Time Management: 10 Tips to Save 24 Hours Per Week
Time. No matter your wealth, social status, power, or influence, we all get the same amount of time: 1440 minutes per day, 168 hours per week, 8,760 hours per year.
I am quite fascinated with the physical and conceptual understanding of time. At a certain point in my life, I never had enough time. I would work until the campus police would tell me I needed to leave (usually around 11:00 p.m.). I would then go home and keep working until the early morning hours. I would fall behind on score study, grant proposals, rehearsal planning, meeting preparation, and realized I would go weeks without catching up with friends or family. I stopped exercising and resorted to fast food more than I should have. I was still functioning, albeit barely, so I kept at it.
… And then I ended up in the hospital days before my first international performance tour to Spain with my Moorpark College students. I felt like my body was shutting down, and I was right: the medical doctor informed me that, based on current labs, I had stage 3a kidney failure, and had extremely high levels of cortisol (aka, “the stress hormone”). After additional testing, I was diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome—a hormonal disorder caused by abnormally high cortisol levels over an extended period. Fortunately, all of this was curable in my case with simple—though, at the time, quite drastic—lifestyle changes. This was my wake-up call to examine my work ethic, work-life balance, and time management concept.
There are many effective ways to manage time, and there’s no right way. However, there are certainly wrong ways to go about it. When I talk about time management with people, I often start by asking: “How much do you value one hour of your life?” Hint: an hour of your life is worth more than minimum wage! It often surprises me that many people have never stopped and contemplated the appraisal of one hour of their time. Time is the most sacred currency we have on this planet, and we can often spend our whole lives with abandon, not realizing it’s a currency we will never earn back. I’m convinced that if we all spend our time with the same attention we give to spending our money, we would live more balanced lives.
In my quest to achieve better balance in my life, I have read every book I could find regarding time management, productivity, and work-life balance. I culled every possible study I could find on just how, exactly, we spend our time. I even read books that covered the actual physics of time and space, including quantum physics and experimental research in time manipulation. All to say, I genuinely consider myself a self-learned expert and practitioner of time management.
So, if you find yourself feeling like there’s never enough time – like there must be a better way to do things – like you need a change in your life: Here are ten of the easiest changes to implement right now that will immediately save you hours of life each week. Imagine what you can do with that! One of the most profound takeaways from my journey towards becoming a good time manager was realizing that big changes do not require big solutions. Small solutions can have demonstrable changes, which informed my choices when picking these ten “hacks.” To be clear, being effective at time management is not an intuitive skill. It is a learned habit; like all good habits, you have to make it easy to implement for it to stick. These ten “hacks” are the easiest ones you can implement today to save literally one full day of life per week.
The most important thing to note when implementing time management hacks is that saving time is cumulative. At first, you may not feel like you’re reaping much of a benefit, but it adds up quickly. The five minutes you save each day may not feel like much, but that’s 30.42 hours saved over a year! Imagine if you did three things each day that saved 5 minutes a day—you get the point.
Don’t let efficiency be the enemy of effectiveness. Doing something quickly to “save time” and spending more time later to fill the cracks is not time management. It’s better to take 10 minutes to do something effectively than to take 5 minutes to do it “efficiently,” revisit it later, and spend another 5-10 minutes fixing the errors.
That said, there is another very important takeaway. Don’t let efficiency be the enemy of effectiveness. Doing something quickly to “save time” and spending more time later to fill the cracks is not time management. It’s better to take 10 minutes to do something effectively than to take 5 minutes to do it “efficiently,” revisit it later, and spend another 5-10 minutes fixing the errors.
Full disclaimer: these are not universal rules. Depending on the type of work you do, some of these may not be applicable. For example, some of these won’t work for someone that has a job with on-call obligations (like first responders) or for those who have to contractually read and respond to calls/emails/messages swiftly at any time (journalists, on-call physicians). Even if none of these precise hacks help you and your particular work-life circumstance, I’m convinced that the principles conveyed in each “hack” will make you more aware of how you spend your time. I also recognize that some of these time optimization hacks have a monetary or time cost. But, going back to my opening question: the cost of all of these tools combined is likely cheaper than how much you’d value just one hour of your life.
