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7 (Easy) Ways To Use Your Time Better In 2014

Learning how to use your hours better enables all sorts of other changes. If you want to reach any of your goals this year, you'll need to become more productive. Here's how to get started.

[Image: Flickr user Hiroyuki Takeda]

"Use my time better" is not one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Nonetheless, a life is lived in hours, and using your hours better enables all sorts of other changes. It’s hard to lose weight if you’re so rushed and harried that you’re constantly hitting the drive-through.

Fortunately, acquiring better time management skills is pretty straightforward—and probably easier than swearing off the fries. Here are a few tweaks that can make 2014 a more productive year.

1. Keep a time log for 24 hours.

Try writing down exactly how you’re spending your time. Keeping track of a week (168 hours) is ideal—that’s the cycle of life as we live it—but even a day or two is helpful. You’ll start to see patterns: a morning routine that always takes longer than you want it to, fragmented work in the afternoon because you didn’t take a real break for lunch. The first step to spending your time better is knowing how you’re spending it now.

2. Stop saying "I don’t have time."

You may think you don’t have time to exercise, but if someone offered to pay you $250,000 to exercise five times a week this year, you would likely find time make it happen. So it’s not a matter of lacking time. A more accurate statement is "it’s not a priority." Every time you’re tempted to claim a lack of time, try using this language instead. Talking about priorities instead of time reminds you that time is a choice, and if you’re not happy with how you’re spending your time now, you can choose differently.

3. Stop hitting snooze.

Don’t spend your precious willpower fighting a battle with yourself before breakfast. Either set your alarm for the time you actually intend to get up, or recreate "snooze" time the night before by getting in bed earlier, and allowing yourself to slowly drift off.

4. Write major priorities on your calendar.

Want to find a new job? Schedule an hour, two to three times per week, for searching and networking. Want to write a book? It’s unlikely to happen on its own. So schedule writing time from 6-7:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday until it’s done. Planning is what turns fantasies into doable goals.

5. Scrutinize all recurring meetings.

Do they really have to happen? Could they happen less often? Could they happen informally? If you work in a meeting-addicted culture, you can buy yourself hours per week by forcing meetings to earn their place in your life.

6. Don’t waste your commute.

This time adds up. Find something worthwhile to listen to or, even better, share the ride one day a week with a friend, a colleague you like, or your spouse.

7. Make a "bits of time for bits of joy" list.

Even if you’re pretty good with time management, it’s easy to wind up with small chunks of time that are hard to use well. You’ve got 20 minutes before a meeting starts, or you’re waiting for something that takes eight minutes to defrost in the microwave. Make a list of things you love to do that don’t take much time. Study this list often. That way, whenever you’ve got a bit of time, you’ll seize it for fun, and bring a lot more joy to your life.

How will you use your time better in 2014?