Editor’s Note: This story is part of our feature, “Secrets of 13 of the most productive people.” See the complete 2018 list here.
No room in your day for exercise, networking, volunteering, reading, meditating, or any of the other priorities that keep getting bumped from your to-do list? A time-management expert demonstrates how easy it can be to liberate minutes, if not hours, from tight schedules. Yes, even yours.
Quit the snooze button: Get up right away. Thirty minutes of margin gives you enough time to run on a treadmill (or outside!)
for 20 minutes. Do this four times per week and you’ll meet the CDC’s “vigorous exercise” guidelines–and feel more energized than you will from that extra half hour of snoozing.
Meditate/pray/count your blessings in the shower: Most people let their minds wander in there anyway. Why not nudge yourself in a positive direction?
Put a reading app (Kindle, Instapaper, Pocket) on your phone: A recent study by Asurion revealed that Americans check their phones, on average, 80 times a day. Use 10 of those reflexive scrolling breaks to read an article or a book. You can even tackle War and Peace on your Kindle app this way: Tolstoy’s chapters are really short, ideal for three-minute breaks.
Commute with a friend: It might not be practical every day, but sharing the ride with a friend–or your partner–once a week will turn what might be wasted time into the social highlight of your day.
Establish the 20/45 rule: Most 30- or 60-minute meetings can be trimmed to 20 or 45, with discipline. That wins you back precious time. Try not to fill this extra time with more meetings.
Take smokeless breaks: Smoking is terrible, but getting away from your desk and outside every few hours is smart. Copy smokers–without lighting up–by going for a quick, mood-boosting walk at lunch and mid-afternoon.
Nix errands and limit your virtual window-shopping: According to the American Time Use Survey, the average American spends more than 40 minutes per day buying stuff. Plan ahead, and you can easily chop this in half.
Use those walking breaks to mentor: Ask a younger colleague to join you for a 15-minute chat. (Bonus: Outside the office, they’re more likely to ask real questions.)
Don’t fear commitment: If you want to volunteer at a homeless shelter or literacy program or soup kitchen, do it. Sign up for a regular gig, and why not make it a Friday evening? You’ll have a great excuse to push back on that 5 p.m. meeting request.
Host a Sunday-night potluck: Or an every-Monday happy hour, or any recurring get-together with friends that you don’t have to plan from scratch. It’s the planning that people dread. Save that time for the actual socializing.
Put a limit on housework: The average American spends about 30 minutes per day on household chores (not counting food prep and cleanup). Set a 15-minute timer for tidying. If it doesn’t happen during this time, it wasn’t urgent.
Turn off the TV: Americans with full-time jobs still manage to watch more than two hours of TV per day, according to the ATUS. Trim that to 90 minutes and you’ve got 30 minutes to read, practice an instrument, or chat with friends or family without serious sacrifice.
Give yourself a bedtime: Going to bed early is how grown-ups sleep in. You’ll be less likely to hammer that snooze button in the morning so you can get the new day off to a productive start.