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Manufacturing Time: 7 Tactics in 7 Days to Finish What You Want to Get Done!

Time Is An Illusion…

Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? You spend 8+ hours working. 6 to 8 sleeping. A few hours to eat, take a shower, run errands. To spend time with your family. To have a social life. Add up all these commitments, and you may find there is no time left over for yourself.

Yet there are people who seem to have it all under control. They go to the gym every day. They start their own businesses and have time for hobbies. They’re not stressed at work. They get so much done that they can take a day off… without feeling guilty.

What are these people doing differently?

They’re manufacturing time: using a few clever tactics to make sure they make space in the day to work on their priorities. What follows is a 7 day crash course in manufacturing time—one tactic a day to take those hours back.

Let’s down get to it.

Day 1: Change Your Location

If you feel like you’re frittering your time away, the first thing you should consider is what’s going on around you. Your environment can lead to low energy and poor focus. Insidiously, distracting environmental cues can also trigger time wasting habits. Go around the problem by taking your project elsewhere.

A quiet coffee shop, the library, or even just a different room in your house can change your whole perspective. You’re here for a reason—the effort you spent getting here becomes a sunk cost if you don’t work on your project. If you picked your new location wisely, there are fewer distractions. There may even be resources to help you finish your task. At the very least, you hit the reset button on your bad habits. Start fresh.

If the new spot works for you, make it a routine and build a habit of doing productive work in this location. And if it isn’t working out, you can always try going somewhere else!

Your Action for Today:

  • Ask yourself how your current location is helping or hurting your productivity. Either way, go somewhere else and pay attention to how it changes how you work.

Day 2: Apply the Pareto Principle to Your Time Wasters

Now, let’s invert the problem and remove the biggest time sinks in your day. The Pareto Principle suggests that around 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. The corollary is that 80% of your effort is leading to only 20% of your results. What are you spending the that 80% on? If you focus on fixing just a few big problems, you can make a huge difference in your output.

For example, maybe you have a tendency to fall off the wagon and spend hours surfing YouTube if you look at even one video. Instead of creating an elaborate time management plan, just figure out a way to cut out the YouTube (maybe using Self Control). Do you plop down on the couch right after work and watch TV? Put the TV upstairs or maybe move the couch so that you have to stand while watching it. One impactful change, you’ve gotten yourself back hours per week.

Your Action for Today:

  • Spend some effort tracking where you’re wasting time. Identify 1 big problem and how to avoid it. Cut it out this week and see how you feel.

Day 3: Use Your Commute

This one has been a huge win for me personally as I’m becoming fluent in Spanish. Multi-tasking usually impairs performance, but a commute is so automatic that it isn’t cognitively demanding. This frees you up to expend some brainpower on your goals. A commute is also something you do regularly 5 days a week. If you can safely insert a valuable task into that time, you build a productive habit automatically.

The main difficulty here is to match an appropriate task to the commute. It has to be something that is easy to do on the go, isn’t awkward in the location, and isn’t dangerous. For me, it’s been listening to Glossika to get Spanish-language input while I drive. It’s audio-only so it works great for my use case. Your mileage may vary (pun intended; sorry). If you’re on public transportation, maybe you can listen to an audiobook or simply read through your reading list on a Kindle. The key is to have a plan so that you’re always using this time safely and effectively.

Who knew that having a long commute could be a good thing?

Your Action for Today:

  • Identify a regular habit that you can build on your commute. Spend some time gathering together the materials you need to make it really easy to do while traveling.

Day 4: Bundle up Your Distractions

Time for another problem inversion. You’re probably well aware that distractions (e.g. checking email or frequent short meetings) kill flow and productivity. However, they don’t generally go away on their own. That doesn’t mean that you can’t control them.

Unless your job requires you to be reactive (e.g. working in a call center), you can postpone and group non-urgent tasks to do them all at once. The canonical example here is turning off your email notifications and checking and responding to emails only once or twice a day at a set time. Another is to hold scheduled office hours rather than responding to every impromptu meeting.

This tactic provides two big wins. First, it removes the distractions from your day. Answering one email might take 2 minutes, but checking email and getting out of your flow could waste 20 minutes. Cut that nonsense out! Second, you’ll often find that by batching up these small distractions, you can get through them more quickly and efficiently. If you can handle 1 email in 2 minutes, you might be able to handle 10 or 20 in 10 minutes.

