The Internet is filled with productivity hacks. Energize your mind by practicing meditation or working out. Don’t begin your day until you’ve organized your to do lists. Give yourself more time to think and process ideas. Take breaks from technology. Hacks on hacks that claim to be the best, the top 25, or the only hacks you’ll ever need.
There’s something in common with each of these guides to better productivity: they require time. But the reason you’re not productive isn’t because you don’t know what to do with all of your extra time, it’s because the hours of your day have been wasted. If you’ve already spent 8 hours doing something unrelated to what you should be doing, no tip or trick will help you gain back that time. It’s gone.
Sure, it’s easy to say that you need to take breaks and meditate, or to make colour-coded to-do lists, and it would be nice if you could. But the problem is that most people don’t set aside an extra three hours wondering what they could be doing with that time. They spend those three hours doing something else, either responding to emails or scrolling through their phone or playing some game, because that’s just how they’re used to spending their time.
Instead of addressing the things you need to do with time you don’t have,you need to address the things that are taking up your time.
More time online than off
A recent study reported that the average person spent twice as much time on their smartphone in 2015 from the previous year. Not twice as much time exercising, or reading books, or learning a new skill — just more time in front of a small screen that, can be assumed, is not really the thing we all use to be productive. We use it for everything from work-related emails to the news, from comment wars on Facebook to Snapchat stories, from GIFs to mind-numbing games — all of which seems to be pulling more of our time away from other things.
If it’s not the Internet or apps that are taking up your time, it’s certainly something else. It could be playing ping-pong. It could be making phone calls. It could be agreeing to go for a long lunch.
The key is you have to find what steals your time and squash it.
The people that I know who acknowledge their time and make noticeable efforts to spend it wisely are people who I would call productive. They don’t adhere to expert rules or hacks, they don’t read click-bait listicles on self-improvement. They simply waste less time than everyone else — they spend their time effectively.
On wine and time
Last fall my partner and I decided we wanted to learn more about wine, so we enrolled in a wine course. It took up about 6 hours each week — time that we had to make room for. But we still managed to keep to our normal routines. We still worked at our jobs the same amount of hours each week, still stuck to the same workout schedule, still slept the same amount, and ran the same weekly errands. None of these suffered — we didn’t have to compromise. We just spent less time doing nothing, and we gave ourselves back six hours to study wine every week.
In fact, when the wine course finished, I felt a void. Time that had, prior to the course, been filled with nothing substantial, felt like extra time now that it had finished. Once I had put my time into perspective, I was able to recognize how much of it I had.
Productivity is too often misunderstood: people tend to think that it’s this thing that you achieve. That you’ll look back at one piece of work and say, “I was very productive on this one.” But productivity is a lifestyle — it’s a way that you choose to live. It’s ongoing, and it doesn’t have an endpoint. You either are a productive person, a doer, or you’re not.
There aren’t tricks or tips to gain back time that you’ve lost in your day. Only you can help yourself better understand the way you spend your time and how to allocate it in such a way that increases the productive or self-improving things you’d like to do in a week. So instead of reading the next Ten Things Productive People Do Every Morning, figure out what changes you need to make in the way you’re spending your time, and just start doing something with it.