Get More Hours in Your Day

Why is that our to-do list gets longer but time gets shorter? Here we reveal how to get more hours in your day
Monday , 17 October 2011
Get More Hours in Your Day

You’re already late for a date, that meeting ran over and your BlackBerry is vibrating – a reminder that you’ve also double-booked and a friend is waiting for you somewhere. You haven’t eaten and you won’t get to see your other half tonight because he’ll be in bed by the time you’re home. For most of us, this hideously stressy scenario is the daily norm. It’s certainly typical for expat women, according to Carmen Benton, counsellor at Life Works Counselling Dubai ( “Many women move to the UAE to improve their quality of life and income,” she explains. “But work demands longer work hours and, socially, we’re also over-subscribing. Expatriates can take six months to settle and so sign up for everything because they’re lonely. There’s also pressure here to keep up with the Joneses which requires [more] money and consequently, [more] work.” Clare Evans, author of Time Management for Dummies (Dhs50, agrees: “Life as a whole is also more stressful. We’re in a 24-hour, constantly contactable, information-crammed society and we feel we have no excuse to stop ‘doing’.” But it is possible to make 24 hours feel like 42, without forfeiting sleep or meal times. Don’t believe us? Read on…

Where did all the time go?

Bill Gates, Alan Sugar, Beyoncé – they only have 24-hour days, too, and they make most of our schedules seem like a breeze. So what do they know that we don’t? “Organisational tricks certainly help, but it’s also attitude and energy,” explains time management consultant, Nadine Hill ( who says that tiredness, self-criticism and the angst of coping actually exacerbate the perception of not having enough time. So first, plan your day according to your body’s unique energy pattern.

“You’ll immediately free up ‘space’ if you feel vibrant,” says Hill, who is also an author, runs her business and runs a household with young children. “First, for a day or two pay attention to your body’s rhythms. When are you energised? When are you better at concentrating? When do you feel like you’re flagging? You’ll see a definite pattern that you can plan your day around.”

Second, stop trying to multi-task. Controversial, we know. “Multi-tasking scatters your thoughts and energy and nothing gets done properly,” reveals Hill. Sounds tricky? Benton recommends sitting in front of a clock for one whole minute doing nothing, and thinking of nothing except for your breathing. If you wander, refocus. “This exercise cultivates the skill of focusing on one thing at a time, and executing it well.”

Work: The Time Hoover

Work is the ultimate time black hole. According to research, we experience around 68 disruptions a day* so it’s no wonder we’re not clocking out until 8pm. And yet, according to experts the office can be the easiest place to create space too.

“Resist responding to emails on opening them,” says Evans. “They’re a massive time drain. Flag the important ones and allot one hour to dealing with them later in the day.” Evans also advises making an ‘Achievements List,’ (a ‘To-Do’ List increases pressure!). “Allot each item a time frame, then set an alarm and try to finish within the time. This creates focus, increases productivity and helps you to ignore distractions – it’s healthy pressure,” she says.

Always place boundaries around your availability: “When anyone says, ‘I need this now!’ but you have an appointment, say: ‘It’s 4.55pm I have an appointment at 5pm. Would tomorrow before 10am work?’ This instils – most importantly – that you’re willing to help, but will not be dumped on.” Evans adds, “Never specify why you are leaving. Keeping schtum implies ‘private’ and people will simply infer that your appointment is important.”

With bosses who pile on work, Evans suggests presenting them with your outstanding tasks. “Ask them, ‘You also wanted this. Which would you prefer first?’  They’ll either realise it’s not so important or simply get someone else to do it.”

Spending Time at Home

The same rule applies whether it’s just you and your partner or your kids too: make the time count and it won’t matter if it’s limited. “Under-7s need only 10 minutes a day of your undivided attention, 7-12 year olds, 10 minutes once a week,” insists Benton, who has counselled countless families suffering from too-busy parents. “Turning the TV off and focusing completely on each child for that time – without criticism – each day is massively powerful and bonding for a child – or indeed for you and your partner. They get to choose how you spend the time. Hold family meetings, asking your kids to make choices about what happens in the household – they’ll feel included, not sidelined. It’s bonding, it doesn’t take long and domestic issues are also addressed.”

Hill also has a weekly wall planner combining work and non-work activities. “I lay the following week out on Saturday night and, if a day looks heavy, I cross it straight off so that I don’t add more.” To decide what goes on, Hill applies her 10/10/10 Rule. “For each appointment, ask, ‘Will this matter in 10 minutes? In 10 days? In 10 years?’ Kids will certainly remember in 10 years time that you didn’t go to their play due to work. Then either decline the appointment, add it or move it to next week.”

A jam-packed life also makes it hard to focus on enjoying your partner or family time. For this, Hill recommends Paper Downloading, where you write down all of the tasks in your brain on different pieces of card, put them in a bowl and then draw one out every few hours or every day. Even if the task is not important, do it. Evans also suggests carrying a notebook to jot down work thoughts in non-work time. “Getting these down on paper will allow you to switch off and will let your subconscious get to work - which is often when it finds solutions.”

Approach social time like work time. Try to create a social life that feeds and supports you; this way it will provide you with the energy to fit more in. “This, of course, means saying ‘no’ to the demands in your life that are draining you and this can be hard,” says Hill. A few tricks? “If someone calls, whether true or not, say: ‘I’m walking out the door in five minutes’. This gives them a time frame and forces them to get straight to the point.” Evans agrees: “Setting boundaries immediately is key – i.e. ‘I’m busy now but will be free at 10am for one hour’. This works with friends and colleagues. And place time limits on non-essential gatherings by announcing your leaving time on arrival. Explain that you have another appointment later that evening – you don’t have to justify what or where.” And if you really want to dip out of a party and fear what people will think, a really nice thing to do is send a cake in your place!

And What about Some Me-time?

“No Life Space means stress, and stress leads to weight gain, illness and depression,” warns Evans. “First, make deadlines work for you by changing your mindset from the pressure of ‘I must get this done!’ to a personal reward. Rather, say ‘When I get this done, I can book a spa visit.’ Sadly, there’s a lot of guilt tied up with taking me-time, but start approaching and sticking to appointments with yourself as you would with your boss. They are just as important.

Most of all though, make the me-time count by committing honestly from the start. “Many of us make appointments only to cancel them,” says Benton (how many pedicures have you rescheduled this year?). “However, it’s easier to simply say ‘no’ in the first place. With every appointment or invitation, before you respond take five minutes and consider: does this fit with my other commitments? Will it nurture me? Do I feel energised when I think about it? What are the benefits?’ “Look at what you consistently postpone – at work and at home,” suggests Hill. “It’s likely that, whatever it is, it shouldn’t be in your life. Consider: why do I avoid this? Do I feel pressure to do it? Is it actually okay to bin it, somehow? Identifying its value makes it easier to discard or replace and stops it from cluttering up your life, therefore giving you the space to do what you really want. So go ahead – you’ve got all the time in the world!