13 Time-Saving Tips to Free Up Two Hours Every Day
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know we’re big on reading here at NJlifehacks. And big on journaling. And big on meditation.
But who’s got time for that?
How do we find the time to read 50+ books a year, meditate regularly, keep fit and healthy, and write in our morning and evening journals daily – while growing our business and enjoying our social lives?
The answer is simple. If you want more time for personal growth activities or plain-old fun, you need to stop wasting so much time on lower-value activities. You need to get clear on what matters and cut out the rest.
Here are 13 tips that will free up at least an hour or two every single day for you to use on personal growth or leisure.
These suggestions vary from the basic to the absurd, and they’re certainly not musts for everyone. The goal, however, is the same for all of these tips – to make your life as uncomplicated as possible and to save you hours every day.
1. Reduce the Small, Seemingly Inconsequential Time Sucks
It’s not necessarily the big things that steal away your time. It’s often the small, seemingly inconsequential ones that add up throughout the day.
It’s obvious that watching two hours of a dumb television show is a big time waster. It’s not so obvious that a few minutes of Instagram checking, a few minutes of chit-chatting, a few minutes of Web surfing, or a few minutes of snacking can add up to hours wasted every day.
We’ll tackle various small time sucks throughout this article. For now, here are a few examples to be aware of:
- “Oh, that looks like an interesting video.”
- “Where is my laptop charger?
- “What am I going to wear today?”
- “Where am I going to eat?”
- “What should I have for breakfast?”
- “It will only take a minute.”
- “I’m just checking Instagram real quick.”
- “Let me check my emails real quick.”
2. Reduce Switches
Switches are one example of a small, seemingly inconsequential time suck. A switch happens when you move from one activity to another – from eating to reading to conversing with a co-worker to social media checking to brushing your teeth to snacking to getting back to the initial task.
Each switch snatches a tiny amount of time away from you. Sometimes it’s a few seconds; often a few minutes. Instead of interrupting work and grabbing three coffees and four snacks, why not push yourself to work for as long as possible and grabbing only one or two coffees and only one snack? This reduces the amount of switching you do, which frees up more time.
Switching doesn’t just cost you time; it comes with other efficiency costs, as explained in this article.
3. Use Batching
One way to reduce switches and their associated costs is to use batching. Think of it this way. You don’t do the laundry every single time a piece of clothing needs to be washed. You wait for a certain mass of dirty clothes to accumulate, and then you do the laundry. Batching the laundry together takes less time than doing a round of washing for every piece of clothing.
Batching is the process of grouping together tasks that require similar resources, so as to reduce switches and save time and efficiency. You may want to do multiple phone calls at once, instead of spread throughout the entire day or week. You may wish to reply to emails all at once, instead of spread throughout the day. The same goes for grocery shopping, cleaning, preparing food, or watering plants.
One way to use batching is through something called a maintenance day, a strategy used by productivity expert Chris Bailey: “I have a Sunday ritual called ‘maintenance day.’ On maintenance day, I lump all of the boring tasks that most people do throughout the week into one solid block of time on one day. Every Sunday, for straight five or six hours, I do every undesirable task that people typically do during the week. I do the laundry, clean, go grocery shopping, create a meal and workout plan for the week, cut my nails, water my plants, and everything else maintenance-y under the sun.”
Personally, I use a combination of daily, weekly, and monthly batching. Laundry, cleaning, and other maintenance tasks get lumped together and get done during 1-2 hour windows whenever I find the time. All things email happen together and only during pre-determined time slots. Phone calls get batched together. Recordings and writing of any kind get batched together. Various leisure activities or exercise often get batched together as well. Mornings are almost always focused time, while afternoons and evenings may be administrative or leisure time.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, writes about a similar strategy called Forced Focus: “Here are the rules: All work must be done in blocks of at least 30 minutes. If I start editing a paper, for example, I have to spend at least 30 minutes editing. If I need to complete a small task, like handing in a form, I have to spend at least 30 minutes doing small tasks. Crucially, checking email and looking up information online count as small tasks. If I need to check my inbox or grab a quick stat from the web, I have to spend at least 30 minutes dedicated to similarly small diversions.”
Batch similar tasks that require similar resources together, so you reduce the number of switches and their associated costs.
4. Eat Only Two Meals Per Day
Eating takes time. Every time you eat, whether it’s a small snack or a proper meal, you’re forced to switch. You need a few minutes to get the food, a few minutes to prepare it, a few minutes to eat it.
I don’t eat more than twice per day, my first meal coming at noon and the second at around six p.m.. This allows me to work uninterruptedly on important, high-value activities for five to seven hours every morning. During that time, I consume black coffee, tea, various nootropic substances, and chewing gum.
5. Eat the Same Healthy, Fast, and Simple Meals Over and Over Again
Eating the same healthy, fast, and simple meals over and over again saves time through various means: 1) You don’t lose time deciding what to eat. 2) You’re very efficient at preparing the meals because you have lots of practice. 3) You know which groceries to purchase and where you find them in the supermarket.
