Why You Don’t Have Enough Time (And How to Have More)
I already know your biggest problem.
Because, I have that same problem and so do millions of other people across the globe.
To quote the internets, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I don’t know a more true statement in all of history.
It seems that no matter how much time we have, it’s never enough.
It seems the perfect excuse for any situation is simply that we don’t have time.
But, it’s not true. We actually have enough time. In fact, in most cases, we have plenty of time. We just have trouble realizing it.
Why we think we don’t have enough time
There are two main reasons why we think we don’t have enough time.
First, we waste a large amount of time. And, second, we don’t use the time we have wisely.
To sum it up, we procrastinate and watch too much TV.
This may seem like a joke, but I’m dead serious.
If you think you don’t have enough time, it’s probably because you are wasting a big chunk of your day each day doing something completely unproductive, like watching TV, or it’s because when you do sit down to work, you spend more time procrastinating instead of actually getting what you need to do done.
I've ranted before on the dangers of watching TV. I don’t watch any TV myself and very rarely even watch a movie. But, it’s not just TV that is the problem. I pick on TV, because it is easy to pick on. Most people would get back two-to-four hours a day if they just quit watching TV—more than enough time to do whatever it is you claim to not have enough time for.
The real problem is anything that is taking your time, but not giving you anything in return. I’m not saying that you should spend all your time working, but what I am saying is that whatever activity you are doing with your time, you should be getting some tangible benefit from it.
But TV relaxes me, you say. Really? Does it? I mean yes, it feels good to plop down in front of the TV and laugh at some silly sitcom character’s latest plight, but does it really relax you so much that you get more time out of it than what you put into it?
What I mean by this is that if you stopped watching TV, and instead did something else with your time, do you honestly think you’d be less productive at everything else you did, because you were not as “relaxed?”
I keep picking on TV, but maybe your waste of time is playing World of Warcraft online, playing on social networks, reading the news, or even spending an inordinate amount of time going through some ritual to get ready for work in the morning.
Figuring out where your time is going
Your first step on your quest to reclaiming your time is to track it.
Look, I’m going to be honest with you here. This part isn’t going to be fun and you are not going to want to do it correctly, but if you really want to know where your time is going, you are going to have to start tracking it—at least temporarily.
Here is what I want you to do:
First, make a sketch of where you think your time is going. Pull out a piece of paper, or print out a sheet from a daily time planner and chart exactly where you think you spend your time during the day.
Make this chart pretty detailed. If you think you get up at 7:00 AM, put that down. Put down how long it takes you to get ready for work and what time you are out the door. Put how long it takes you to “settle in.” Put how long you work. How long you take for lunch. Put it all down and chart it on a 24 hour timeline.
Now, just looking at this “sketch,” you’ll probably already have a good idea of where you are wasting your time. But, here is the clincher: It’s not even accurate.
So, here is what you do next:
After you have your chart of how you think you spend your day, get another blank schedule and carry it around with you for at least three days. Plot exactly how you spend your day.
Yes, this is tedious. Yes, you won’t want to do it, but do it anyway. Track exactly how long it takes you to eat lunch—just don’t show your boss. Track exactly how long it takes you to “settle in.” (Again, you might not want to show your boss that one either.) And, don’t forget that TV time.
Ok, so once you’ve done this you’ll have two things:
- How you think you spend your time
- How you actually spend your time
Now, the only thing you are missing is…
How you actually want to spend your time
The next, step—and you may have guessed it already—is to chart how you’d actually like to spend your time each day. What is your ideal schedule?
Using the information about how you are actually spending your day and how you thought you were spending your day, you should be able to come up with an ideal division of your time for a typical day.
You might end up having a few different schedules for different days of the week, but this is the first step to actually taking back control of your time—and your life.
Think about it this way: You probably know where you are spending your money. Well, let me take that back. If you are financially responsible, you know where you are spending your money. If you aren’t financially responsible, you at least have to make a conscious effort to spend money—it doesn’t happen automatically. You usually have to pull out a card or some cash.
Spending time though, seems to have no cost associated with it. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, it’s not because you are actually living in time-proverty, it’s because you are not actually aware of how you are spending it. You need a time budget.
Now, let me say this right off the bat: You are not going to perfectly live your pre-planned schedule. That is ok. You don’t have to, you just have to be close.
You aren’t going to be able to change everything overnight. The reason you spend your time like you do is because of the ingrained habit that you’ve formed over years or even decades. It takes time to develop new habits to replace old ones.
So, you are going to have to go through a bit of a transition period, while you recalibrate your schedule from the default way you are currently spending—wasting—your time, to the new budgeted schedule of how you want to spend your time.
You’ll probably find that you actually have time to do the things you claimed you didn’t have time to do—now that you’ve actually planned them into your schedule.
If you still find that you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do, you’ll really have to question whether or not you really want to do it, or if you are even trying to do too much.
