20 Ways to save time for what is really important

Are you getting the time to do what you know is really important? Of late, I have heard from a number of people how they want to do something but just don’t find the time. This is in important areas like:

· Following a passion
· Dedicated time for reading
· Setting up a learning goal
· Creative activity like painting, writing, speaking
· Introspection and reflection
· Family time
· Keeping up with friends

People ask me how I find time to blog or to pursue creative interests. I do not consider myself as an expert in this area, specially when I see the unfinished items on my list of things to do! However, I do realize that in the past five years, I have become good at using time for doing what is really important. What have I learnt that I can share?

· First, traditional time management techniques are of limited use because demands have become more chaotic and fast-paced
· Second, self-awareness is extremely important – not just about your goals but knowledge about your use of time
· Third, there are relatively simple “personal productivity” and self-improvement techniques that can help

Here are a few that have helped me:

1. Put your cellphone on silent and do not take unscheduled calls

Unscheduled phone calls interrupt and derail you from achieving goals. Not only do they eat up time but they also take you out of the “moment” and flow of activities. Instead, it is better to check your phone and return calls that are important/urgent or just reply with a text message asking for why the caller wants to reach you.

2. Get straight to the point in meetings

I have seen some senior people do this remarkably well. They are well-prepared, to-the-point and well-articulated. By coming straight to the point, I have seen how an hour long meeting can be wrapped up with clear conclusions and action steps in just 15 minutes.

3. Reduce meeting time

Review your calendar and reduce time allocated for meetings. You would be surprised (pleasantly) to note that in some meetings exactly the same result can be achieved in half the time. Of late, I see that we are able to achieve in a half hour meeting what we were achieving in one hour long meetings.

4. Use less email

Email is far overrated as a medium for communication. A good technique is to write ‘one line’ emails. Try to convey everything that is possible in just one sentence. Or at least start from there and expand it to the fewest words possible.

5. Use small pockets of time

Most people are not able to follow their passions because they estimate that it will require dedicated time and wait until the “perfect time” when they have at least 3 or 4 hours for the activity. If there is a single most important personal productivity tip, it is this – use small pockets of time – 15 minutes or half an hour are often extremely useful to move projects along or to complete a task.

6. Create rituals

Most productive people in the world – sports champions, writers, CEOs  develop “rituals” – sometimes quirky personal habits and preferences that help them to stay productive. Here are a few that are interesting and useful:

· Having a small 15 minute activity to do the first thing when you come to office
· Listening to an audio book while you are driving
· As soon as an action point or reminder comes to mind, immediately sending an email
· Reading 5 pages as soon as you get up in the morning
· Calling an old friend or family member for 10 minutes immediately after your lunch break

7. Using automation and templates

We do same or similar things over and over again in our work and personal lives – meetings, emails, clarifications, presentations, reports, spreadsheets, conversations, activities. By looking at the activities closely, it is possible to spot the pattern and to automate many of the activities. These would involve workflows, simple work habits and creating templates that can be re-used for reports and emails.

8. Use mornings

Most successful people start their day early. Morning are a wonderful time for any creative activity. When we start the day late, we are already playing catch-up and under “time pressure”. On the other hand, getting a few things done early in the morning, creates a positive feeling of calm and accomplishment.

9. Use apps for personal productivity

Personal productivity is a huge area with thousands of apps on Android and iOS. I have used Evernote, Pendo, Reminders, Google Calendar for iPhone; Writers and MemoPad for Blackberry; and Werdsmith for iPad. However, sometimes it is easy to get lost in the features of a new app. Also, new ones keep appearing and it can become confusing to keep up. A few simple techniques work well:

· Using email to keep notes
· Emailing yourself for reminders (interesting fact: Steve Jobs used to email himself frequently)
· Simple editors like NotePad; MemoPad or SimpleText – devoid of any distracting features; these are most useful for taking notes and writing

10. Use IM and text messages judiciously

While IM, text messages, WhatsApp are extremely useful for rapid communication, they can also be distracting time-wasters. Here are the best practices that work for these:

· Use them to “leave a message” than for ongoing “chat”
· Conclude the action you want as quickly as possible (preferably mention in just one sentence)
· Do not wait for the other person to be online – leave the message – when they are online, they will attend to the request
· Do not drag the niceties and light chatter beyond a point as that could be distracting (some of it is healthy for relationship building 🙂 )

11. Anticipate what others want

A great way to save time is to anticipate why a specific person could be approaching you. Thinking about that gets you in the right frame to be responsive and to attend to the task quickly:

· Is there a pending request from you? Don’t wait to be reminded; proactively reach out and set the expectation about when you can turn in the deliverable
· Have you turned someone off with your behavior inadvertently? Is the person approaching you to redress the situation; admit it immediately, apologize and build on that. Saves time.
· Have you kept someone waiting for too long? Make a commitment and stick to that.

