15 Ways to Reclaim 2 Precious Hours Every Day

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”

Man holding a clockDo you want to make better use of your time? If so, you’re not alone. We all want to be more productive in order to get ahead in our lives.

Time management is really about managing yourself. It’s about making a commitment to be more organized, maintain your focus and use your time to your best advantage. You probably know that effective time management will help you get more done each day. But it has important health benefits, too. By managing your time more wisely, you can minimize stress and improve your quality of life.

Whether you’re a time-tested veteran or a promising rookie, the following tips will help you reclaim some precious hours.

1. Make lists.

Making a list externalizes your worries. In your mind, tasks can get intertwined. On paper you can divide and conquer, crossing them off as you go.

2. Learn to BANJO.

BANJO is an acronym for “Bang A Nasty Job Off”. Doing anything gives you a sense of achievement, but getting something really unpleasant out of the way makes you feel even better. That task may seem trivial, but it’ll distract you until you do it.

3. Slam junk.

Wading through the latest ‘unmissable’ offers from some pizza delivery or loan companies is the last thing you need when you’re legging it to work. The average adult spends three minutes a day opening and disposing billions of unsolicited items delivered every year. Remove your name from 95% of direct mail lists through mail preference service. And with each fragment of rainforest that lands on your mat, ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen if I bin this? If you can live with the answer, it’ll save hours of unnecessary filing.

4. Morning glory.

Unless you fancy the cleaner, staying late at the office is a waste of time. Our natural bodily rhythms make us most alert between eight and nine in the morning. Arrive an hour early and you’ll get through the equivalent of two hours of post-6pm work. So you can leave on time.

5. The wheel deal.

Getting on your bike could seriously speed up your commute. Research from Citroen show average rush-hour driving speed in big cities is 7mph. Cycling it’s 13.5mph. Three quarters of all car journeys are less than five miles, and you have thousands miles of traffic-free paths as alternatives.

6. Stand and deliver.

Feel like you’re constantly in meetings? According to TUC figures they take up three hours of the average worker’s weekly time, and if you’ve tried everything bar amputation to cut the collective thumb-twiddling, try this unorthodox approach: Take all the chairs out of the room. People will stop chatting and start making decisions as they won’t get too comfortable, and they’ll actively face each other so will be more engaged. Your meeting times should be cut by a third.

7. Take a break from technology.

When you’re trying to concentrate, is there anything more distracting than a vibrating cell phone or the pinging sound of an incoming email or IM? If possible, take periodic breaks from technology. This will allow you to work free of interruption and get more done.

8. Delegate.

Most of us now work in teams with overlapping responsibilities. If you look hard enough you may discover you have jurisdiction over a shared junior. Or at least a junior who believes you have. Delegate clearly, say, “This is your project, this is the timescale, these are the resources.” Then stand back. It will happen quicker if you don’t interfere. Trust is a skill.

9. Make it your call.

Old Mister Graham couldn’t have imagined the hours of precious time his ‘electrical speech machine’ would cost the modern man. But you can save wasted minutes on the blower. Write a mini agenda of what you want to accomplish and you could spend five minutes less on each call. As for Mr Bell’s other unwitting time-bomb – the curse of phone tag – don’t make calls between 12 and 2 p.m.

10. Uncharted territory.

If you’re nipping out somewhere new, don’t rely on your internal atlas. Recent studies show that the average man spends 36 hours a year stuck in traffic or lost because we don’t plan new journeys before setting off. Combine Google Maps with up-to-the-minute travel news on roadworks, accidents and other traffic problems. You could also ask directions.

11. Keep busy.

Keep your skills sharp by having at least one project on the go at all times. Two or more is even better, as it gives you the opportunity to switch gears and concentrate on something else for a change of pace. Working on different projects simultaneously ensures that you always have something to work on. It also keeps your mind active and your perspective fresh.

