Over the last year I have started doing a lot of mentoring of mainly technical people. Based on almost 20 years of experience in the technology industry I found that I have formed routines and procedures that can be beneficial to lots of other people. Especially within the tech-community there are a large number of people who, in my opinion, could benefit immensely from having a mentor in their life to help them move forward, set goals, achieve more and be more.
I find it highly satisfying to help people be more than they thought they could be, and lead them on a path of success and achievement. The one thing I hear from all of them consistently is "how do I find more time in my day to do more?"
I don't claim to be the most organised or efficient worker in the world, but I do manage to run a software consultant business, a bed and breakfast, speak at conferences around the world, write articles for a number of publications (like this one), run a classic car and spare parts business, co-organise the DDD Melbourne community developer conference, currently writing an e-book, member of three car clubs, and a few other things. I like making the most of the time that I have. From this I have come up with the 6 tips below to help you get more out of your day.
Getting up earlier
My guess is that you get up in time to do your morning routine. If you have kids, you get them ready, have breakfast, then out the door to start your day of work. If you don't have kids, you might have a slightly less rushed morning, but there are still the routines of getting ready. That is a very common scenario, but we aren't looking for "common", we are aiming for outstanding and effective.
My suggestion is to get up an hour earlier than normal, and have that time only for you. It is an hour a day, 5-7 hours a week (depending on your weekend), where you can do anything that takes your fancy. I use this time to write articles, learn a new technology through a hobby project, watch a Pluralsight course, organise some of the volunteer work I do, and many other things. This time is uninterrupted, free from kids, and completely quiet. It has been proven time and time again that most people are the most productive first thing in the morning.
Of course, you don't get used to getting up earlier from day 1. This takes time and I always recommend doing it gradually, so you ease yourself into it. Start by getting up 10-15min earlier and over time increase the to 1-2 hours, depending on what you can and want. It goes without saying that you can't just go to bed earlier, as your evening routine is likely pretty tight too, but you do need to be consistent.
Stop watching TV
It is as simple as that. There is no greater time waster than TV shows. "Binge watching" sucks up hours, maybe even days for no apparent gain. Yes, you are entertained, but the amount of time spent is huge. People I know that have eliminated TV and TV series from their lives have so much more time, and less stress because they aren't "missing out". You also become a more positive human being, as most TV programs set unrealistic expectations for how the world works, or what you should get out of given situations.
I often get met with the comment "but I need to wind down and relax somehow", which is completely fair. I use a book or a movie instead. Books help you exercise your brain, and movies are a finite activity. A movie only lasts so long and then it is finished. You'll be amazed how much time you can get back by eliminating TV watching.
Don't Let Emails Distract You
It has been proven over and over again, that emails is one of the most disruptive activities in a work day. There are always emails to reply to, to read, to delete etc. People can mark them as "high priority", but that isn't necessarily true for you. Cut down email time to 1-2 hours a day, and preferably later in the day as they don't require your creative juices to flow like they do in the morning. If you can, have completely email free days in the week.
Emails are super disruptive, especially if you can't ignore new emails coming in, and impulsively have to read them immediately. Close your email client completely in this case, and don't open it until your designated time for dealing with emails.
Furthermore, when you reply to emails, be short and concise. A lot of emails often only require a yes or no answer, which is quick and to the point. Emails that are shorter to write, are quicker to read for the recipient too.
Don't let your kids rule the day
We all want to be great parents, and often that means we constantly pay attention to our kids, which they learn to know. If instead you introduce "quiet time" where they need to entertain themselves, they will learn that your attention and time is valuable. Now, I don't intend to tell your how to raise your children. Only you can know that. But I think that showing your kids that your are doing valuable things with your time, that doesn't always revolve around them is important.
I work from home, so it is super important that my 3-year old don't interrupt me constantly, or I would never get anything done. Instead he knows that when the office door is closed, daddy is working. He looks forward to me coming out, because he knows that is his time then.
Plan your time
Now that you are getting up earlier and have stopped watching TV, what do you do with all your new found time? You'll need to plan out where the extra hours are spent. Create goals or milestones that help you stay on track and make the most of the time. A good idea is to create a day planner, where you write down all the tasks for the day and simply cross them out when done. This gives a great sense of achievement and you can visually see your progress.
The old saying of "failing to plan is planning to fail" is very true. Time will pass you by, and it is your job to do something with it.
If you are like me, and tend to get side tracked pretty easily (so many things to do!), it is a great help to have someone to hold you accountable. It can be your partner, a good friend, a work colleague, someone you've never met except through Twitter (hi Joel!), your mentor or someone else. Having someone to ask you how your progress is, how many tasks you have completed, or how close you are to completing a particular milestone is extremely valuable. It will give you the needed sense of urgency to complete your tasks and reach your targets. While it doesn't free up time directly, it will mean that you spend less time on the tasks you now have time for (thus fitting in more tasks).