There is a great deal of self-help books, time management books, seminars, and other tools for getting the most out of your day. Their various philosophies work for different people, in different ways, and I am not expert enough on the topic to even so much as recommend a good reading list. However, there are two practical ideas, from my own experience, that I would recommend to everyone. These have helped me get a lot more out of my day, and have enabled me to get much more done – especially over the long-term.
Effective multitasking (audio): I often find myself engaged in very mundane activities – the kinds of mechanical work that must be done, but requires little serious focus or intellectual power. Some examples include housework, yard work, commuting, home repair, and even a stint as a night-time security guard. These activities add up to hours of unproductive time every week, but cannot be eliminated. The next best thing is to find a way to infuse them with productive activity.
One way to do so is through audio-books and lectures. Whether you use a service like Audible or YouTube, there’s a lot of materials out there, on literally any topic.
Some downsides of the audio format are that, on average, it takes twice as long to listen to a book as it does to read it carefully. YouTube speed setting can accelerate this, though the audio usually turns to chipmunks at anything beyond a 1.5 speed. Another issue is that not everyone does well with the audio format, and some books do not do well in audio either. Finally, audio does take away the ability to cite the text effectively – unless you also happen to have a PDF version of the document, with the “find” feature.
I have been able to go through several hundred books and thousands of hours of lectures, without specifically dedicating time to them. An average book is around 8 hours – roughly the weekly time designated for mundane tasks, in my experience. By adding the audio function to your otherwise mindless tasks, you can get a lot more out of your time – whether you’re listening to lectures, serious books, or sci-fi and fantasy.
Filling Empty Time: We often try to dedicate time for some specific activity – e.g. 30 minutes to practice an instrument, or 20 minutes to clean the kitchen, etc. But, if the activity is not pleasant (learning how to play an instrument is grating on the ears), we are likely to skip out on it when we can. Some of these activities are doable, or “practice-able” in short bursts – under 5 minutes. This makes them ideal for getting done “in passing.” That is, when we don’t specifically dedicate the time to them, but instead use the waiting periods of some other activity, to get them done.
In my case, I used the 4 minutes it takes my hookah coals to light up to do Arabic. I could not get back to reading, or writing my MA thesis, since I’d have to get up again in 4 minutes, so it was time wasted. Instead, by practicing Arabic in 4 minute intervals over 3 months, my reading and pronunciation reached complete fluidity.
Other waiting times commonly include waiting for food to heat up, end-credits and intro of TV shows (about 3-5 minutes if you’re watching shows back to back), waiting for a one step of food prep to get done, to move onto the next, and other such moments. If you have a vacuum handy, you can vacuum the whole room in under 3 minutes. 90 seconds is plenty of time to load or empty out a dishwasher (usually). The few minutes it takes to sauté the food, is plenty of time to clean up the ingredients and/or dirty dishes used for cooking – leaving you with a clean kitchen at the end of it.
By limiting unpleasant activities to short bursts of action, you can get a lot more done without forcing yourself to section off large chunks of time. More importantly, you’re more likely to actually do those unpleasant activities, since the feeling of dread and despair is not nearly as strong when you only have to endure it for 90 seconds.