I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who needs only four or five hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m not—without a consistent minimum of 6-8 hours, and usually on the high side of that range, I don’t perform very well.
If you’re like me and need your sleep, and if you’re not otherwise superhuman, you may need to hack your way to greater time and productivity. Many of us are constantly looking for more time. These 8 tips might help.
1. Don’t let other people schedule your life
First and foremost, do everything you can to remain in charge of as much of your schedule as possible. Learn your most productive periods and schedule your work around them. If you do any kind of creative work, you need to find a way to reserve time and space for your projects in a comfortable environment and on the schedule that works best for you.
Sure, you probably don’t have complete autonomy over your life, but that’s okay. Wherever you do have autonomy, or wherever you can reclaim it, assert your independence and make your own choices.
2. Decide what’s important and do it first every day
In our modern age, there’s always one more thing that can be done. To battle against the limitless options, decide from the very beginning what’s most important. Then before you move on to everything else, tackle that task.
I usually choose two-three things that are “most important,” and I’ve noticed a recurring pattern: getting one of those things done is no problem. Getting two of them done is usually feasible. I can also get plenty of other things done throughout the course of any given day—but trying to do three big things is often a challenge for me.
I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason I work best with a combination of “two big things + other small stuff” every day. Since I know that about myself, I try to work with that combination as much as possible.
3. Pay close attention to what makes you happy
If you work on things you enjoy, you’ll complete them faster and be less tired. With the extra time, you can move on to other tasks—because there’s always more work to be done—or you can do something else.
Consider it bonus time! Oh, and you’ll also be happier.
4. Stop watching TV
I don’t actually think watching TV is terrible. If you have a favorite show on Netflix—no big deal. If you have six favorite shows on Netflix, however, that might be a problem.
Use TV or other entertainment as rewards for completing tasks. When you finish that big important thing on your day’s task list, spend half your lunch break watching an episode of that show. But otherwise, keep your head down.
We all make time for what’s important to us. What’s most important to you?
5. Schedule your breaks and enjoy them
Break time is important, and none of us can focus forever. If you don’t allow yourself to slow down, your body and mind will mutiny on you and force the slowdown. Better to be in control of the process, and better to enjoy the down time instead of just sitting in a slump and trying to plow through something that isn’t working.
Just as you give yourself a “most important” assignment every day, give yourself at least one long break or two short breaks every day.
6. Look through your calendar and cancel things you aren’t excited about
You know how sometimes you agree to something you don’t have a good feeling about? Whenever possible, avoid going through with it. This is a great way to free up hours, blocks of time, or whole evenings from your life.
Cancel that appointment or opt out of a group activity you’re dreading. Then, to avoid getting in these situations in the first place, see tip #1.
7. If you keep putting something off, just let it go
There are two great ways of dealing with that thing that you’re procrastinating over:
a. Just get it done (AKA “push through the pain”)
b. Give up
Either of these ways are preferable to the choice that many of us make: to just keep deferring the item, leaving it on our list or in our mind, taking up space and draining energy that could be put to much better use elsewhere.
8. Before you go to bed, decide on tomorrow’s most important action
Ask yourself, “What’s the big thing for tomorrow? If nothing else gets done, what’s the #1 action that will get me closer to my goals?”
The next morning, start working on that thing that you’ve prepared. Then when you watch Netflix later, or do whatever it is that serves as your escape, instead of feeling regret you’ll feel the satisfaction of having done something important.
And you’ll also have more time, even with sleeping at least 6-8 hours every night.
Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.
Image courtesy of Rachel Crowe.