You’re not the only one.
Believe me, I know there is never enough time in the day to do everything you want to/have to. Being a single mom at home and a sole proprietor at work, literally everything falls to me to take care of. I will admit that my teenage son is helpful in some respects, but he doesn’t have enough life maturity (or maybe it’s just a teenager’s selective comprehension) to notice things that need to be done, without my having to tell him.
So I’m always looking for ways to cram a few more To-Do items into every day. Thought I’d share a few with you that seem to work pretty well for me.
1) Stop trying to multi-task.
It literally can’t be done. You think you’re doing two or three things at once, but you’re really not. Your brain has to stop, refocus, work a second, stop again, refocus again, work a second…and so on.
Do one thing until it’s done. Then move on to the next thing. The two or three things that you were spending twenty minutes multi-tasking are completed in the same amount of time, or even less, and you will feel accomplished rather than frazzled! Which leads me to…
2) Do the most important thing(s) first.
If you’ve spent any time looking for advice to help you work faster and/or smarter, you’ve come across this one before. It should go without saying, but so many of us (yes, that’s me meekly raising my hand) put off the more vital things while piddling around with smaller, less important things. Seems like getting something done makes us feel better than not getting anything done at all.
Just do it. You know what it is. You could write it down, make a list. Spend some time rearranging the list, prioritizing. That may even make you feel like you’ve gotten something accomplished. But really, just do it. You’ll feel SO much better after it’s done!
3) Batch tasks.
There are usually at least a few things that we do over and over, maybe daily, maybe weekly, that we could do more of all at once and save time down the road. Pay attention in your own life and you’re sure to notice a number of things you could combine.
For instance, cook big batches of things you and/or your family like to eat. Freeze the extras for later. Peel and chop enough veggies and fruits for several days, use them for quick and easy salad prep, side dishes, and grab-and-go snacking. You’ll save time and eat healthier at the same time!
Run as many errands as possible in the same trip. Plan your route in your head so that there is little to no back-tracking. Pick up your prescriptions, get the posterboard for your child’s science project, return the sweater that doesn’t fit right, and fill up your car with gas, all in one “loop”.
Go to the grocery store once a week or less. This is easy if you keep a running list on the refrigerator and encourage everyone in the household to write things down when they notice you’re out of something. I have been doing this for decades. It’s a habit that my ex-husband picked up while we were married and still uses (because it works!), and one that my son has never known life without. Shop with that list. Train yourself to only buy what’s on the list. It works, it makes your shopping trip faster, and you’ll save money because you won’t be in the store every other day for one or two things and walking out with three or four MORE things.
Do you still send real birthday cards? Bless you! Why don’t you try buying cards once a month for all the upcoming birthdays in that month? Write a little note and sign them all, address and stamp them. Mark your calendar and just drop each one in the mail a few days before each birthday! One trip for you equals many smiles for all the special people in your life!
4) Auto-pay bills.
As many as you can, at least. Just sitting down with the stack of bills and the checkbook, sorting, writing, recording, and stamping…those things take time. Probably more time than you realize. And if you do it more than once a month, that’s even more time. Most banks have a Bill Pay option. Take the time to set it up for your regular, recurring bills, and you’ll save time every month in the long run!
5) Say no.
Say no to social engagements, volunteer requests, non-mandatory meetings…anything that you have a direct say in participating or not. You don’t have to do any of those things if you don’t want to.
If it’s not useful and it’s not fun, eliminate it from your schedule.
Make yourself unavailable. Don’t answer the phone. Close the door to your office. Go to the library to work.
It’s okay to say no.
6) Get rid of clutter.
This is one of those things that’s really hard to do because it takes so much time initially. Really digging in and sorting through everything and putting things in their place and organizing drawers and closets, just the thought of it can be more than overwhelming.
My biggest clutter purge came just over a year ago when my son and I moved into our current home. I was forced to downsize. I was forced to figure out ways to store and organize and display our possessions in a much smaller space.
Affiliate link: This is my favorite organizing find. A shoe storage system that hangs over the back of a door, to organize all those little things that you need to keep close but don’t want cluttering up a desk or dresser. I like the clear one so you can see at a glance what’s in each compartment. I have two–one on the back of my bedroom door and the other on the back of my bathroom door. So handy!
And I was able to put things away, and boom!…they’d be there the next time I went to get them! (This was something that I had really missed while married. My husband was NOT an everything-in-its-place kind of guy.)
The upside of taking the time to really purge your clutter and put everything away and make a conscious effort to keep things where they belong, is that it takes so much less time to find and use the things you need! And it takes barely any time to put them back away to easily be found the next time!
Take it slow, one pile at a time, but try to make a little progress every day. Before you know it, you’ll have that peaceful, uncluttered space you’ve been dreaming of! Get your family involved in the process. They’ll be more likely to help keep things neat and tidy if they’ve invested time in getting them that way!
7) Get real about where your time actually goes.
This is another of those get-organized things that takes a little time initially, but is so worth it in the long run.
Get specific about a typical day. Write down all the things you can think of. And I mean everything.
- morning routine: shower, get dressed, put on makeup, etc.
- driving: to work, on errands, pick up/drop off kids
- working out
- walking the dog
- banking/bill paying, either in person on online.
- phone calls/texts
- talking to/interacting with people
That’s not a comprehensive list, but it should help you understand what I’m talking about. Some of the things you do daily are non-negotiable. You have to go to work, you have to take care of yourself and your family, etc. Highlight those items on your list.
Pare down the rest. Again, eliminate the non-essential things that are not useful and not fun.
Do this little exercise:
“I go to sleep at _______.
I get up at ________.
I work from ________ to ________.
I have ______ regular daily commitments.
I shop _____ times per week, ______ minutes each time.
I work out _____ minutes per day.”
Use your non-negotiable, highlighted list items to flesh this out for yourself. This should help you to figure out where you can “add” hours to your day. Or at the very least, add minutes!
And whatever you do, do NOT forget to add in time for yourself! Read, watch TV, crochet, bake…whatever makes you happy needs to be a part of your day!
8) Make planning fun.
When it’s time to work on your upcoming schedule, whether it’s for the day, the week, the month, or longer, make the planning session itself fun. You’re more likely to do it if it’s not such a chore. And if you have that schedule in front of you, it can’t help but pare minutes off your busy day–you’ve got everything written down so there’s no time lost trying to think of what’s next!
Sit down with your calendar and/or a to-do list and a glass of wine or cup of tea. Put on some relaxing music. Whatever helps you get in the Planning Zone! If you use a beautiful planner, great. If you jot Post-It notes and stick them to a whiteboard, wonderful! (A system I recently learned about and am eager to try!) Even if it’s a plain old calendar from the dollar store, use what works for you!
I’ll admit I love lists. I write one every morning of three things I want to get done that day. Sometimes I can cross all three things off, sometimes not. But it helps keep me focused.
I carry another list in my pocket every day. The same exact list every day. I’ve rewritten it three times because the paper wears out from going in and out of my pocket. It’s mostly longer-term items, but every item is something I actually want to do. Yes, I do get to cross things off once in awhile, and add other things as they come up or occur to me.
You’ll discover, as I have, that sometimes the daily “important” ends up being more important than the long-term “important”. But planning, and being more aware of where your time is going, sure helps squeeze every minute out of the day!