"I'll just check Facebook and refresh my twitter feed one more time, and then I'll go to bed."
2 hours later: "If I stop watching this cat video and fall asleep now, I'll still get 5 and a half hours."
The wealth of information that is at our fingertips is truly staggering - but it can be a bad thing. There are more distractions than ever before vying for our attention, and it's easier than ever to give in to them.
As a result, it's becoming more important, and more difficult, to control our time.
Here's 9 tips to help you get some of that time back:
1. Use scheduling to work in productive blocks
Scheduling time in your calendar to tackle the key things you want to work on is an effective way to get more done. When you’re in one of these scheduled blocks, the idea is that you don’t work on anything else – only that thing. You’ll work with more focus and make more headway.
Schedule time for reactive work too, like replying to emails and phone calls. Stopping and starting tasks when interruptions come in make it more difficult to regain focus.
Don’t allow anyone to put phone calls through to you unless it’s between certain times or an emergency. Get them to take a message, then email or call people back at your allotted reactive time.
2. Outsource some tasks
How often do you spend time sitting doing repetitive tasks like entering data or scheduling social media posts?
You can outsource virtually any task via sites like Fiverr, Elance and oDesk.
Why struggle trying to interpret your Google Analytics reports? Give someone else access and for a low cost get the key information in an email.
You can also outsource personal tasks so you can spend longer doing productive work. For example, picking up your dry cleaning or walking your dog.
3. Turn off notifications on your phone
A lot of us work with our phones nearby, face-up on the desk.
Those banners on your lock screen that pop up are incredibly distracting. As soon as one pops up, I find it almost impossible to resist the urge to pick it up and react to it, typing out a message or simply just clearing the notification.
Turning these off will make you more productive and more likely to keep up your flow.
If you don’t want to turn these off, try working with your phone face-down and vibrate turned off.
4. Try a browser blocker extension.
There are several extensions you can get for your web browser which will not allow you access to any time-sucking websites that you specify. If you find yourself browsing Reddit endlessly, or clicking through all of the related videos on YouTube, give something like StayFocusd or Cold Turkey a try.
5. Learn to Speed Read
It’s possible to increase your reading speed by over 300% if you dedicate the time to learning. There’s several websites which will help you to do this. Being able to read this quickly means you’ll be able to fly through emails, content offers and blog posts when you’re pressed for time. You can also quickly read through notes before meetings to bring yourself up to speed.
You should still slow down and take more care over important documents however, like contracts, proposals and just when you want to read for pleasure.
6. Don’t allow meetings to overrun
If someone has sent you a meeting request, it will have a start and end time. Make sure everyone sticks to this and covers everything necessary within this time. If there is more that people want to discuss, insist on being sent another meeting request at a time that works for you.
This goes for scheduled phone calls and teleconferences too.
7. Reject meeting invites
Some people have a habit of inviting people into meetings somewhat unnecessarily, because they “might” benefit, or because it could be useful to get that person’s insight. Often, this results in you sitting there wondering what on earth you’re doing in this meeting.
Unless you’re essential to the meeting, reject the invitation. If you’re only needed for a part of the meeting, ask people to call you in when necessary – then leave again after.
8. Be productive in “gap time”
Gap time refers to those minutes between meaningful activities where you don’t really get anything of value done, or don’t start working on anything big, because you only have a short period of time before the next scheduled activity.
You can still be productive during gap time. Don’t stop what you’re doing during scheduled work to reply to emails. Process them during your next gap. Print off longer articles and read them during this time. I use gap time to come up with new article ideas.
9. Utilise your phone during delays
I was recently standing at a train platform waiting for my train. I have a habit of arriving for my train exactly when I need to – as it’s arriving. This time it was delayed by 6 minutes.
I pulled out my phone and replied to 2 emails, then deleted them from my inbox. I also managed to write a short brief to a creative agency which I just finished as I was getting on the train.
Try to do this whenever you’re faced with delays, like waiting to see your doctor. If you can carry a lightweight laptop around with you, use it to get online and do even better work. Using your phone as a hotspot is a viable option with high speed data plans these days.