12. Cook smart.

If you’re time-poor, culinary challenged, or a little of both, takeaways are an obvious time-saver. The ONS’s latest Time Use survey clocks the average man squandering 54 minutes a day shopping, cooking and washing up. So, play your telephone dinner joker. You can have restaurant-quality food delivered to your door, either fully-prepared or ready for self-assembly. All you have to do is hide the packaging.

13. Off the hook.

It may be good to talk, but it’s not so good to have your ears bent by telemarketers trying to flog you a new kitchen/set of Encyclopedias/path to salvation when you’re trying to eat your dinner. Register free with the telephone preference service and within a month you’ll no longer be on speaking terms with the New Delhi switchboard. The average household gets three cold-calls a week. Once you’ve deregistered, it’s illegal for telemarketing companies to call. You’ll have to get some real friends.

14. Cranks for the memories.

According to a Leeds Memory Group research, adults waste about twenty hours a year back-tracking because of our distinctly unelephantine grey matter. If you often forget names or make return trips to the shop to pick up what you originally went for, write this down: Emotion is the glue that makes memory stick. You can’t tell everywhere you’ve been in your car, but you can tell where you’ve crashed. The difference is emotion. Use it and you can imprint information and retrieve it quicker. So, to remember your wife’s relatives, for example, associate each with some graphic deformity (Aunt Emmy = bad breath, Cousin Dave = unsightly ear hair, etc).

15. Get the nod.

Unless you’re tucked up with a good book, there are few things more frustrating than the average twenty minutes a night we spend trying to get to sleep. Hit the 12-minute optimum nod-off time identified by scientists at Penn State in the US by avoiding intense exercise for two hours before hitting the hay. Exercise raises core temperature, which elevates your heart rate for over an hour. And have some milk. Edinburgh University study found that a hot milky drink cut the time it took people to fall asleep by six minutes. It contains tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, which is one of the body’s natural sleep chemicals. And you’ll feel a damn sight at better at breakfast than you would after a few pints of amber sleep chemicals.

Resolve to pay closer attention to how you spend your time. Success comes to those who work hard and know how to manage their time well.

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  • Ann Teliczan says:

    I’d add spending less time online to your most excellent list, but of course that would have to exclude your website and mine!

  • or you can just stop watching TV 😉

  • Andrew says:

    There are some really good suggestions here.

    “Make A List” is my favourite time saver. An constantly updated master task list as recommended by David Allen (“Getting Things Done”) has saved me time and sanity on too many occasions to mention.

    And for any regular processes checklists are essential.


  • Santiago says:

    Good tips, I think the best time saver for me has been making a plan of the next day, knowing what important tasks I need to accomplish

  • lfx says:

    I think most important is “Take a break from technology” and “Make lists”, it may solve all my problems 😉

  • Webplay says:

    Some really great tips!

    If you ask me, one of our biggest time wasters are meetings. People rarely measure meetings with actions and that’s quite a sad thing. When I’m meeting somebody (except for my girlfriend, of course) I have already set some goals to be achieved on that meeting.

    No matter if the goal is make the new deal with Mr. Brown or have some fun with Suzie , it’s important to just set it. And always keep meetings short. More than one hour with one person talking about just something will waste much of your time. And that’s several hours that you’ll never get back from your life, will ya?

    With regards (especially for the nice article),
    Dimitar Nikolov
    Productivity, Business & Life Blog

  • rigor mortis says:

    plan the work and work the plan…
    and remember to breathe in between stations.

  • HelpLife says:

    Really helpful post thanks! Just blogged about;)

  • Bobby says:

    I’d also like to add, if you use ZoomText or a program that has a screen magnifier and reader option, along with the magnifier option, buy the magnifier and reader combo and set the speech rate to 75 WPM. It will make surfing the web a lot faster. http://aisquared.com

    And, making a list is a great idea. *smile*

  • Michael says:

    I have to disagree with the Morning Glory tip. Studies have shown that there are people who are NOT morning people specifically because their body rhythm is set so that they are more alert later in the day. I would replace it with a note to know yourself and adapt your schedule so that you are most active during your most alert times.