It’s all about priorities
The whole point of this exercise—of this blog post—is to make you realize that time management is all about priorities.
What I mean to say by this is not that your priorities determine how you spend your time, but rather that how you spend your time shows you what your priorities currently are.
You have to understand your current priorities in order to create new ones or to lower the value of current ones.
By tracking how you are actually spending your time, you are learning about your current priorities.
By projecting how you think you are spending your time, you are indicating what you think your current priorities are.
By actually scheduling your time, you are setting your priorities.
So, if you do all this and still don’t have enough time to learn how to cook, get your degree, get a better job, start that side project, or even start a blog, it’s not really because you don’t have enough time, it’s because you choose to spend your time somewhere else.
(Also, if you are interested in more about this topic, I recommend the book: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time)
But, didn’t you say something about not using time wisely?
So, we’ve only really solved half of the problem here.
Remember how I said there were two main problems? That not only were you wasting a large amount of time, but you also weren’t using that time wisely?
We’ve already covered wasting time. If you are allocating the time in your day how you would like to allocate it, time is no longer being wasted. You are using your time exactly how you want to be using it.
To be clear, this could include watching TV or playing video games. As long as you have made a conscious decision of how you want to be spending your time and that is how you are doing it, you aren’t wasting that time at all. (You might not be meeting your objectives in life, or accomplishing what you want to accomplish, but at least you are making the conscious choice to do so—not blaming it on the lame excuse of not having enough time.)
Now, about using time wisely.
This really boils down to productivity and procrastination.
If you’ve already budgeted your time, the only other thing you can do to get back more time is to reduce the time budgeted things take.
If you lollygag your way through getting ready for work in the morning and something that should take you one hour takes you two hours, you are not using your time wisely. I won’t say wasted, because you planned out that time, so it’s not truly wasted, but you could have accomplished the same goal in a lot less time.
The same goes with “settling in for work,” or even getting a task done at work. The more you procrastinate and choose to use your time in an unwise manor, the longer you have to allocate for the various things you are doing.
But I can’t cut down my nine-to-five, so why bother
Now, you may say, well John, that is nice and all, but I have to be at my desk from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, what difference does it make if I use that time “unwisely” or not?
It might not make that much of a difference to your paycheck, but it might make a whole lot of difference to your bottom line and your career.
If you can accomplish more work and learn more things during your nine-to-five, over time this is going to add up to a huge benefit.
Besides, not everything falls into that nine-to-five category, and even though most employers would probably frown on it, wouldn’t it be better to spend time working on some side-project or personal development project than browsing Facebook?
Let’s be honest here. We all waste time at work. At the very least we could waste that time in a productive manner.
Getting serious about lost time
I get most of my blog posts done in under two hours. It literally takes me less than two actual hours from when I sit down to write the blog post until it is scheduled and ready to go.
That might seem like a lot of time, but considering that many of my blog posts are around 2,000-3,000 words and contain a bunch of images and links, that is a pretty short amount of time.
The secret to how I get my blog posts done so quickly each week is that when I sit down to write a blog post, I sit down and actually write it. I don’t sit and ponder the subject for an hour, forget what I was doing and check Facebook or my email. I don’t write a little and then go grab a snack. I sit down and I write until I am done.
I make an efficient use of my time.
You should apply this kind of work-ethic to everything you are doing if you really want to maximize your time.
It’s not for the faint of heart though. When I first started using the Pomodoro technique and actually focusing on making the most of my time and not procrastinating, it took a lot out of me. I did not expect how exhausting it would be.
For a detailed account of how I plan my week, check out my YouTube video.
And to learn more about how I use the Pomodoro technique, you might want to check out my book “Soft Skills: The Developer’s life manual.”
The point is: there is a lot of hidden lost time in the tasks that you are doing that you aren’t doing very efficiently. If it took me four hours to write a blog post instead of two, I’d get a lot less done each day. I’ve have to choose some things I couldn’t get done.
Summing it all up
Ok, so to sum it all up, if you think you don’t have enough time and you want to get back more of your time, here is what you need to do:
First, go through the process of charting how you think you spend your time, how you actually spend your time and how you want to spend your time.
Once you do this, you’ll shift your priorities and hopefully get rid of some big time wasters that are taking up time you’d rather be using somewhere else.
This should be the single biggest way you find more time. It may involve dropping some things that turn out not to be that important, but at least you’ll be making a conscious choice.
If you still don’t have enough time, the only other place to squeeze time from is tasks you are already doing.
If you can do things more efficiently and use your time more wisely, you’ll get a lot more done and have a lot more time on your hands.
Try to find one or two things you do in your day that take up a large amount of time and see if you can cut them in half or at least reduce them by a third.
All the bonus time you get from implementing these techniques you can allocate to other things you want to be doing, but just haven’t had enough time for.
It’s time to stop using that old excuse of not having enough time and to actually do something and make it so you do.
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