The figures used for time saved is based on market research, market analytics, and extensive data from the past 4 years from various sources. I will not cite sources because this isn’t intended to be academic. But, trust me: the figures are legitimately based on the “average American.” By the way, I say “average American” because different cultures spend time very differently from average time in bed to average time at work or volunteering.
10 Simple Changes to Save 24 Hours Per Week
1: Use a Password Manager
Time saved: 2 minutes per day; 14 minutes per week; 12.13 hours per year.
Cost to Implement: Free, to up to $40 per year; Approximately 15 minutes to set up your account.
Did you know that Americans spend approximately 14 minutes per week resetting passwords, retrieving passwords, or getting themselves locked out of accounts? Writing down passwords may help, but it takes time to find them. And wait—maybe you forgot to update it the last time your online account required a password change! Some people are hesitant to set up a password manager because they fear it will take forever to start. False: as you log into your accounts normally, most services will immediately prompt the option to add it to your password manager.
Solution: use a password manager. I personally prefer LastPass because it will work on every device or browser you use (unlike, say, Keychain). There are many options out there, and they all essentially do the same thing. Things I like about LastPass: I can share login access with my assistant, colleagues, or family without actually sharing my password; I have an “emergency access” kill switch: if something happens to me and my designated emergency contacts need access to all of my accounts, they can request it and I have 24 hours (or a time frame you choose) to deny the request, otherwise they get full access to all accounts (or the accounts you designate); it even notifies you if your password may have been compromised on the dark web and will automatically prompt a password change (and can generate a highly secure one for you).
2: Stop Scrolling When You Wake Up
Time Saved: 24 minutes per day; 2.8 hours per week; 145.6 hours per year.
Cost to Implement: Free
Data shows that most Americans wake up and immediately check their phones. Additional data shows that Americans spend an average of 24 minutes each morning scrolling on their phones before they even get out of bed. No wonder Americans are running late to work, appointments, and events at an increasingly higher rate!
Solution: No social media when you wake up. Period. You’ll be amazed how ahead of schedule you’ll feel in the morning.
3: Pay for Ad-Free Streaming and Avoid Commercials
Time Saved: 40 minutes per day; 4.67 hours per week; 242.84 hours per year
Cost to Implement: $5 - 20 per month
The average American spends 4.67 hours per week watching advertisements alone on cable television or streaming services with ads. It’s a staggering figure when you think about it. The most ideal solution would be to simply stop spending so much time watching television. But, that’s also not realistic. Let’s be honest: watching TV is a great way to relax and unwind—and it can be very entertaining!
Solution: Stop wasting time watching commercials and advertisements. Resist watching live broadcasts (you can always watch it on an ad-free streaming platform later) which average about 17 minutes of advertising per hour(!). Pay the few dollars more for ad free Hulu or whatever streaming platform(s) you prefer.
4: Read and Respond to Emails at One Designated Time Per Work Day
Time Saved: 1.2 hours per day; 6 hours per work week; 312 hours per year.
Cost to Implement: Free
Repeat after me: email is not an instant messenger. Also repeat after me: there is no such thing as a critical email. Many employees will literally stop whatever they are doing to respond to an email as soon as they get the notification. Response times for emails have narrowed from an average of ~2.1 days a decade ago to ~2 hours today. Multiply that by a US average of 67 e-mail notifications per day, and we wonder why we clocked 6 hours at a computer but feel like we got nothing done. Email is simply digital mail. As we all know, mail is picked up once and delivered once daily. If you missed the pick up deadline, the letter will have to wait until tomorrow.
Solution: designate a block of time each day for emails. Read and respond to emails within your designated block of time only. Once you’ve clocked your time, silence email notifications for the rest of the day. Oh, and delete your work email from your personal devices.
