5 Principles to Help You Make the Most of Your Time

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Do you feel like you’re not making the most of your time in the day? How can you channel your time more effectively?

Time is the most important resource you have. If you don’t use your time intentionally, it will fly by without you noticing. 

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time both in your personal and professional life.

The Struggle of Time Management

Most people don’t use their time effectively, wasting it on unfulfilling and unproductive activities. As a result, they feel like they are neither being productive in their professional lives nor enjoying their time off from work. 

Alternatively, they tend toward one of the extremes: being productive at work but hardly having any time or energy left for anything else (or the other way around). All of these problems boil down to poor time management, and they can quickly add up to a miserable existence. Fortunately, time management is a skill, and like any skill, it can be honed and developed.

Here are five time-tested principles to help you level up your time management game.

Principle 1. Prioritize Important Tasks

The first rule of thumb of time management is prioritization. If you learn to prioritize your tasks and responsibilities effectively, your productivity and overall quality of life will improve dramatically. 

According to time management expert Stephen Covey, the author of First Things First, you should prioritize matters that are important over matters that are urgent. Urgent matters are time-sensitive, and they tend to grab your attention; this can be something as simple as a ringing phone. Important matters contribute toward your goals, values, and personal development. 

This principle can be illustrated with a square divided into four quadrants: One axis measures whether or not something is urgent, and the other measures whether or not it’s important. 

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant I Urgent and ImportantQuadrant II Not Urgent, but Important
Not ImportantQuadrant III Urgent but Not ImportantQuadrant IV Neither Urgent nor Important

Quadrant I is urgent and important. Crises and problems live here, and life inevitably throws some Quadrant I tasks at all of us. These are things that are urgent and important. However, some people seem to spend all their time in Quadrant I, constantly putting out fires and feeling like they never have time or energy to tackle anything that’s not urgent; in need of respite, they occasionally escape to the more leisurely Quadrant IV, where things are neither urgent nor important. The catch is that the more time you spend in Quadrant I, the more you will be stuck there, because you don’t have time to do the maintenance and preventive measures that help avoid crises. 

Quadrant III is urgent, but not important. These kinds of activities can eat up your precious time and energy, without giving much value back to your life. Some people don’t even realize that these matters are not important, assuming that urgency implies importance; but the urgency is often dictated by other people’s priorities and expectations—what other people tell you must get done—rather than your own goals and values. 

Quadrant IV is neither urgent nor important. These are things you may do purely for enjoyment, or out of confusion about what’s truly important. Quadrants III and IV are irresponsible uses of your time, because they contribute nothing toward your life. 

Quadrant II is not urgent, but important. This is where effective people focus their time and energy. The discipline to prioritize these tasks is key to making the most of your time, both personally and professionally. Quadrant II includes activities that could easily be put off for their lack of apparent urgency, but which will greatly benefit your life in the long term if you invest the time in them. These activities include things such as developing relationships, exercising, and performing preventive maintenance (e.g. oil changes for your car, health check-ups, flossing, or home maintenance). 

The bottom line is that you should aim to spend most of your time in Quadrant II as this is where you make meaningful improvements to your life as opposed to solving urgent problems that could have been avoided.

TITLE: First Things First
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey
TIME: 51
READS: 29.8
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/first-things-first-cover.jpg
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: first-things-first-summary-stephen-covey

Principle 2. Manage Your Energy Effectively

The amount of energy you have has a dramatic impact on your capacity to be productive with your time. To make the most of your time in a day, you must take care of your body, which means eating well, drinking enough water, getting exercise, and prioritizing sleep.

First, fuel your body with the energy it needs to be productive. Your brain consumes double the energy that other cells in your body consume, so your brain needs healthy fuel to function effectively. To optimize your energy, Chris Bailey, the author of The Productivity Project, offers two simple rules for eating—don’t eat more than you need to and eat more unprocessed foods. These two rules will help you manage your glucose levels and avoid an energy crash. 

Second, hydrate. Bailey recommends drinking more water, fewer alcoholic or sugary drinks, and using caffeine strategically rather than as a part of your daily routine. Next, have a consistent exercise routine. It may seem counterintuitive to take time away from work to exercise, but exercise helps you increase productivity by better equipping you to fight stress, increasing blood flow to your brain, combating fatigue, boosting your mood, and even creating new brain cells. According to Bailey, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the lost time. 

Finally, prioritize sleep. According to Bailey, lost sleep isn’t worth the productivity cost. Sleep and energy are a simple equation—more sleep means more energy. To ensure you get enough (and high enough quality sleep), Bailey recommends creating routines around your bedtime, including having a nightly ritual that cues your body that it’s time to sleep and limiting screen time at least an hour before bed. 

While there’s a lot you can do to control the amount of energy you have, everyone’s energy also naturally fluctuates throughout the day. Every person has times in their day when they have more energy and are primed for focused, high-impact work. To make the most of your time, Bailey recommends being strategic about when you work, and saving your significant tasks for these periods of peak focus. 

When Should You Be Productive?

In When, Daniel Pink explains that throughout the day most people experience a predictable pattern in their energy level—a crest, a slump, and a recovery. This daily rhythm is largely based on your chronotype, or the individual expression of your circadian rhythms, which dictates when you naturally wake, sleep, and feel most alert. 

