This post originally appeared on my Inc.com column on March 27, 2017.
“Time is money.”
That tired old adage was used almost exclusively by the Wall Street fat cats of yesteryear, or your father when he was trying to teach you a valuable life lesson that one time.
Here’s the thing, though. Time is free, and we all get the same amount of it. Thus, unless you’re able to consistently find ways to produce more with the time you have, yours is going to be worth the same amount as everyone else’s–which is to say, zero (at least from a fat cat perspective).
But even if you’re not aspiring to be the next Wolf on the Street, learning how to be more productive with your time, especially in today’s age of hyper-connectivity–in which someone, somewhere, is always working on the same project you are, and will be emailing you about it tomorrow, early–can help you find success in all aspects of your life.
In my own experience, there are a few key habits one can learn to be as productive as possible. And, though, as with any habits, they will take time to develop, effectively integrating them into your daily routine will allow you to achieve a more balanced life in general.
1. Wake up early
Every weekday, I wake up at 4:22 a.m. I have for a long time.
Now, despite the litany of questions I receive about why in the world I would possibly do this to myself, it remains one of my favorite productivity hacks, and is without a doubt incredibly effective when it comes to keeping me healthy in my life.
Hopping out of bed before the sun has even thought about rising allows me to address the personal chores that I either won’t have the time to do once I get home or the desire.
You can read a full description of my morning routine and how I think it’s benefited me here, but I will give you the gist, since this is an article about saving time.
Some of the main things I try to accomplish before work include taking care of mindless household tasks like laundry or paying the bills, catching up on the latest news in the tech world, going to the gym, and partaking in a little self-improvement by learning a new language.
Each of these tasks exists under one of the four tenants I follow to maximize how proactive I am with my time in the mornings: Get to Work, Get Organized, Get Smarter, and Get Healthier.
Now I realize that altering your sleep schedule is neither an easy nor attractive proposition. However, I implore you. Start small. Wake up 15 minutes earlier every week for a month. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with a little discipline and coffee.
2. Become an expert time manager
This is a simpler way to fuel productivity, but no less effective.
I would estimate that for a majority of you reading this, the areas where you will be able to trim the most fat are in places like answering email and scheduling. For these, don’t underestimate the value of using Google or Office 365 to set up organized folders and calendars using the platforms’ wealth of management tools.
Again, some tweaking might be required to find a sweet spot, but generally speaking, utilizing these tools will help you shave valuable minutes off these otherwise monotonous tasks.
For everything else, experiment with the wealth of productivity apps available on the market today. Personally, I like organizational tools like Hootsuite and Pocket to manage my social media and news, as well as YouNeedABudget for taking care of my financials efficiently.
3. Make your meetings active
Whenever possible, I like to hold my one-on-one meetings in an active atmosphere.
As with the rest of these hacks, it’s not a novel idea, but in practice I’ve found it to work wonders for both the quality of communication I have as well as my ability to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle throughout a busy day.
Doing something as simple as walking outside and talking instead of sitting face-to-face across a desk will allow conversation to flow more freely, and encourages my employees to be healthier themselves, which ultimately leads to a happier team and a more productive organization overall.
If you can’t get outside, or are holding most of your meetings in a videoconference setting, remember to employ some active strategies to remain focused and engaged in the conversation. These methods include things as simple as using your hands when you speak or standing up, but can lead to vastly more effective communication.
Stretching this idea of activity even further, I’d encourage you to look into things such as intramural sports leagues for your co-workers, which, at the end of the day, can not only be superb team-building exercises but are also almost unanimously considered to be an awesome time.
And, to reiterate, being awesome (and efficient) with your time is kind of the whole point.