5: Organize Your Closet
Time Saved: 12 minutes per day; 1.4 hours per week; 72.8 hours per year
Cost to Implement: Free; Approximately 1 hour to organize and sort
Americans spend an average of 12 minutes per day choosing an outfit. Data also shows that this time is the same regardless of gender identity (and some recent studies show that those who identify as a man spend an average of 2 additional minutes!). Data also shows that most Americans only wear about 53% of their current closet inventory. Commonly cited reasons for that time spent choosing an outfit: struggling to find matching or complementary colors; putting on something that doesn’t fit the way you remember; unable to find the desired article you want (e.g. short sleeve or long sleeve); sorting through too many options; struggling to find the right type of upper or lower wear for the occasion. Steve Jobs, President Obama, and many high profile figures had a solution: wear the same thing every day. 12 minutes saved and one less decision to make in a day. Of course, I won’t propose wearing the same thing every day, but there is compelling cognitive science research showing that choosing to wear the same thing every day is correlated with improved critical decision-making skills. Students and colleagues of mine know that I wear a suit to work almost daily. Why? Because it’s easy, I don’t spend time deciding what to wear, and it’s one less decision to make during the morning rush. And it looks good!
Solution: Organize your closet by color, type (e.g. outerwear, short sleeves, long sleeves, pants, etc.), and get rid of things that don’t fit the way you want them to. According to research, you haven’t worn nearly half of the items in your closet within the past year, so get rid of them! You don’t want to face a Cheesecake Factory menu of options each morning as this creates decision paralysis, or worse: picking out an outfit you’ll later regret.
Bonus Hack: Create an inventory depletion system so that as your style, fit, and preferences change, the clothing you no longer need goes off to Goodwill. My system: the reverse hanger trick. Start by leaving your clothes hanging the opposite or reverse direction. If you go to wear that item, hang it back up the regular direction. Set a calendar reminder for 6-12 months (or whatever cadence you prefer). Items still left hanging in the opposite direction can be tossed in the “Goodwill bin.” A tax write off, a closet full of only the items you know and love, and less time picking an outfit each morning—that’s a win, win, win scenario!
6: Only Tackle One Single Task at a Time
Time Saved: 22.8 minutes per day; 2.66 hours per week; 138.32 hours per year
Cost to Implement: Free
Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans believe multitasking is possible. Newsflash: we simply cannot multitask. We can rapidly switch between tasks, but that’s different, and it swiftly leads to cognitive overload. Additionally, frequent task switching requires a cognitive recovery time—usually an average of 22.8 minutes per day. You all know exactly what I’m talking about: you’re in deep focus during a Zoom meeting, but you get an email notification. You decide to quickly read and respond to that email then return your focus to the meeting. Except when you return your focus to the meeting, you’ve missed some details and have to spend time later asking a colleague what you missed. Oh, and that email you sent? It had a few typos because you were still trying to half-listen to the meeting. Multiply these task detractors several times daily, and you’ve clocked about 22.8 minutes reorienting yourself with the primary task at hand.
Solution: Do one thing at a time, and do that one thing only. Ask yourself before you commit to a task: “What am I doing?” Then do only that. Resist the urge to switch between things because it seems efficient. It’s not. And you’re also not being effective.
7: Cultivate Uninterruptible Time Into Each Working Day
Time Saved: 1.2 hours per work day; 6 hours per work week; 312 hours per year
Cost to Implement: Free
How often has someone knocked on your office door and said, “Hey, do you have a minute?” 40 minutes later, you’re finally returning to your own work, and oh, it takes you another 22.8 minutes to figure out where you left off and get back into your flow (referencing tip #6). The average American worker gets interrupted from their primary work or flow for a total of 6 hours per work week. That’s so much time!
Solution: While it’s probably not likely to make your entire work day uninterruptible, you can designate a time each day. Go to a place where you know you can focus deeply and concentrate on the work at hand. Put a sign on your door that says “Do Not Disturb.” Silence all of your notifications.
