I know you’ve done it, too. You woke up with 27 things to do, hustled like a freakin’ superstar all day, checking things off the list, and somehow ended the day with only 41 things left to do. How does this happen? Surely for all this effort, we should at least be able to feel like we’re getting ahead. “If only there were more hours in the day,” we assure ourselves. Then we’d have it. Then we’d get it all done.
Sad news time: we cannot literally add new hours to the day. I know, I know. But the whole “24 hours” thing is pretty locked in at this point. If we were to change it now, gas stations and customer service departments everywhere would need to update their signs and stuff, and I just can’t imagine them being very happy about it.
Exciting, knock-your-shoes-and-your-socks-off great news time: we don’t actually need a longer day. We have the extra hours we need already. They’re hidden among the 24 we’ve already got.
How can we find them? All we’ve got to do is
quit sleeping – I’m kidding, I’m KIDDING. Sleep is great. Sleep more. Under-sleeping makes you less productive, and ironically has a way of making the day even shorter.
So how do we actually find these magical extra hours in the day, you ask? What’s the secret? That’s a great question. Oh hey, look, an article about it!
The Problem Isn’t the Problem
In a certain sense, the 16 waking hours in a typical day make up a pretty long time, depending on your perspective. If you had 16 hours to wash a few dishes, you’d have plenty of time. Maybe even too much time. Same is true for relaxing on the couch. One hour: nice. 16 hours: someone please show mercy and let me out of here!
But, those same 16 hours would never feel like enough for a day that looks like this:
- Complete your morning routine
- Drive to work
- Finish all of the work on your plate
- Go to the gym
- Stop at the store on the way home
- Spend quality time with your family
- Make dinner
- Eat dinner
- Respond to work emails and urgent requests
- Check in with friends
- Finish housework before bed
Clearly, this doesn’t all fit. A single day is not enough to do all of this and maintain your sanity.
The question then, is not really whether the day is long enough in an absolute sense, but whether it is long enough for everything we try to fit into it. Think of your day as a container. You can’t change the size of your container, but you can decide what you try to squish into it.
You may be reading this thinking, “I don’t actually have that much control over my day.” After all, everything on the above list is pretty important, isn’t it? We can’t just skip work or time with family any more than we can skip sleep. So, where in blazes do we go from here? Well, we skip to the end, of course!
Start with the End in Mind
There’s a funny little thing about the “more hours in the day” problem that takes us right to the root of the issue. And that is when we tend to notice the problem. Have you ever woken up, done some stretches, had a cup of tea, looked up at the sunny sky and said “man, if only there were more hours in the day?”
Most of us only arrive at this frustration late at night, when the clock reads “Late:30” and we still have so much more to do. But the funny thing is, late at night isn’t where we can solve the problem. We can solve the problem in the morning, and throughout the day. By Late:30, and this is true, it’s already too late.
Finding more hours in the day isn’t a time travel problem, or a motivation problem, or even a productivity one. It’s a planning problem. We don’t run out of time because there’s not enough time, we usually run out of time because we over-allocate it.
The Best-Laid Plans of Extremely Busy People
When you start your day, think a little bit about your plan for the day. I’m not talking about a minute-by-minute itinerary. More getting a sense of what the day is going to be about. What the most important pieces are. Rather than making a detailed to-do list, pick out 1-3 big, key objectives for the day.
Set these objectives as your main focus for the day. Make room for them. Start with your empty container of 16 hours for today, and put your 1-3 objectives in first. Everything else that fits in will fit in around these key things.
Having even a basic, high-level direction like this for your day has three main benefits. It:
- Streamlines decision-making throughout the day
- Makes it much easier to accomplish your key objectives
- Gives you a clear “win condition” for that day
This last point is huge, so let me make sure we’re clear. You should never have to work hard throughout your day, do a ton of great things, and then get to the end feeling like you haven’t done “enough.” The concept of “enough” is extremely vague, and without a clear definition, we often translate it to “everything.” And you can never get everything done, which naturally leads to the feeling of not getting enough done.
Having a plan for your day helps you navigate that day and get more done, yes. But more importantly than that, it gives you a definition of “enough.” It sets realistic expectations and gives you a clear point where you can say you accomplished all you set out to for that day.
Otherwise, you’ll never feel like you got enough done, and honestly, who has the time for that?
Learn to Love “No”
Once you have these high-level goals in place, which set the framework for your day, you’re most of the way there already. All that’s left is to put your money, or rather your time, where your mouth is. Use the priorities that you have set as a guideline for how to spend your time.
These priorities should come before all the rest. They won’t be the only things you do today. But the smaller, yet necessary tasks should fit around your main goals, not the other way around. As for everything else, it’s time we get better acquainted with the word “No.”
You’re allowed to say no. Always have been. Not everything is going to fit into every day, that’s a simple, hard fact. And that’s okay, because with clearly defined objectives, we can always fit the most important things into the day. Ultimately, that’s all we’re really looking for.
All day long, there are requests, invitations, and distractions of all sorts coming in our direction. And while they all may seem critical at the moment, exceedingly few actually are. Most can wait for another day. Some don’t need your involvement at all. Learn to enjoy taking back your time from these things. Say no, firmly but respectfully. Whether you say it out loud to other people, or internally to yourself, you’ll be far more productive and at peace with your day if you can keep the least critical activities at bay while you dial in on your most important stuff.
If you’re ready to get way more hours in the day, all you need is these two simple steps: decide where you want your hours to go, and then put them there.
Sam Stone https://smarterandharderblog.com/
Hi, I’m Sam! I write about creative paths to personal development. My mission is to share motivation, positivity, and new big ideas with people who are looking to take their lives to the next level.