Latest posts by Hailey Friedman (see all)
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These time management life hacks just might help you regain control of your life.
Time is so fleeting.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a week. In a place like San Francisco, where seasons bleed seamlessly into the next, it can be difficult to even find the landmarks to acknowledge that time is going by. And yet it is.
We often get consumed with things that seem urgent, but are not actually important.
Like our perpetually refilling inbox or Facebook alerts or Instagram notifications. There’s always something to “check”.
Our stocks, our bank account balances, our Linkedin connection requests. It’s easy to consume minutes, more often hours of our day, with our thumbs scrolling up and down taking up time we didn’t plan for.
We didn’t intend to spend our time that way. Yet somehow it happens– and it happens every day.
I read a quote recently that said “Every time you’re interrupted, it takes you 23 minutes to re-focus”.
Sit with that for a second.
How do we get our time back? I’ve legitimately searched the internet and the app stores for solutions to this problem and I’ve found them few and far between. It’s almost as if the technology Gods don’t want us to get our time back. Somebody out there must be making an effort to solve this problem– no, this epidemic.
I’ve been personally struggling with this problem and I’ve collected tips here and there from books and from people that I’ve implemented myself and I compiled them all here for you.
At the very least, let’s share the small wins we’re making every day to stay focused. The strategies that keep our mind in-the-zone and keep us feeling productive, fulfilled and in control of our time.
Here’s what I do:
Time management life hacks
Shut off all notifications
I did this both on my computer and on my iphone. I went into settings, and went app by app shutting off notifications. The only thing I get alerted about on my phone now is when someone is calling or texting me. Nothing else. Why? Because the constant pings are simply marketing tools to draw you back into these apps and have you drown away your time there so that they can earn more ad revenue off your eyeballs. Don’t play into this game. Own your own eyeballs and keep them focused on something productive. Something that you decide on for yourself.
I downloaded this chrome extension to block my Facebook newsfeed from appearing on my desktop. That way, even if I find myself type the addictive “f…” into my browser, when Facebook appears, I won’t get distracted by scrolling through hours worth of updates on my newsfeed. I simply see empty space that will remind me to get back to what I was doing, or if I do have an update I need to “check”, I can simply do so and then get back to my business without getting further distracted. This tool is great but I wish it worked on mobile. Please let me know if you know of one that does!
Shut off Facebook Messenger notifications
Facebook Messenger used to feel like a legit message from a friend, but with the launch of chatbots and group chats, now sometimes is not. If a friend really wants to get in touch with me, they likely have my number and can text or call me. Facebook Messenger notifications are now off, and I’ll see those messages when I decide to check it on my own time.
Thanks @JoshFechter for this one. I downloaded this to block my Linkedin Newsfeed so I don’t get caught in the endless spiral of consuming other people’s content. Instead my newsfeed comes up blank with a simple quote reminder from Josh—“Are you a consumer or a creator?” These days, I’m really trying to stay a creator. Again, any solutions for mobile out there, please let me know!
Put your phone on airplane mode
Have a project that you know you need to bang out within a specific amount of time? Put your phone on airplane more and stick it in a drawer somewhere. Out of site, out of mind.
This time management life hack is a new one for me but I’ve found it to be one of the most effective strategies yet. If you’re like me and you work at a tech startup in Silicon Valley, you probably work at a desk or table that’s part of an open floor plan. This creates an incredible opportunity for collaboration and the freedom to tap just about any C-level executive on the shoulder. However, the downside is that it can be difficult to stay focused when you’re so exposed to distractions.
What do I do? I take my laptop and go find a hiding place in the office where no one can find me. At RealtyShares we have these funky egg-shaped chairs that I can duck into and turn the chair against a wall. When I’m not sitting at my desk, it becomes more difficult for the casual passer-by to knock my off my thought track. A lot of my daily work takes deep thinking time and if I have hours of consecutive time to think, I know I can create incredible things. The problem is finding that time.
For that reason alone, I love traveling on airplanes. I find that it’s one of the only times when I have 6+ hours of quiet time to myself with no distractions. With no wifi and no phone service- no person or notifications can distract me from my thoughts and the task at hand. (Full disclosure- I’m writing this post on an airplane right now 🙂
Don’t read your emails
Or at least don’t read them first thing in the morning. Why? Emails can be about anything. Sometimes they’re important and sometimes they’re not. But if you’re like me, then you have this knee-jerk reaction of wanting to respond to every email right away. Wanting to clear your inbox and keep it at zero. If you stop and think about it, is that really the best use of your time? Being a reactive slave to anything that enters your inbox?
I downloaded this helpful chrome extension called “Inbox When Ready” to keep me on track. It blocks my inbox so that when I go to gmail it just shows me a blank page. I can click a button to view the emails in my inbox, but that extra step is something enough of a reminder that I probably have better priorities to focus on.
Instead, I can decide for myself what’s important and use my time proactively towards those goals. In the morning your mind is fresh and ready to take on anything. Use that time to focus on the most important thing you want to accomplish that day. Set aside specific blocks of time on your calendar for checking emails and only do so within those time frames. (full disclosure- I’m still working on this one!)
Stop watching TV
Every hour you spend watching Netflix, is an hour you didn’t spend creating something to put out into the world. Whether it’s a blog post, a painting, a piece of music, an event—create something. Share your creation with others. In this life, you really do get back what you put into it. Every time we push outwards and make a dent in the world, the world responds in return. You won’t know in advance exactly how the world will respond, which can be scary, and it’s that fear that holds people back from creating and from sharing. But every time you do, your life propels forward and you make an impact by connecting with others.