Like Bailey, Pink recommends taking advantage of your peak focus period (your crest) for deep, analytical work. However, Pink also suggests using times when your energy lags to take an intentional break, and then to use your recovery period for creative work that might require more out-of-the-box thinking.

Pink sees these naturally occurring ebbs and flows in your day as an opportunity to be more strategic about how you use your time and also to give yourself permission to pause, knowing that you aren’t built to be productive all the time. 

Principle 3. Avoid Multitasking

Multitasking is the enemy of productivity. While working on multiple things at once is stimulating and makes you feel busy, numerous studies have shown that multitasking doesn’t make you more productive. 

Multitasking has a negative impact on productivity because it leads to an effect known as “switch cost,” or the mental effort expended to shift gears and readjust to the new task. Because of the mental shift required, switching between tasks can slow your overall progress and reduce your productivity.

Some studies have also revealed that multitasking lowers your IQ and can even result in brain damage. While more research is necessary to understand the long-term impacts of multitasking, there’s general consensus that multitasking has negative effects on productivity and brain function.  

If you want to make the most of your time, you should focus on one thing at a time. Monotasking allows you to invest all your time, attention, and energy into one thing, enabling you to do that one thing better and more efficiently. 

Monotasking can also be made easier by clearing up mental space. If you’re constantly using your brain to try to remember things, then you have less mental space for your significant tasks. Externalizing your ideas (e.g. through journaling) allows you to use your brain for coming up with ideas instead of storing them. 

Principle 4. Make the Most of Your Free Time

Many people feel like they aren’t making the most of their free time, spending it on activities that drain instead of energizing them. This is because they approach their free time with a mindset that leisure is not something to be structured and planned ahead, that it should be flexible. But if you want to make the most of your time off, you should schedule it—otherwise, you’ll spend too much time on unfulfilling activities that don’t contribute much value to your life. 

In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport following three principles for making the most of your free time: 

1) Demanding activities are more rewarding than passive ones. Leisure evokes images of reclining, relaxing, and putting your feet up. At the end of a long, tiring day, most people want nothing more than to zone out and have no commitments. While it can be helpful to do this occasionally, spending your free time this way often leaves you feeling more drained than rested. By contrast, dedicating your leisure time to demanding activities actually energizes you more than idly passing the time. When you learn a new skill or finish a task, it leaves you feeling uniquely proud and accomplished. The more energy you invest in your leisure, the more value you’ll gain.

2) Humans get satisfaction and self-worth from making things with their hands. High-quality leisure includes craft—which entails using a skill to practice or create something. By this definition, crafts encompass building a DIY headboard as well as practicing a song on the guitar. Humans are driven to prove their self-worth, and when you create something, you end up with a finished product that you can point to as proof of your competence. Without concrete evidence of your ability, it’s easy to resort to online platforms in search of validating likes and retweets. 

3) In-person, structured social activities are rejuvenating. Certain leisure activities—like competitive games and sports—create an environment for supercharged socializing, where the people involved can interact more intensely than they would in normal conversations. For example, it would be inappropriate to talk trash, yell encouraging words at someone, or chest bump at a cocktail party, but these displays are encouraged when you’re playing kickball with friends. You can find opportunities for this kind of social interaction in volunteer activities, recreational sports leagues, and group projects, such as building a local skating rink. Supercharged socializing is an energizing and rewarding way to spend your leisure time. 

TITLE: Digital Minimalism
AUTHOR: Cal Newport
TIME: 30
READS: 155.7
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/digital-minimalism-cover.png
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: digital-minimalism-summary-cal-newport

Principle 5. Focus on Your Strengths

The final tip on how to make the most of your time is to focus on your unique strengths or core competencies—the things that you’re amazing at or can’t outsource—and spend most of your time using these strengths while delegating tasks that you don’t excel at.

To discover your overlooked strengths, productivity expert Laura Vanderkam (168 Hours) suggests creating a bucket list with 100 items on it. Then, review your list and start doing some of the cheap and easy ones. By trying several activities, you’ll discover what you like and are good at—and what might count as a unique strength. Be open to the possibility that a unique strength could surprise you. 

To ensure you have enough time for what you do best, schedule more time for these tasks and less time for tasks you’re not as good at

Final Words

One of the most common self-defeating behaviors people tend to engage in is not using their time effectively. This creates a constant source of unnecessary stress for many of us. To make the most of your time, use every second with intention. 

If you enjoyed our article about how to make the most of your time, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

Eat That Frog!

There isn’t enough time in the day to meet all of the work and personal responsibilities you’re swamped with, let alone keep up with email, social media, and all the things you’ve been meaning to read. In Eat That Frog, business consultant Brian Tracy says the answer is to identify your most important task—the one with the greatest consequences—and do that first each day. It’s like eating a frog: when you have a big challenge, or frog to eat, it’s best to get it out of the way first; everything after that will be easier by comparison. Based on this insight, Tracy offers a list of practical tips for improved productivity and success.

Organize Tomorrow Today

If you often find yourself overwhelmed by your task list and obligations, Organize Tomorrow Today can help. Along with sports and travel writer Matthew Rudy, authors Jason Selk and Tom Bartow teach you how to have a productive day, maximize your time, and set yourself on the path to success.

5 Principles to Help You Make the Most of Your Time

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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