Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Understanding How Much Time You Really Have

A clock

How many times have you heard yourself say If only I had more time … Those words have passed my lips far too many times for me to remember.

If I only had more time … Well, you don’t. Period. And all those little hacks to save a few seconds here and a few seconds there have done little, if anything, to change that.

You have a set amount of time during the day. And to be productive, you have to understand how much time you really have, and work within that constraint.

Over the decades, I’ve heard more than a few people say There are 24 hours in a day. Use them. That’s not good advice. Why? You can’t spend all of our waking hours working — your mind and your body will rebel eventually. You can’t cut back too much on sleep. You need time to relax. You need time to go fallow. You need time to rest and recharge our bodies and brains.

Staying on the productivity treadmill until you drop doesn’t let you do any of that. In the long run, ignoring rest and fallow time hurts you mentally and physically.

Instead, you need to take a close look of how much time you have, and figure out how to use it most effectively.

How Much Time Do You Have?

That will depend on who you are. Let’s use a hypothetical eight-hour day. Yes, I know that many people work longer than that each day. I often do. Let’s just use that as a baseline, OK?

During those eight hours, you probably have anywhere from three to five productive hours each day. The rest of the time is taken up by other matters — meetings, checking and replying to email, office chit chat. And more. Those three to five hours are the one during which you can focus on actual work.

The problem is that those three to five hours aren’t contiguous blocks of time. They’re blocks of an hour or two spread out during the day. And that’s one reason why many people find it hard to maintain momentum and get work done.

Using Those Blocks of Time

The problem is how to structure your work around those blocks during the day That can be difficult, if only because you can never truly be sure of when those blocks will come together.

Well, not all of the time anyway. Having lived your work day for … well, as long as you’ve lived it you should have a decent idea of when those blocks of time will come up. Try charting them out in a calendar or on paper — that will give you a visual representation of when the best times for work are during your day. Trust me, that visualization helps.

Next, look at your task list for the week. Try to fit your tasks into those blocks of time each day. You might not be able to complete certain tasks during a block, but you can probably made solid headway. Also, try to batch smaller tasks — like doing administrative chores or following up on emails and phone calls — into the shorter blocks of time.

Once you’ve done that, the next step is to get to work. Make sure that people know not to disturb you during those blocks of time. Hang out a Do Not Disturb shingle. Set your email and instant messenger status to Busy. Put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Do whatever you have to do to minimize interruptions.

Taking this approach won’t work everyday, nor will it work for everyone. For those of you who do try it and for whom it works, you’ll notice that you’ll actually get more done.

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