  • Rose Nelson says:

    Thanks for the great post! I’ll try to apply some of your tips. I’ve also got a couple of mine. I always stay in the loop with some gajets, like my Blackberry foe example. Web-based tools, like Wrike http://www.wrike.com/ are very helpful for saving my time too.

  • Frosty says:

    Nice stuff mate,i really like the one about the hours an adult waste per year trying to recall things

  • IanMc says:

    nice list. i like comment #2. tv is a huge killer of time. i wouldn’t do more than 1 hour per day plus 1 or 2 of your favorite shows per week.

  • Some great tips, especially the meeting one. So much time at meetings is wasted. ‘Let’s have another meeting to agree’, ‘no, agree now’.

    Another simple one for managers:

    Work out how much each hour you earn, then after each hour tell yourself whether or not you delivered something which was worth your hourly rate. If not, offload the task next time.


  • Ririan says:

    Michael, I agree, but the “owl” and “lark” categories account for just about 30 percent of the population. The remaining 70 percent of us are “hummingbirds” — people who can usually adapt when they need to, though it’s easier or harder to do so depending on where you fall along the body-clock continuum.

  • Ron Haynes says:

    Ask for directions? I don’t NEED no stinkin’ directions!! —– I bought a Street Pilot (grin)

  • V.S. says:

    Bang a Nasty Job Out is definitely one of my favorites. I’ve also heard it referred to as “eating the frog first” because then nothing worse will happen all day (to you or the frog!). I hit upon this early because I’m obsessive enough that I can fritter away a full 50% of my energy (in distraction, worry and general, well, frittering) on a dreaded job while doing others. Of course frittering doesn’t get the job done, so that’s utterly wasted time, plus it stresses me out and leaves me haggard and exhausted. Better to take the time (and so often these are fifteen minute tasks, though occasionally it’s the big ones that intimidate through size) to knock that one out and get it out of my head! I really like the acronym.

    But ever since I read this last Tuesday or Wednesday I’ve had this little song running through my head: “There was a Vinnie had a job and BANJO was it’s name-o. B-A-N-J-O, B-A-N-J-O, B-A-N-J-O and BANJO was it’s name-o!”

    Feel free to substitute your own name or nickname 😉

    I agree that it’s more important to know your rhythms and take them into account than to act as a lark if one is not.

    Our household has gained a lot of time by disconnecting from network and cable television. We still have the physical TV around, with lots of videos and DVDs and a 3-at-time netflix subscription, but it’s cut viewing time a lot. We no longer watch just to watch, there’s always a reason or a goal. Also, The longer I stay away from TV news the more obvious it is to me when I do watch it that it is entertainment and has very little content. I know people who feel obligated to watch the evening news because adults do, or whatever, but getting it from print and online sources gives a better idea of what is going on and is less hard on the nerves.

  • Jignesh Solgama says:

    Be Present in whetever you do. It helps to take accurate and quick decesions.

  • David says:

    I have to agree with Michael about the morning glory tip. I tried rising an hour early two weeks in the autumn, starting work 8 instead of 9, and noticed my productivity dropping with a loss of concentration at the end of the day, where I’m usually more effective. The first hour was a bit more effective since I was the only one getting there so early though, so if you’re good at rising early the idea should be tested.

  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well.

  • Ryuji says:

    These are good suggestions! I happen to know how to cook decent dishes quickly, so I manage to prepare, cook, eat and clean while my roommate is baking frozen pizzas or waiting for the delivery… but I think the real thing here is to keep memory good. Good food and plenty of sleep help memory – that means learning to cook is a good investment!

  • Dr Laraine says:

    We have found that the combination of “learning to BANJO” and “going off the hook” really does reclaim some precious hours. Developing the creative paradigms that work for each person is key. Practicing those helpful habits is the real kicker. Good luck, everyone.

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