Did you ever think you’d get into a flow state by answering your email? Now you have a chance to test it out.

Your Action for Today:

  • Identify your small distracting tasks and schedule some time to do them as a batch. Turn off notifications so that they don’t distract you while you’re doing important work. See how this affects your effectiveness and adjust from there.

Day 5: Have a Productive Morning

There seems to be something special about the early morning. Much like finding a the perfect location to work, taking advantage of focused, uninterrupted time in the morning can do wonders for your productivity. You can work without distractions, and you are often at your freshest. Even better, by doing the most important thing right away you boost your confidence and set the day off on a productive foot. It’s a win all around.

The hardest part of having a productive morning is getting out of bed and into action. Here are a few hacks to make it easier:

  • Prepare the night before. If you want to go jogging, set your shoes by your bed. If you plan to write, leave the outline open on your computer. Decision making is difficult when you’re groggy, so make the first step of your day automatic.
  • Get enough sleep. If you just cut down your sleep time, you’re in for some rough mornings. Go to bed earlier… consider using blue light therapy to reset your internal clock. Keep away from screens before bed. It takes a bit of adjustment, but a good night’s sleep is an investment worth making.
  • Use psychology to make sure you get up. Schedule an appointment (e.g. a gym session with a partner) first thing in the morning, leaving enough time for more productive work afterwards. Social pressure will get you out of bed and momentum will carry you through the rest of the morning.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s certainly worth testing. If you find you’re a night owl instead, at least you’ve learned something.

Your Action for Today:

  • Use the hacks above to get up early enough that you can do an extra hour of focused work tomorrow.

Day 6: Estimate and Triage Task Times

This one is a bit like Tetris. Have you ever had 10 minutes free before your next meeting but didn’t know what to do with it? Instead of wandering over to the kitchen, consider getting ahead of this problem. When you add tasks to your todo list, make an estimated guess about how long each task will take and write that down as well. You can even sort your list by estimated time.

As you go about your day, don’t just do the top thing on your list. Instead, consider how much time you have and do the most important task that fits. If you have some really big projects, you can break them up into smaller pieces or, even better, block off time in your calendar to give them your full attention. By fitting the pieces together more deliberately, you’ll never be at a loss for what to do when. Those 10 minute blocks can really add up.

As you attempt this tactic, remember that you can iterate. Note how long tasks actually took to complete. You’ll get more accurate at predicting your effort as you practice and you’ll become a productivity Tetris master.

Your Action for Today:

  • Estimate the time you need for each item on your todo list today. Use this extra information to better plan your day.

Day 7: Delegate It

Let’s wrap up with a less conventional approach. You can often delegate away your tasks: even if you’re not a manager, and even (especially) outside of work. Today, for each thing that you want to get done, ask yourself: “is this is something that seems like a good use of my time?” If the answer is “no” then think about ways to get someone else to do it.

Here are a few approaches to delegate successfully:

  • Trade. Look for win-win scenarios where you can offload something you don’t want to do in exchange for something that you do want to do (or at least are better at). For example, if you are great at cooking, offer to cook every day in exchange for not having to spend time cleaning the house.
  • Systematize it. You can often let someone less skilled than you handle your tasks, but only if you provide them solid guidance first. For example, give the office intern the opportunity to work on your important presentation, but be sure to build him a great outline first. Someone else can handle the details if the right structure is there.
  • Don’t forget that you can pay people to do things. Yes, you can change your own oil, but if someone else can do it faster and for less money than your time is worth, pay them to do it. Even if it costs more than the DIY approach, the time savings are often worth it.

Realistically you can’t delegate every task, but a few well-planned handoffs can save hours each week.

Your Action for Today:

  • Look at each task on your todo list and ask “is this a good use of my time?” Use some of the strategies above to delegate the most egregious tasks.

7 Days, 7 Things

So there you have it: 7 tactics to manufacture more time. While not every approach works for everyone in every situation, your time management will definitely improve if you take the time to test out each idea. As you work through each day, keep track of what is and isn’t working. Give it a week and see how much time you can manufacture.

Now, what are you going to do with all the extra hours in the day? Be sure to let me know. I’m listening.