How to make time for the things you really want
Ever feel like the days all blur into one? When reflecting back on a period of time, is it hard to pinpoint exactly how you used it all but day-to-day, you feel rushed off your feet? And when you think of the things you really what to work on – your side projects, your hobbies, your relationships, your promotion – you really wish you had more time to be able to move them forward?
Well, you might be able to.
The brilliant book “Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky talks of a four part method for making time for the things which are most important to you. Although time is just a concept (I’ll hold on the philosophy chat), we all too easily find ourselves or others filling it for us. Certain time fillers are unavoidable: contracted hours in a job, commuting to work (pre-pandemic) and – most importantly – sleep. But others can infiltrate our hours without us realising. Such time sinks eat away at precious free time and before you know it, another week has flown and working on those important things gets shifted to a future unmarked date. I’m sure it comes as no surprise some of the biggest time sinks come in the form of our digital devices, busy work and television. It is reported the average American watches over 4 hours of television per day, and it only takes looking at your phones screen time to recoil in horror at the hours spent scrolling. When used with intention, these activities are a great form of entertainment. But many of us unintentionally consume novel information like junk food, feeling helpless to the pull of our smartphones or the next episode in a Netflix season.
In order to make time for the projects you would love to see progress, claiming back hours from time sinks is a good way to go. Easier said that done. Our brains have wired in habits for refreshing our instagram feed and checking notifications due to the positive reinforcement such activities have on our brains. Breaking these habits is different for every person. Some can go cold turkey with their phone lying on their desk whereas others need to completely augment their phones use by removing “infinity pool” apps (defined by displaying novel information each time you refresh). Suggestions in the book for weakening our dependency on our devices include removing all notifications and logging out of social apps. Another time sink is “busy bandwagon” work – aka filling your plate so you feel busy but a lot of the tasks are not actually important. This includes constantly replying to email – a time-sapping expectation for most workers.
Once we have dealt with time sinks, we can use the reclaimed hours to work on projects we really love. “Make Time” provides an excellent framework to really progress with the things you are passionate about. They argue against “increasing productivity” as they state this is a reactive state. Instead, they clear the “to-do” list and whittle down moving a project forward to repeating four key steps:
Setting a daily highlight
Your daily highlight requires you to select one task which is your focus for the day. A single thing. For the people with an A4-length daily to-do list, these words must sound like another language. But Knapp and Zeratsky argue by selecting one task each day and completing it, you will feel more satisfied and accomplished, plus it means you will actually get work done! The daily highlight can be dedicated time before or after your work day to work on your own projects which will satisfy you – like writing a 1000 words of your novel, it could be an urgent task that needs to get done – like filing tax return before the deadline, or it could be something which brings you joy to do – like spending quality time with your family. A highlight task of between 60-90 minutes should be chosen each day – either before or on the morning of – and time carved out (using time blocking) . The daily highlight provides a way to ensure each and every day you do something for yourself.
Having laser focus
As mentioned, we live in a distraction heavy environment. Removing distractions – like social media, incoming emails and breaking news – can help give you are renewed level of focus. Our brains are not built for efficient multitasking so doing so can come at a timely cost; having to switch tasks and load in a new set of rules to deal with the work at hand following distraction. By working on becoming less distractible – whether that be by leaving your devices in a drawer or limiting your email checks to twice a day – can hugely improve your ability to laser in on your highlight and other tasks in your day. Other ways to increase focus include simple things like shutting the door when working or setting a timer to amp up your highlight time.
Although you can have your highlight set and your laser tactics nailed, if you aren’t taking care of the basics, no schedule will save you. Making sure you have optimised all the essentials like sleep time, quality food, moving and quiet time will supercharge your productive efforts when it comes to your highlight. A lot of the tactics in the book for energising your day go way back – like hundreds of thousands of years – to our ancestors. Eating non-processed food, getting outside for a walk or exercising every day and doing 10 minutes of daily meditation can do wonders for your bodies energy levels. And by powering the body, you are powering the brain.
An important part of instilling any system into your life is to reflect and adjust. By making a note at the end of each day how you felt, how your highlight went, what made you feel happy and the energising steps you took can help you fine tune your daily rhythm until you have found your flow. Repeating the routines that worked well and trying new ones for the aspects of your day you struggle with can enable you to really make time for those important projects, people and places.
With these exercises, repetition is key. Incorporating a daily highlight into your routine may take some practice, but once it is embedded, you will see real progress! Start that ‘someday’ today!
Julia xoxo (@julia.ravey.science)
For more brain research, see my YouTube!