There’s one phrase I really like and I always remind myself with:
If you care enough, you will make time for it.
Or this one:
When someone says he can’t make it because he’s “busy” it probably means you ain’t the priority. He has the time. Just not for you.
This applies to your gym plan. Or meeting that high school friend you only talk to on each other’s birthday every year saying you should “catch up soon”.
Why are you procrastinating?
You don’t want something bad enough.
Why would you pause your Netflix and visit the loo but not to pause scrolling social media and work on your side gig?
You might have a grand plan and you even visualise every day for it to happen within your time frame. But then you just seem to not have the “kick” to start working on it.
Or you might say, life happens, you got a 3-year-old to take care of and a demanding day job so you “cannot find time for yourself”.
Do you, really?
Everyone is granted 24 hours a day. It’s fair.
Trust me, I have been there too.
And it took me a long time to get rid of the loop and prioritise my tasks so that I always ate the frog and never needed to worry about it when I got home from my 9-6.
Indeed no one can “create time”. The underlying problem is how to find the time management system that helps you “make the most of the 24 hours” and get things done.
Here are a couple of steps that may guide you to make better use of your time. Take whatever suits you.
1 track your schedule to see your pattern and where time goes
I don’t mean minute to minute but if you review what you did every night before you sleep and analyse your pattern you might actually realise you spent too much time on traffic, happy hours or scrolling social media.
No need to blame yourself.
We all do that.
I personally use Google calendar for this and I colour code my activities so I can easily filter the category and see where I spent most of my time on.
As a music therapy student I spend a lot of time on the music (purple) and study (brown) categories which include filming Youtube videos, practising piano and guitar or composing songs; and lectures and revision sessions respectively.
The categories you want to have should align the life goals you set for yourself. Health, personal development, work, family are the most common ones. Check out my blog post here on setting life goals.
Give yourself a week to see where does time typically go.
2 live your life according to your goal
So you found gaps between tasks. Those gaps are usually time you scroll social media and flip TV channels mindlessly. Now you know wha activities you want to cut off, or which areas to spend more time on.
Take out your goal list, have a good look and remind yourself why and how badly you want to achieve those goals. Then break down the goals to smaller, achievable tasks.
For example I want to learn how to play Fantaisie Impromptu fluently in 3 months. To do that I will need to 1) train my fingers’ flexibility by practising scales and arpeggios 2) divide the song into sections and work on each section each week 3) combine left hand and right hand 4) practise everything with the metronome. Then I will schedule time every single day, maybe 15-30 minutes to work on each task and by the end of 3 months I should be able to play the song.
There are many ways to schedule tasks and get stuff done. First method is to batch similar tasks together and block out the hours on the calendar. You can even name the day of the week. For example Monday may be the admin day where I reply to emails, schedule phone calls and do other housekeeping work. Tuesday may be the creation day where I compose songs and arrange handpan covers. Wednesday may be school day where I have classes and tutorials. You get the idea. However I have tried this method for months and I finally decided it was too overwhelming for me. Maybe I overestimated my efficiency.
Hence I try the second method. The famous three-item to-do list. Every day, ideally during night time before I sleep I list the 3 top items I want to accomplish tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be big project. For example it might be 1) write the intro of the 3,000-word essay 2) declutter my desk 3) edit my video. These are all tasks in my project list.
Pro tip: always start listing the item with a verb. See how I use “write”, “declutter” and “edit” above. It makes it easier to just work on it.
This method has so far worked for me and I can call it a day when I accomplish all three of them.
There are many other methods to get stuff done or to boost productivity. The key is to try different things and see what work for you.
3 The bigger the WHY, the easier the HOW.
Okay some of you may be like, I DO NOT have the time to work on my projects in the morning before I go to work!
Well let me tell you, if your demanding work drains all of your energy when you get home how are you going to work on your gig? Binge watching Netflix sounds like a better idea.
So it all comes down to how badly you want to achieve your goal.
Prioritise your passion.
Your passion should be that one thing that makes you jump out of bed and get excited to grind on instead of hitting the snooze button. I also bet you will find more satisfaction in life when you work on things you truly love.
Also research shows that human beings are most creative when they wake up so it’s better to have your creation section in the morning, before you do anything else. If you are interested in how I prepare myself for the optimised creative morning check out my post here.
But of course, it’s vitally important to have a strategy for your goal so in the morning you know exactly what to work on.
4 Task batching
This is actually what I have struggled for the longest time. I had a hard time distinguishing tasks and the “habits” I wanted to build. For example I knew I needed to practise guitar every day, so do I put it on the top-three to-do list or not?
My conclusion is to 1) make the skills you want to perfect habits and 2) limit what you write on the top-three to-do list to tasks broken down from a project. So for me I will not put instrument practice and language learning in my to-do list. I shall do them on auto-pilot after I finished the top three items for the day.
You can adopt the task-batching method if you are the to-do list type.
Group similar tasks together and tackle them in one go.
For example, pick up your dry cleaning and parcels when you go out instead of doing each task on seperate days. Edit several videos together in one day because there is no friction in switching tasks.
Batching your creative tasks is a topic worth exploring. Some may argue that human’s creativity works like a muscle and you should train it every single day; while some say you should pick one day in a week as a “creation day” and churn out as much content as possible.
Play around and see what suits you best.
Other mistakes I made
1 I sometimes expect too much of myself and make my schedule so packed that I feel overwhelmed and I stop following. That’s why step one of tracking how much time you spend on a task is important. Be realistic.
2 You need time off. You will eventually burn out if your whole life is about productivity.
I hope this post helps you to be more productive. If you prioritse the right things, you eventually have “more time”.