Learn the Three Steps I Took to Free Up Time Every Day

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If you’re like me, you probably have tons of interests but not enough time to pursue everything you’d like to do. Maybe you have a side project sitting somewhere in your mind but you either don’t have the time or are too tired to work on it at the end of the day. For me, it was to learn English. Then it was to learn new skills related to statistics, my field of study. Then I wanted to start a blog, and read more books, and… well, you got it.

I’ve recently realized I’ve succeeded to do all of these things in the past few months and now, I would like to share with you the three important steps I took to free up time to be able to work on these side projects.

Step 1: Get a healthy life.

This is basic. What I mean by having a healthy life is eating a healthy diet, exercising and having enough sleep every day. I bet you’ve already read it, but this is so important! I want to hammer in this topic by giving you the reasons why it’s so important:

  • You get TONS of energy throughout the day. Do you feel crappy after eating a big fat pizza? Well, the opposite happens when you have a healthy lifestyle. This is what makes the difference between someone who is tired after work in the evening and someone who still can achieve some important things (like a side project!).
  • You are more motivated throughout the day. This is related to having a lot of energy. It’s far easier to be motivated to work or study when you’re energized. And you are more focused and concentrated.
  • You will look better! And don’t say you don’t care. Everyone cares.
  • You are sick less often. It’s hard to be productive when you’re sick.
  • Tons of other important reasons (like living longer, being proud of you, being more confident, …).

I hope you’re convinced that this step is not optional if you want to achieve more. Now, this is a very broad topic and I’d like to keep it short. There are two substeps.

The first one is to decide which level of health you want to achieve. You may want to be as healthy as possible but also enjoy fast food from time to time. You need to find a balance between being healthy and enjoying small pleasures (these are not incompatible by the way). Here are a few ideas you can implement right now. Notice I focus on big wins that will provide the most results:

  • Sleep 8 hours every night. Some people need 7 hours, others 9. Just test it. If you think your sleep isn’t perfect, then this is the first thing you need to improve before anything else. If you think 6 hours are enough, you’re probably wrong.
  • Eat less junk food. Junk food is evil and makes you tired and unproductive for hours. When I eat junk food, I know I won’t try to work later.
  • Drink more water. Keep a bottle with you all the time.
  • Drink less coffee. Coffee doesn’t give energy, it makes you less energetic in the long term.
  • Exercise regularly. This really gives more energy in your everyday life (you don’t have to exercise every day). Don’t think of it like time wasting, it actually makes you gain time.

The second substep is to implement this. And this is the hardest part. Don’t try to do all at once, you should go one step at a time. Since I want to keep it short but also don’t want to leave you empty-handed, here is a great resource you can use for behavior changing: Behavior Wizard.

Step 2: Manage tasks, not time.

We often say “I don’t have time”. Is this even true? Of course not. If I would give you one more hour every week, would you have time?

What we actually lack is energy. When you come back home and sit before the computer or TV instead of working on your side project, it is because your energy reserves are empty.

You’re not limited by time. You’re limited by energy.

In the past, I would try to plan every hour in the week to be more productive and allow me to work on side projects. But this leads only to be busy for hours and not that productive. You don’t want to be busy for hours, you want to achieve tasks. Some tasks require more energy than others, for instance if this is something very stressful or that requires a lot of creativity. You don’t want to accumulate those hard tasks in one day because you won’t be efficient or productive.

When I understood that time wasn’t the problem but that energy was, I tried to plan how I would spend my energy instead of my time. In other words, I’m planning which tasks I want to do every day and every week, and not how many hours I want to spend on X or Y.

How can you do that?

Once a week, I decide what I want to do for the next week. The idea is to choose every area of your life where you want to improve or learn something and to select the tasks that will make you say “This week I’ve made some good progress”.

Then every evening I choose among the list of tasks what I’m going to do the day after. During the day, I achieve these tasks one at a time, and I don’t add anything else! This last part is important if you want to manage your energy correctly. When you’re done, you’re free to enjoy entertainment without guilt.

For example, last week, I wanted to do the Python course on Codecademy. I selected it on Sunday and put it on my daily tasks every day because I wanted to work on it every day. I also needed to read a paper for school work, so I put it in the weekly tasks and chose one day to work on it.

See this screenshot to see how it’s working. I’m using a spreadsheet to plan my tasks, I write “TODO” when it needs to be done, and once it’s done I write “Done”. Very simple, and it’s quite rewarding when you see you have a lot of green “Done”.

The hardest part of this system is to evaluate what you can achieve during the week and how much energy will take each task. You don’t want to put too many tasks or too few. It takes some time to evaluate it, but it’s worth it. Also, sometimes you want to add weekly tasks during the week (you can’t predict everything), so you have to anticipate this.

I didn’t make up this task management system but borrowed it from Scott H. Young.

Step 3: Cut down the tasks that aren’t important to you (Facebook, emails, etc.).

The last step was to realize I was spending a lot of time and energy on tasks that weren’t important for me.

Do you think browsing Facebook makes you rested? If yes, then let me ask you a question. Which of these two types of breaks do you think is more effective?

  1. You stop working and switch to checking your mail and your Facebook feed (and Twitter along with some blog posts). After 15 minutes, you get back to work. You stayed seated at your desk for the entire break.
  2. You stop working, get up and go for a 10-minute walk outside. Your mind is wandering about anything but work. When back, you prepare a cup of tea for the next work-interval.

The second break is far more effective.

When you’re on Facebook, reading your emails or blog posts, your brain doesn’t rest, it gets a continuous flow of information. Imagine that every time you’re sitting before a screen, the screen is slowly but steadily draining your energy.

Browsing Facebook is not relaxing. Going for a walk is.

My point here isn’t about breaks (even though you may probably want to improve the way you’re taking breaks) but to show you that these activities are not what you think they are (relaxing time). They actually suck your energy without being that important.

One great tool to realize how much time you spend on these activities is RescueTime. It tracks how you spend your time on computer (and phone), then tells you what is productive and what is not. After using it for a week, you’ll have a good idea of what your biggest distraction is and you will be able to take action to try to reduce it, so that you can free up time and energy.

Note: I agree that it’s important to have distractions, entertainment, fun time, etc… But you’ve got to realize that most of the activities that we think are relaxing are actually energy draining! Almost any activity on a computer drains your energy (even playing video games).

Final Word.

Reading an article about freeing up time doesn’t free up time. It’s only by taking action that you will be able to have more free time.

But remember, change is a slow process. Pick one change at a time and start with the biggest win. It took me months to understand how to manage my energy well and to apply all the changes I describe above, I still have a lot of improvements to do! Don’t expect to succeed in doing all at once.

If you want to go further, I also wrote an ebook that describes the techniques I’m using that helped me to save more than 4 hours every day. Get the ebook directly sent to your inbox by using the form below.

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