Hire a Virtual Assistant
Take some time to think through what you do everyday. Your tasks at work, your personal responsibilities. Are any of these things simple or process driven enough that they can be handled by someone else? If so, you might want to consider hiring a virtual assistant. For $8/hour+ you can delegate some of your tasks to a virtual assistant. Sites like Upwork or Freelancer make it easy to find people in the U.S. and around the world that can do this work for you—all you need to do is write out the process for them to follow.
This can be an enormous unlock for minimizing distractions, winning some of your own time back and super charging your productivity. Click here for a complete list of things you can outsource to a virtual assistant.
Automate your job
As a marketer in today’s world, I’m forever in awe of the new tools that keep surfacing to make my life easier. A few of my favorites at the moment:
- Automate you webinars with EverWebinar
- Automatic landing pages with Instapage
- Automate your emails with Autopilot
Automate your life
- Forget cooking- order food to your door in a matter of minutes with services like Caviar.
- Forget laundry- have someone else do your laundry and deliver it to your door with Rinse.
- Forget shlepping- hire cheap movers on demand with Lugg (use my promo code HAILEY2473 to get $20 off).
- Forget coffee runs- order high end instant coffee from Sudden Coffee– delivered straight to your doorstep every month.
I’m not encouraging everyone to go out there and be a flake. But I happen to be someone who is a “yes” person. I say yes to almost every opportunity that comes my way. This has lead to my meeting some incredible people and having unique experiences, however this can also be a curse. If you don’t know how to say “no”, then it can be difficult to be in control of your own time. In order to stay focused on the top priorities and tasks, you need to be able to say no when distractions arise.
This won’t always be easy, and sometimes you end up saying yes to plans or to meetings that you realize you shouldn’t have. You know what you should do in that case? Just cancel. It’s not the end of the world, the other party will understand, and you can always reschedule for another time. I think you’ll find that canceling plans and winning your time back can be liberating.
Whether or not you listen to music on those headphone is your decision, but just the act of wearing them can have an enormous impact. First of all, it tells those around you that you can’t hear them, and that in itself may discourage them from calling your name and interrupting you from what you’re doing. Secondly, this time management life hack is a signal to you that you are dialing in, blocking out the surrounding noise and focusing in on what’s in front of you. Personally, I find it difficult to focus on my thoughts when I’m listening to music because it makes me want to sing along. However, I know plenty of people who do their best work while listening to music. I prefer to use my White Noise app to drown out the surrounding noise and narrow my focus.
Now that the distractions are gone, how do you decide what to focus on?
Tips for staying focused & prioritizing
- Write things down. Your brain can only handle up to a certain capacity of information and keep in top of mind. Of course new information is crossing our path every moment. If it’s something you want to remember, but don’t want to focus on at this moment, write it down. That way, your brain doesn’t have to do the work of storing it itself and can stay focused on the task at hand.
- I use Evernote to write down long-form thoughts that I can revisit or search for later.
- I use Trello to manage my to do lists. I have a separate Trello board for work and my personal life. I split each board up into 4 columns.
- To Do
- This is also known as the KanBan method. There should be no more than 3 items in my “doing” list at any given time. Each morning I reprioritize my to do list by moving cards around depending on the importance, and then I make sure the 3 most important things I need to do that day are in my “doing” column. Sometimes, you start doing something but the completion of that task depends on someone else responding to an email or taking the next step. In that case, I move the item to the “pending” column until it’s actual completion, when I move it to “done”. This system has been EXTREMELY helpful in keeping me organized and focused. Whenever I have a question about what I should be doing right now, I visit my Trello board and look at the “doing” column and I immediately know how to get back on track.
- Set long term goals for yourself and write them down. Whether it’s 3 months out, 6 months out, 1 year or 5 years, you should write out 3-5 things you want to accomplish. This can be professionally and personally. Then write out the steps you’ll take to make each one of those goals happen and the sacrifices you may have to make along the way to reach them. Those guiderails will come to be incredibly powerful and will be instrumental in moving you towards your goals even if it’s subconsciously.
- For example, in May 2017 one of the goals I wrote down was that I wanted to start dating more. One of the steps I wrote that I’d take was to start getting more dressed up everyday, for work and on the weekends. A sacrifice I’d have to make to get there would be that I would invest in my wardrobe. Four months down the road I came across my notebook where I had written this down. I had genuinely forgotten about this goal and the sacrifice of investing in my wardrobe. But re-reading that certainly explained why I had been spending so much money on new crisp outfits! I had forgotten I’d made that pledge to myself, yet I was carrying it out anyway subconsciously.
- Meditate. I use Headspace, which is a mobile app that helps you in guided meditations. They even have a whole series of meditations focused on Productivity. It will help you train your mind to stay focused for prolonged periods of time on the task at hand.
How do we build our time management skills?
I wish I knew all the answers. I wish I knew tools and tactics to help us stay focused. I hope these will help as a starting point. We’re all in this battle together. As the world becomes more complex and robust, we will continue to have more content and more apps competing for
our attention and our time.
Let’s fight back.
Let’s build up our time management muscles so we can stay in control of our time, no matter what the world throws at us.
Are you with me?