I hesitate to write this post, but a few people have encouraged me to have a go. They seem to believe I get a lot done in a day and want to know the “secret”. Of course they are being kind and flattering me as being a bit of an expert on this topic, which of course I am not. I just have the overwhelming feeling that there are so many things I want to achieve today, this week, this year, and before I die. This is a bit motivator for me. A long list, and a feeling that time is not infinite. A sense that although I know sleep is important I would really like to avoid it and do something more interesting.
I will outline a few things that help me, and welcome other suggestions, and disagreements and critiques.
I would hate anyone to think I am recommending any approaches or ways to live. Having a lively blog can make it seem that I am very busy as I write down things that other people don’t even mention. For example keeping a list of the books I have read; many people read as much or more but don’t feel the need to show off about it!
There is a whole movement about the value of “wasting time”, being open to spontaneous things and being available to others. I can absolutely appreciate this and I do recognise the quality that comes from doing things slowly, deliberately, generously and sensuously. Some of my dearest friends are like this. I don’t feel in anyway superior about being constantly busy and slightly on edge – I suspect these things are partly inborn and partly trained from a very young age. I come from a family that was never, ever, ever late.
By the way, my kids laugh out loud whenever anyone makes the “when the hell do you sleep?” remark. They know the real reason for me having more time than others is because Nick does all the housework and cooking.
- Cut down on the housework and cooking
My husband enjoys cooking. He makes dinner every day, and a packed lunch. He irons my shirts and organises my train tickets. I know that I am very fortunate and this could be the key difference between me and the next woman. I rarely cook – when I am alone I eat toast. In an average day I probably only spend around 10-15 minutes on housework.
- Cut out most shopping and avoid buying stuff
We get food delivered, but I pick up fresh things on my way home from work. This takes no more than 10 mins. I use the internet for shopping for things like books, knitting needles and interfacing. If I am in town, between meetings, I often drop into high street shops to look at the clothes. I like to examine the trends briefly, but I hardly ever try on or buy. Once or twice a year, usually in the sales, I might get something. I spend less than 10 minutes a day shopping, including browsing.
- Be “Mindful” about time
I suppose it helps if you can decide what you want to achieve with your time, and what you struggle to get done. I cut down the things I don’t like doing, the things that don’t make me happy or “add value” to my life. Some things seem designed to gobble up your time. For example I can’t face watching an advert on the TV, and I get annoyed by unsolicited emails and the rubbish that is printed in free newspapers. So I avoid them deliberately. Other things are necessary but not inherently interesting or enjoyable – getting from A to B or having a shower. I rarely spend more than three minutes getting washed. Obviously other people have different likes and dislikes. If you identify what you want to do more of you may have to do less of something else. Decide consciously what you want to avoid or limit.
- Have an awareness of time
I have a “Protestant work ethic” and can find it hard to sit still – I walk fast. In fact I jog along rather than arrive five minutes late, and I squeeze onto a tube train even if it is packed. I usually know what time it is and am conscious of the end time of my activities – is this normal? Probably not! I rarely lose track of time, even when I am really enjoying a book, making something or socialising. I feel time is precious and I try not to waste it – I can cut it fine and use every last minute. Hence the jogging. The big downside of this approach to life is that you can fail to notice or appreciate beauty, or small but important things, especially when you need to give people time. This is a negative personal failing and I regret it. I have a marked preference for doing something practical to help someone rather than listening to their problems. Sorry. This is not very endearing. My children are my sternest critics, and everything they say about me being insensitive is true.
- Cut out most TV and keep social media under control
I don’t mind not watching TV as I consider much of it worthless. I have virtually no idea what is happening in popular culture. I never switch on TV, radio or music, because I think better in silence (I know others find the opposite). On the other hand I probably spend too much time on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Nick and I often watch one programme together at night eg a Netflix series for about 45 mins, during which I also knit. So with the social media and the TV I am probably looking at a screen of some sort for two hours a day.
- Develop non-negotiable routines
My most important routines are
- 5am get up
- 5-6am do something productive eg sewing
- 6.15 – 8am travel to gym and do an exercise class (eg ballet, yoga, weights, aerobics, swimming)
- 8.30am get to work and start working
- 12.30 eat lunch, read book, surf internet, knit, do personal shopping
- 5pm leave work promptly (if no evening commitment)
- 6pm eat dinner
- 7-9pm do something productive
- 9pm get PJS on, brush teeth, get into bed. Watch TV or read book and go to sleep by 10pm (or even 9.30pm)
I spend about 7 or 8 hours asleep, an hour exercising, and no more than one hour eating.
- Try to avoid things that exhaust you
Stress, depression, and worrying can use up energy and make you feel that you haven’t got the time to do what you want to do. Some of these things cannot be avoided and all of us are sometimes tired or upset. If this is the case I try to take it easy for a while and focus on getting more fresh air – walking near nature is a good one for me. And socialising – I enjoy spending time with friends and family and especially people who make me laugh. Although I enjoy a nice meal and glass of wine occasionally I mainly avoid rich food, sugar and alcohol as they can make me feel sleepy and demotivated.
- Do something new or stimulating
It is important not to get too stuck with a routine, so I like to do things that are different and get me out of my comfort zone – the theatre, exhibitions, holidays, trying something new. Even when I am tired on a Thursday night I find my evening class reviving. Those three hours wizz past!
- Use down time, travel time and do two things at once
This is such a cliché but (like all women) I can do two things at once. I read the Financial Times on the bus and my novel on my way home. I do a few exercises (mainly not visible) when I am waiting in a queue. I have an electric toothbrush and do something useful during the two minutes. Much of my social media is done when I am travelling, waiting, on the loo (yes, that is embarrassing, but true) and sometimes I look at my phone when I am in a boring meeting (even more embarrassing), and regularly when walking along.
- Do it now
This is another cheat really. If I need to do something I find it much quicker – usually – to just do it when I think of it, rather than trying to remember to do it later. If I have lots to do I make a list, but this is rarely necessary. Sometimes doing it now includes asking someone else to do it – certainly within the family we do this quite a lot.
I feel rather exposed explaining how I manage my time. I would be very interested to know how it is for you. Thank you for your interest and what can we learn from different approaches?