A Few Simple Habits to Help You Master Your Time

Productivity doesn't mean working more, it means being alert to opportunities to better use every moment.

January 6, 2017
woman productive

Adapted from PUSH

We're all stuck with the same 24 hours in a day. So it's not time management that we need to improve, it's personal management. The system you'll learn today teaches you not how to do more but what to do less of so that you can make most productive use of your time.

The fact that someone as busy as you has carved out the time to read this book says that you're probably one of the most organized people you know. But if you wish to be even more productive, that requires changing or improving just a few of your habits—incremental, manageable habits that you can begin today.

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If you want to move faster in your career, improve your business, have more time for your family, friends, or fitness pursuits, then you have no choice but to develop habits that allow you to make better use of your time. Today you will.

Productivity doesn't mean working more, it means being alert to opportunities to better use every moment. And time management isn't about creating more hours in the day, it's about getting in the habit of scheduling your day in a way that allows you to honor your priorities and get to the important stuff! As you'll see, exercise is the key.

outdoor workout
Energy equals productivity

We can't manufacture more hours for our day, but we can be infinitely productive with the time we do have. To be more productive, you need more umph!

The number-one way to improve your physical energy, mental stamina, work performance, focus, and ability to cope with stress is exercise. Just exercise.

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Don't take my word for it! There's a mountain of research to support my enthusiastic review. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine found that the productivity of people after exercise was an average of 65 percent higher than those who did not exercise.

If I have something that's really bothering me, so much that it almost hurts my head to try to sort it out, I always find the solution in a puddle of sweat! Intense exercise is like taking a magic pill that gives you the ability to solve problems like a superhero. This "intense exercise" is defined individually based on your level of fitness. Intense for one person might be sprinting on a treadmill; for someone less conditioned, it might be walking at her fastest pace for 20 minutes.

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But to fit in exercise, you need to get your personal time management together. Here's my three-step system that helps you do it.

woman watching tv
Step one: Ask yourself the golden question

To improve your use of time, ask yourself this simple question throughout the day: "Is this the most important thing I can be doing right now and the most valuable use of my time?"

The answer is always clear. Now I'm not going to pretend to be perfectly productive. Sure, there are times you might find me enjoying a little train-wreck TV, gluing rhinestones to an inanimate object, or even admiring the vacation photos of someone I don't know on Facebook. An outsider might smirk and say, "Is that really the best use of your time?"

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YES! Sometimes the best of use of time is to let your brain chill. Vacations, hobbies, lying on the floor with your 5-year-old, and even the occasional nap (here's how to do it perfectly) are all important and necessary to have a well-balanced life. Your exceptional planning will allow this freedom.

to do list
Step two: Reverse engineer your day

According to time management experts, people who spend 10 minutes a day planning save themselves 1 1/2 to 3 hours for each of those 10-minute blocks of time. Leaving your day and the hours you have available to chance guarantees you will lose track of your time and sabotage your own productivity.

More: The 8 Best Plants to Boost Your Productivity

Your time is much more valuable than the money you have in your bank. So you want to spend it, use it, allocate it wisely.

1. Set your priorities. 
The most basic step in planning your day is to set your priorities. Your priorities determine what must be done today and which activities have the greatest impact on your health and goals.

The first items on your Today list are those which must be done today to avoid negative consequences. (In other words, if they don't get done today, there will be hell to pay.) Those are the items that go on my Today list—and exercise always makes the cut.

More: The One Habit That Rules Them All: The 10-Minute Rule

After priorities come additional items that move you closer to achieving your health and goals.

Don't add the list of tasks you "hope" to get to. If you utilize this system, you will eventually get to these "hope tos"—but you must stick to this system. If you try to cheat it, those items will continue to stockpile. 

2. Create blocks of time for each action item. 
Look at the items on your to-do list that must be done today, including exercise, food prep, and actions that move you closer to your goal. Assign a block of time to them. Be realistic about how long items will take. Make room for the unexpected, and cushion your estimate generously. Padding your estimates will allow you to deal with life's unexpected chaos.

More: Your Busy Schedule May Actually Keep Your Mind Sharp

3. Schedule each block on your calendar. 
Next, pull out your calendar. This step is where you actually schedule your day. ("I pray you're keeping that on your phone," she said, palms together, eyes looking toward the heavens.) Now listen, I'm fine if you sketch this out on paper first, but ultimately it needs to be on your phone. Your schedule has to be with you at all times, so let's get in the habit sooner rather than later and start using the calendar on our phones.

morning workout
Step three: Get moving early

When I tell people that I work out at 5:30 a.m., they invariably look at me like I have lost my marbles. They always say, "I couldn't do that. I'm not a morning person." And I always say, "Neither am I!" But I have studied the habits of the successful. One common attribute of successful people is that they tend to exercise before they start their workday.

More: 11 Habits of the Happiest People

Successful people begin their day earlier than the rest. They recognize that exercise enhances their productivity and energy level. You want to live a fuller life and spend more time with the people you love. If you're scheduling your health and fitness at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. or after work, for starters you may be spending even more time away from your loved ones. And both of us know that inevitably something always comes up after 5:00 p.m. that makes it nearly impossible for you to stick to your exercise routine.

I want to push you to develop the habit of exercising before you begin your day. For some, that's 5:00 a.m.; for others, it might be 8:00 a.m. Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a dude in a suit, there's an hour at which your day's official business begins.

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I know it's early. I'm not going to lie; it's hell for about 6 seconds when that alarm blares at 4:45 a.m.! But as soon as my feet hit the ground, it's all good! When you exercise at that hour, the people who you care about are still sleeping, so you're not missing anything.

I encourage you to give it a try for one week. You will find you'll have more energy, experience greater productivity and improved clarity, and actually feel good about yourself! You'll be able to eradicate the looming pressure of an impending workout at the end of the day when you are truly exhausted.

friends running
You are NOT too tired (trust me!)

Aside from not having enough time, the second most popular excuse for skipping workouts is having low energy.

I have a great energy-boosting resource for you! (Insert evil laugh... Muuhhaaa-ha-ha!) Exercise gives you energy! And it's not just my pushy opinion or even my experience with thou- sands of people that proves this to be true. There are actual white-lab-coat-wearing smart people who have research that confirms it!

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In addition to everything else, early-morning exercise will give you higher energy at midday. This extra midday energy helps to curb your appetite and promotes the mental acuity you need to get yourself off of Facebook and on to something that moves you closer to your goal!

People, we have a life to create here!

By adapting the habit of an early-morning exercise routine, you might experience the following side effects: improved fitness, younger appearance, increased self-confidence, heightened sex drive, longer life span, improved quality of life, weight loss, and greater time productivity.

All that and you're telling me you're going to "try" to wake up an hour earlier to do this? "I'll try" is not going to fly with me. Come on! You and I both know that "I'll try" translates to "I will set my alarm to go off early, but I've already made up my mind that I will hit Snooze and go back to sleep."

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Don't you dare tell me you're going to try. You have to promise you will do this! Better yet, take action right this second. Grab your phone and text a friend who will meet you for your workout. Text your partner, your best friend, a personal trainer, the gym manager... I don't care who you text, but tell someone right now that he or she can expect to see you bright and early tomorrow morning!

You have nothing to lose, except maybe a few pounds.

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