cost of our time that far ahead. “But other good thing about the six months timeline, is it allows you to say no to future things,” says Vanderkam. You just have to think: would I do this tomorrow? “There are tons of opportunities in life, but time is finite.”

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam is published by Piaktus


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