12. Practice minimalism

Minimalism is the art of getting to an essence of an issue without the external fluff. Many people think of minimalism as “reducing” things or “using less” of something. While it is about using less; it is mainly about removing the unnecessary to “get to the core” of the issue. Practicing minimalism is extremely difficult in a complicated world with overload of information; clutter and ever increasing demands. Some tips:

· Focus on “why” and the end result of activities, conversations, projects and activities
· Search for simplicity (true simplicity is very difficult to achieve because it requires taking in the complexity and then producing something truly simple that covers all the complex issues)
· Asking the right questions:

  • Is this really necessary?
  • What if we take this away? Or simply don’t use it / do it?
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • How can we achieve that with minimum fuss and resources?

13. Get to result in shortest possible time

Specially applicable in meetings and projects – look for fluff; added complexity (people love complexity because they think it makes them look smarter); meaningless steps; unnecessary arguments; series of meetings etc. Cut through that and get to the bottom line, what you really want to achieve, what will make you truly happy.

14. Get the routine and non-value added stuff out of the way fast

A lot of routine activities actually do not add any value. These could be emails; routine approvals; discussions; bureaucracy and processes. Many leaders do these diligently and spend maximum amount of time on such activities. The problem with focusing too much on these activities is that this becomes a habit and after some time you lose the ability to do creative think or to think strategically.

15. Delegate and mentor your team

A great productivity tip is to mentor your team to think for themselves. For example, when they ask for help, approvals, inputs, decisions, instead of providing the easy answer and making them dependent, encourage them to think for themselves. Trust is an extremely important factor and it helps to build a great team. Slowly, you find that your team is applying similar decisions criteria or even surprise you with better solutions.

16. Define processes and systems

Defining a step-by-step process to do something helps to save time – as those steps can be followed the next time. They also make the process independent of the person. This frees you up to do the things that are really important and you want to spend time on.

17. Use calendar to block time

It is good to use the calendar as much as possible – even for small informal interactions. Over time this helps to build personal discipline and track usage of time. It also helps to set expectation with others.

18. Create islands of time on your calendar for creative work, learning, reflection, teaching and mentoring

Creativity is a difficult and sometimes mysterious process and setting up time for it on the calendar often does not work. However, by setting aside time on the calendar, it is possible to train the mind to be prepared for doing non-routine, really important work. If nothing creative happens, that is ok – doing nothing is often the starting point of creativity. Time set aside definitely helps for activities such as:

· Reading
· Learning – for example an online course
· Reflection
· Analysis – what went well or did not
· Interaction with interesting people

19. Battle negativity

This learning is derived from my struggle with negative thoughts. Negativity saps energy, sets you back and keeps you from making progress. I have found that in order to make progress on becoming more productive and using time effectively, managing negativity is extremely important. Some actions that have helped me:

· I follow a number of blogs and writers who focus on positive mindset – there is a lot of great recent research in this area
· Meditation – being mindful of emotions as they arise
· A simple but wonderful technique a friend taught me recently is: be conscious and when a negative thought forms in the mind, replace it with a positive thought

20. Use a journal

Journaling as an activity helps reflection, tracking of time and helps to make more effective usage of time. Journaling is sometimes seen as a difficult and time-taking activity but modern tools can make it fun, easy and insightful. Here is one example that is specially useful –

In the last four months, I have been using the iMoodJournal app on iPhone. It lets you quickly capture high or low moments that you wish to record. Additionally you can assign tags, and rate the experience on a 10 point scale. Over time, the app gives fascinating data about which moments (tags) cause negative experience; patterns of ups and downs in terms of people, situations, time zones etc. This can then be used actively to create more positive experience consciously.

What are you challenges around usage of time? Do you found time to engage in what you are passionate about? What are your favorite tips and tricks?

Sharad Verma is currently Global Head – Human Resources for Polaris Consulting & Services Ltd. A graduate of the prestigious XLRI, Sharad has more than two decades of HR experience. He has previously been Director, Human Resources for SunGard Global Technology, Head of Human Resources for Berkadia (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway), Monster.com, and The Bank of New York Mellon. Sharad’s blog on leadership, talent and innovation is available at www.iSharad.com.

Sharad has been named one of the Top 100 HR Influencers and his article featured in the top 5 career advice for 2013 on Star jobsite.

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4 thoughts on “20 Ways to save time for what is really important

  1. You have the ability to simplyfy complex matter to bare simplicity. well structured and beautifuuly designed article . It has matter to evolve good beings to bettr beings .
    I liked it
    Warm Regds

    Reet