If you’re curious, my five main go-to meals are:
- A big green salad with sardines, an avocado, carrots, salt, pepper, various herbs, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil. (Prep time: 5 minutes)
- A big plate of steamed veggies with grass-fed butter and cheese. (Prep time: 10-15 minutes for cutting the vegetables; 20 minutes wait time while they’re being cooked)
- Scrambled eggs with left-over veggies. (Prep time: 5-10 minutes)
- Smoothie with whey protein, cinnamon, frozen berries, and cacao powder. (Prep time: 5 minutes)
- Bulletproof coffee
6. Wear the Same Outfit(s) Over and Over Again
“I just wear the same pair of jeans every day. Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s a speech, whether it’s going to see the Queen, you know, whatever it is.” – Richard Branson
Branson isn’t the only highly successful person who wears the same outfits all the time. Mark Zuckerberg, famous for his gray T-shirts, once explained, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. ... I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”
Barack Obama once said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Wearing the same outfit every day – or wearing the same outfits over and over again – saves you time and energy. You’re no longer forced to wonder what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to combine those jeans with, or whether you’re happy with your look or not. You pick an outfit and move on to more essential matters.
7. Stop Saying “Yes” All the Time
Direct response marketing legend Dan Kennedy once said, “If you refuse to limit and control access to you, the war is lost even if you win a few battles here or there.”
You don’t have time for everything or everyone. You won’t move forward in your personal growth if you keep saying yes to every opportunity or request that comes your way. Yes, you’ll disappoint a few people here and there, but that’s the price you pay for putting your own needs and dreams first.
Marketing strategist Dorie Clark puts it well, “Managing your time is a constant balance — too loose, and you spin-off in a million unproductive directions; too tight, and you eliminate serendipity and come off like a controlling primadonna. We all have to find the procedures that work for our lives and schedules, but it’s important to do it in a way that doesn’t needlessly alienate others.”
A simple way to determine if it’s a yes or a no is to follow Derek Sivers’ advice: If it’s not a “hell yes!” then it’s a “no thanks.”
If you’re someone who keeps agreeing to stuff because you’re terrible at saying no, check out the following article: How to Protect Your Schedule and Say No With Strength Instead of Guilt
8. Don’t Use Voicemail
Listening to voicemail is often a waste of time. To protect yourself, don’t set up voicemail at all. Or have it say, “I don’t use voicemail, email me at ________.”
9. Don’t Respond
You’re not obligated to answer every request you get. People can followup if necessary.
10. Be Happy to Appear Clueless in Extraneous Matters
Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”
Nobody cares if you’re not informed about the latest Trump scandal, Sports results, or other extraneous matters. Get your priorities straight, and stop worrying so much about the rest.
11. Reduce Distractions and Interruptions
Scenario: You need to finish a project at work before you can go home. Instead of beginning immediately, you get distracted by an Instagram notification and end up scrolling through the feed for a couple of minutes. Then you do some work, but your co-worker interrupts you to ask about your weekend. Five additional minutes gone before you’re back to working on the project. And on and on it goes.
A task that in and of itself takes thirty minutes takes an additional ten because you’ve allowed yourself to get distracted and interrupted. Ten minutes that you could have used for reading, meditating, journaling, or spending with your family – wasted.
Be honest with yourself. How much time do you squander browsing social media, checking email, chit-chatting with co-workers, or watching YouTube videos? If you want more time for the things that matter, reduce distractions and interruptions.
For specific strategies, check out this article: Steve Jobs Focus Routine and 12 More Tips to Eliminate Distractions.
12. Outsource (Duh!)
Jonas and I don’t draw the lovely images you see on our blog ourselves. Neither of us particularly enjoys drawing. Neither of us is particularly good at it. And neither of us thinks it’s the most productive use of our valuable time.
So we outsource the drawings to the much more talented Anastasia. We then use that free time to write books, publish articles, practice our philosophies, or go out and play some football. If you want more time for high-value and fun activities in your life, delegate the things you don’t want to do or don’t need to do. In other words, outsource.
The list of tasks you could outsource is nearly endless:
- grocery shopping
- cleaning the house
- purchasing gifts
- paying bills
- moving the lawn
- doing the laundry
- preparing meals
- and so on!
Management and business legend Peter Drucker put it well: “Do what you do best. Outsource the rest.”
13. Keep Track
What gets measured gets improved. To reduce spending, measure how you’re spending your money. To walk more steps every day, measure how many steps you’re walking. To reduce time wasting, measure how you’re using your time.
Simple. Yet proven and effective. When researchers study the effects of an intervention, asking participants to track an outcome helps them improve. Asking people to wear a pedometer will make them walk at least one extra mile per day, on average, and improve their overall activity levels by 27%.
You don’t even need to try to improve how you’re spending your time. Just keep track of it, and you’ll improve automatically. Here are three excellent options to track your time (I’ve personally used all of them, and they all get the job done):
- Use plain old pen and paper. Keep it on your desk or carry it with you. As you go throughout your day, write down what you’re doing and for how long.
- Use an excel spreadsheet. Self-explanatory.
- Use a time-tracking app, such as Toggl. There exist plenty of apps designed specifically to track your time. Toggl happens to be the one I’ve used so far.
Do this tracking for 3-7 days (yes, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass!), and you’ll find yourself using your time more and more wisely.
Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life comes to mind:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”
“So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
P.S. This Article is Part of a 3-Part Series on Mastering Your Time
This is the first article in a mini series on mastering your time. We tackle three common issues people have with their time management: wasting too much time, saying yes to too many requests, and getting distracted too easily. Each issue is tackled in a separate article.
- 13 Time-Saving Tips to Free Up Two Hours Every Day
- How to Protect Your Schedule: Say “NO” With Strength Instead of Guilt
- Steve Jobs‘ Focus Routine and 11 More Tips to Eliminate Distractions and Find Your Flow