If you master these 7 easy techniques, you will learn how to build small habits and become the master of your day:
- Use your circadian rhythm to figure out what to do and when to do it.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with a never-ending “to-do” list.
- Create a morning routine to give you energy for the day ahead.
- Use a timer for maximum impact.
- Don’t multitask.
- Take deliberate action to remove distractions from your day.
- Make the most of the spaces in-between.
ONE. Use your circadian rhythm to figure out what to do and when to do it.
When you get to know your circadian rhythm (the 24-hour biological cycle in which your body responds differently to physical and mental challenges at certain times of day), you can better select which activities to do when so that you’re more productive in a shorter amount of time. For example:
- Mornings are great when you need to be most mentally alert: Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. Use this time for your hardest work: problem-solving, learning complex and challenging concepts for the first time, etc.
- Afternoons are better for collaborating and performing physical activities.Use this time of day to schedule meetings, brainstorm ideas with others, and work together on group projects; or to do work that requires more coordination and physical strength (home improvement, construction projects, rock climbing and other types of physical exercise, repairing equipment or machinery, etc.).
- Evenings can be the perfect time for strategic thinking. Your brain thinks differently at the end of the day, so it can do its best work if you give it time to be more creative. If you’re setting goals, either personal or professional, this is when you can outline your next steps and think about the big picture. You can also use this time for creative outlets: playing a musical instrument, painting, drawing, or writing.
TWO. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a never-ending “to-do” list.
Simplify your life and maximize your focus; start each day by asking yourself this question:What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?
- Why should you start your day this way? This technique encourages you to think strategically about your day, it keeps you focused on your goals, it forces you to prioritize what’s most important, and it serves as a personal promise to yourself.
- How can you incorporate it into your day? Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot. Then, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your one thing.
THREE. Create a morning routine to give you energy for the day ahead.
The biggest benefit to creating a morning routine is that you become the master of your own time: you wake up your body and help your brain be more alert, you designate some time to start working earlier on things that are important to you, and you gain a sense of calm knowing in advance what your day will look like. A morning routine can start with simple activities such as:
- Eating a balanced breakfast: It should take about 5 minutes to prepare, and can be a combination of protein, fresh fruit, and nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews).
- Doing a short workout: How short? It can be only 15 minutes! This really helps if you can’t find the motivation to keep working out on a regular basis. It can be anything from a morning yoga routine to a 20-minute power walk.
- Mapping out the day: Think about how you will structure your day as you’re having breakfast or going on your morning walk. Visualize where you’ll be going, how much time you will spend at each location (even if it’s just an estimate), and what you will accomplish while you’re there. This helps you to think how you can manage your time better when it’s in smaller increments, which will give you a greater sense of control over your day.
FOUR. Use a timer for maximum impact.
When you divide up your work during the day into smaller increments, it becomes more manageable, and your brain is able to focus better on each task. Here are a few examples of how and when to use a timer:
- When you are learning new information: Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute blocks. When you’re done with one segment, step away from your desk, and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest: take a 5 minute walk, look out the window, grab a cup of coffee or tea, have a snack.
- When you’re working towards a deadline: Use the Pomodoro technique which gives your brain a 25-minute time block to concentrate, and then allows for a 5-minute break.
- When you’re taking a break from work: Don’t let your evenings pass you by. Give yourself targeted time to relax and do something fun: watch a movie, go out with friends, ride your bike, read a book. Before you begin, set your timer to 2 hours (or three), then go do your thing. The benefit? You will learn where your time goes (or how it flies!), and you’ll still have an alert for when it’s time to start unwinding from the day and prepare to sleep.
FIVE. Don’t multitask.
It’s a myth that multitasking helps you save time. In fact, chances are that it won’t help your brain function optimally. Checking email or social media updates throughout the day is a great example of multitasking. We think it’s just routine, but every time we do it, we interrupt the work our brain is currently focused on. The result? It can take us up to 20 minutes to get our focus back. And it gets worse: a study from the University of Londonshowed that this type of multitasking can result in a loss in IQ points. So what can you do?
- Set up a few intervals during the day for checking your email and social media apps. Pick 2–3 times: around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening. Avoid the temptation to check “just for a few minutes” – this can easily turn into an hour of browsing, and you’ll need much more time to get back to whatever it was you were working on.
- Avoid browsing the Internet and reading the daily news early in the day.Leave these activities for later, after you’ve completed your important tasks. When is a good time to catch up? Try midday, during or after lunch; or, leave the news for your daily commute back from work or school.
SIX. Take deliberate action to remove distractions from your day.
Distractions are everywhere around us, from loud noise to phone calls and incoming text messages, and that’s not even counting friends asking for our time so they can chat about something interesting that just happened. The bad side to all this is that distractions negatively impact our focus and lower our productivity, which is why we have to be deliberate in removing them when we need to get stuff done. Here are some ideas that can help you manage distractions better:
- Be smarter with your phone: Adjust the setting to Airplane mode so that calls and text messages don’t interrupt your work. Screen your calls, and call back if something is urgent, but for the rest, follow up when the time is right for you. Don’t let other people own your time; that’s your job.
- Set expectations with roommates, friends, and family. Let them know you won’t be available for a few hours when you need to do your hard work, so they don’t interrupt you with their requests or questions. Tell them you’ll call later or catch up in the afternoon when you finish up what’s most important, whether that’s schoolwork, an important project, or finishing your workout.
- Shut out the noise with noise-cancelling headphones or with silicone ear plugs, and listen to music that can help you focus better (for example, instrumental or classical music such as Mozart, Bach, or Vivaldi).
SEVEN. Make the most of the spaces in-between.
It’s all the times you spend throughout the day going from place to place, whether it’s walking, taking the bus or train, or waiting in line at the grocery store or the subway. The good news? It’s still your time, and you can spend it on something that’s valuable to you.For example:
- When you’re commuting to work or school: Listen to podcasts to hear interesting stories, gain a new skill, get book recommendations, stay on top of world news, or get an idea on how you can work on an important life goal.
- When you’re stuck somewhere waiting for your ride: Whether it’s an hour or longer, use this time to work on a personal project. Always carry a notebook with you, where you can write down a list of what you want to do, books you need to get, the name of a documentary you were recommended by a friend, a podcast episode that got you curious, or something else that caught your attention earlier in the day. Brainstorm different ways to invest more time in yourself so that you feel you’re working towards something bigger and better for your future.