Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to find time

So, you're not one to brag or anything, but you've got skills. You know about emptying the junk drawer and rooting under the sofa cushions to round up enough change for a late-night Taco Bell run. You know how to find virtually anything online with your keenly-developed sense of Google Fu. You know exactly where to pop some tags when you only have $20 in your pocket.

But do you know how to find extra time?

Our society is full of people, adult or otherwise, who are constantly scrambling to find time to get things done. Most of them would tell you they have no free time available. And most of them would be wrong. If you really look at your waking hours and notice how they're used, you ought to be able to find a number of places in your busy day where valuable extra time is hiding out like a bicentennial quarter in a La-Z-Boy.

Let's take a look at some time-mining strategies, shall we?

Don't let things hang over your head. Got some project you're putting off indefinitely? *BZZT* Wrong! Endlessly procrastinating when you know you should be working on something is a surefire way to burn daylight for no good purpose. I know whereof I speak, since I'm a champion procrastinator; in my case, it's usually fear of failure that makes me stall out. If that's your problem too, try giving yourself permission to screw up -- as long as you keep working at it.

Start early or work late, but not both. Face it, some people are early birds; others are night owls. It may be hardwired into our brains to be one or the other. You could try to fight your programming, or you could make it work for you. If you prefer to get up early and work in the small hours when most people are still sleeping, go ahead on. (Just make sure your house or apartment is insulated against noise if you decide to vacuum at 5 a.m. Your neighbors will appreciate it.) On the other hand, if it's easier to stay up really late and work when everyone else is going to bed, do that instead. (And remember to put on the headphones if you want to enjoy some rousing death metal at 2 a.m.) But whichever method you choose, choose only one method. Getting up early and going to bed late all the time is colloquially known as "burning the candle at both ends." It's also known as "stupid." Burning yourself out is no way to get anything done. Besides, going into a sleep-deprivation coma takes up a whole lot of time.

Do things while you're waiting. Stuck in a soulless laundromat while your clothes flop lazily in the dryer? Bring a pencil and notebook with you and start writing down ideas or making sketches of current or future projects. Spending quality time with the DMV for the next two hours? Take along some portable project to work on (I knit socks). Phone company just put you on hold? Might as well fold that laundry or empty the dishwasher. Commuting to work by train or bus? What could you be doing with that half-hour-plus of free time? You get the idea. Modern life is filled with unavoidable waiting times; if you plan for them, you can use these spaces in your day to get needful stuff done and out of your way. (Or you can use them to become more literate. Using his smartphone and the Kindle app, which offers a library of classic book titles free of charge, Captain Midnight has read over a dozen classics of English literature in the last two years. He pops open his latest read any time he has more than 60 seconds to wait.)

Make your errands work double duty. During the gas crunch of the 1970s (yes, I'm old enough to remember that. Shut up, punk kid), people tried saving gas by looking over their errands, identifying and grouping together things that could all be done within a particular area, and accomplishing as many tasks as possible in one run. Even if you're not trying to save gas, errand planning can save you time -- especially if you can also plan out your errands to avoid the worst traffic times of the day.

Automate and delegate. Ever since I set up my checking account to pay my rent bill automatically, I don't have to take the time to do it any more. Doing that with all my fixed-cost utilities would save me even more time. If I sat down and thought about it, I could probably find many repetitive tasks I do weekly or monthly, and find ways to automate them -- everything from home grocery delivery to once-a-month cooking to planned laundry days.

And in situations where you value your time more than your money, things that can't be automated can often be delegated -- in other words, hire somebody else to do it for you. This isn't just a trick for celebrities and power brokers -- these kinds of services are available to everyone, and many of them cost less than you might think, especially if you shop around. Once when she was on a very tight production schedule, a friend of mine hired a professional maid service to come clean the house for her, allowing her to focus completely on her work. In that situation, she felt it was worth it to spend some money so she could free up her time.

During crunch times, turn off all electronic time-suckers for 24 hours. That means broom the TV, the game system, the computer and the cell phone. They can vacuum up huge amounts of time on the sly. When you're not tweaking Facebook or playing endless rounds of Words with Friends on your smartphone, big rolling vistas of time seem to open up in your schedule. You don't have to do this every day, but when you really need to get something done fast, temporarily getting the electronics out of your face is an easy way to free up a good chunk of time.

Don't be afraid to say no sometimes. If you have no time because you're constantly agreeing to do things for or with other people, start taking a few rain checks or just flat turning them down (politely, of course). If it makes you feel nervous or you still feel pressure to participate, consider: you have limited time on earth, and you have every right to decide how to spend your precious time in the way you think best. Don't let people walk over you -- stand up for your own life!

Make like Ferris Bueller and give yourself a day off. This might not make sense to some of you at first. "I'm trying to find time, not waste it!" But if you're religious, you probably already know the personal side benefits that come from having a day of rest every week. Even if you're not religious, you need to designate a day off to rest, recharge and prepare for the week ahead. Unless you have an emergency on-call job like firefighter, police officer or doctor, DO NOT let work intrude on this day off. (Time to practice your newfound "saying no" skills.) I promise you will start seeing a positive difference in your sense of personal peace and your attitude toward life within a few weeks.

Now you know how to find extra time to do all sorts of things. So, in the classically eloquent words of Mr. Daniel Lawrence Whitney, "GIT-R-DONE!"

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