“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” – Herbert Simon.
Finding time for productive things or tasks seems to be a big problem for people these days, as smartphones, email, and social media inundate us all with a constant barrage of texts, conversations, news, and information.
Some activities you probably spend a lot of your spare time on (if you do any of them on your boss’s time you might suddenly find yourself with a surfeit of spare time) include:
- Just about anything else on your smartphone
- Watching TV. From Wikipedia: US adults are watching five hours and four minutes of TV per day on average (35.5 h/week, slightly more than 77 days per year). So firstly you need to get off that couch if you want to do anything productive!
- Computer games. Ok, one of my fave hobbies – not to an obsessive degree though. What’s obsessive? Probably an average of three hours a day or more. At least they’re interactive, which is more than you can say for TV. They can chew through an amazing amount of time though, as many a hardcore gamer can attest.
- Browsing the internet.
- Haircuts. It’s not just the haircut itself which uses so much time, but also traveling to the location, finding a park, and waiting for your turn. (Alternatives: get a friend or relative to cut it for you, or you could try a DIY with Flowbee or Robocut.)
More Productive Activities
And then there are all the (mostly) more productive, but still time-consuming activities most of us engage in on a daily basis:
- Your job
- Dealing with family (partner, kids, relatives)
- Exercising (if not, you probably should be!)
- Sleeping (a third of every day on average)
- Going out
- Taking care of pets
If you have trouble finding time for reading, a good idea is to carry an ebook with you at all times, or install a reading app on your phone. I’ve installed eReader Prestigio on my phone and use it frequently, though I prefer my Sony Reader for it’s larger screen.
Personally I prefer to do all my reading on an electronic device, as I like being able to easily switch between books and choose my font size (not to mention that they’re much less bulky than books.) And if you can’t read (while driving for instance) read with your ears via an audiobook.
For us bloggers, finding time for writing is often a big hassle, especially if you’re also trying to hold down a day job, or a Mom with kids to look after.
Suggestions For Finding Time
A few suggestions for finding time to write:
- Install a voice recorder app on your phone (I use and recommend Smart Voice Recorder myself.) Voice Recorder is another good choice. You can then transcribe the voice files using a program such as Transcribe or Dragon Naturally Speaking.
- Take public transport instead of driving. Bring a notebook and practice your writing instead of your driving skills. It doesn’t need to be perfect – just bang out a first draft and polish it up later.
- Turn off all electronic devices, and shut yourself into a quiet place (use headphones or earplugs if necessary.)
- Get up an hour or so earlier in the morning, and focus entirely on your writing.
- If you can’t/won’t turn your phone off, at least turn off email notifications.
- Wait until late at night, after your kids/partner/roommates have gone to bed.
- Decide on a set time every day to write (use a scheduler), and stick to it.
- Set yourself a deadline – having a goal can be a great motivator. “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – Douglas Adams.
Most people underestimate how much free time they actually have in their day. As Sarah Todd wrote in ‘Quartzy’, “It was weird: Once I’d identified an activity I enjoyed, I seemed to have no trouble finding time to do it. The problem, I realized, wasn’t that I had no time for leisure activities. It was that when I hit empty spaces in my day, I had no go-to hobby, so I would fill up that time with other, less fulfilling stuff.”
Another writer, Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn is a morning person:
“I wrote my first four books when I was working full-time as a consultant in Brisbane, Australia. I would get up at 5 a.m and write before I went to work because once I was at work, I didn’t have any brain space left for anything creative.
I would get up at 5:00, write for an hour and then get ready for work. I would do that three times a week because I like my sleep!”
Joanna Penn dispenses some tips on finding time to write:
Finding time for reading, writing, hobbies, or anything else often comes down to how motivated you are to do those things. If you’re highly motivated then you’ll almost certainly find or create sufficient time, even if it means sacrificing something else you enjoy doing (sleeping for example.)
Email (both reading and answering) seems to be a big time sink for many people these days. If you often find you’re answering similar questions with similar responses, Canned Responses in Gmail can be a great time saver. You only need to make small edits such as the person’s name before sending the message – a great time saver!
Once you set your mind to it, you can usually find many ways to save time, even if it’s only a few minutes here and there.
For instance on a route I regularly travel, there’s always a long queue at the lights to turn across traffic, so that if you join the end of the queue you’ll have to wait about three traffic light changes to make the turn. Instead I simply turn the corner in the left lane (I’m in Australia – right lane in the US) and do a U-turn, then cross with the next lights.
And that’s only one instance of many – after several decades of driving I’m convinced that most people put their brains in neutral when they get behind the wheel.
And speaking of driving, traffic jams can be another great time sink for many. Do everything you can to avoid them, including traveling at different times of the day, planning alternate routes, and even moving house if your situation is bad enough.
When you consider that thirty minutes a day equates to about 7.5 days over the course of a year you’ll realize it’s a non-trivial concern.
I wouldn’t recommend a motorbike though to cut through traffic – doctors don’t call motorcyclists “organ donors” for nothing. Though I have in the past used a bicycle to get to work, which depending on your situation can often be surprisingly quicker (and healthier) than commuting.
Do you have any secrets of your own when it comes to finding time? Let me know in the comments.
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