At my office, I have a rotating sign with 3 options: Please Knock; Do Not Disturb; Out of Office. Initially, some people teased me for this. Except I immediately noticed my productivity increased. Suddenly, I was getting my essential work functions done in an hour or two straight rather than three or four hours scattered throughout the day when people weren’t knocking at my door. It also created a clear and fair boundary to my students and colleagues. In the very few instances that someone knocks at my door when the sign says, “Do Not Disturb,” I simply wouldn’t answer the door. That’s not rude; that’s called setting boundaries. I know some people that will even leave their offices to do their most essential work for an hour or two. In whatever way makes sense to you, create time in your day each work day for uninterruptible time. You owe it to yourself, and everyone will understand.
8: Start to Start. Don’t Wait.
Time Saved: 29 minutes per day; 3.38 hours per week; 175.76 hours per year
Cost to Implement: Free
My best friend will often make fun of me because as soon as I’ve finished using a plate, glass, or utensil, I go straight to the sink, rinse it, and put it in the dishwasher. Call me quirky, but it’s actually very time effective. Letting things pile up in the sink takes up more time overall. The average American spends more time procrastinating about household tasks than actually doing the task. About 29 minutes per day to be exact. Research shows that a typical person will spend 29 minutes avoiding emptying the dishwasher rather than spending the 11 minutes it takes to actually empty it. Students spend about 29 minutes avoiding a homework assignment that takes 30 minutes to complete.
Solution: Whatever the task at hand may be, if it’s something that needs to be done, just do it. Starting to start is the hardest part, so just… start. Like right now. For students, I often see them struggling to simply start a written paper assignment. But you can’t edit a blank page. Create an outline, or just “word vomit” onto the page. Do something. Start to start.
9: Optimize Your Laundry Routine
Time Saved: 12 minutes per week; 10.4 hours per year
Cost to Implement: Free
Laundry. Some of us like it. The majority of us, according to recent polling, don’t. But the data shows that people actually don’t mind laundry; rather, it’s just the time involved that bothers people. Laundry is one of those things that can’t be cheated. It takes time and it has to get done. But we can optimize it.
Solution: Only do laundry when you have at least two loads to cycle through. Start with the fastest wash and end with the fastest dry. This maximizes the time overlap and saves approximately 12 minutes compared to doing two loads on separate days. Ideally, you will finish putting away the laundry from load #1 just around the time load #2 finishes drying. The time savings increases when you have more loads to do, but for the sake of calculation, I’ll just assume two loads per week.
10: Give Yourself Breaks and Allow for Spontaneity or Reflection
Time Invested: Approximately 3.5 hours per week
Cost to Implement: Free
Yes, this technically takes time but it’s an investment vs. an expenditure. Investing in yourself and building up your human capital is perhaps the best time we can spend. Whether pursuing an advanced degree, going back to finish your GED, or auditing a class just to improve your existing skill sets, it’s important to allow time to develop ourselves. I have blocks in my calendar each day that give me breaks to do the following: exercise, meditate, study French, write in my journal, or just allow time to do whatever spontaneous thing I want. Spending time in this way feels great because it’s time I have intentionally planned for each day, and it’s investing in myself.
To be clear, it’s my hope that you spend more than 3.5 hours per week spending time and investing in yourself! And, with just about 24 extra hours per week, I hope you utilize some of those hours for you in whatever way brings you fulfillment, joy, knowledge, or clarity.
Remember that being an effective time manager does not mean you must operate like a productivity machine. There are also things we must do daily, and it's time well spent. In fact, 80-90% of our time is spent between paid work (differentiated from volunteering in the data), sleeping, housework, leisure (mostly spent watching TV for Americans), and eating. That means we only have about 10-20% of our day as an elective choice for most of us. We can choose to maximize that, or spend our time unchecked.
Small changes in our daily lives can add to significant life improvements over time. In this blog post, I outlined 10 easy changes you can implement today with little to no time or monetary cost. Combined, this list of 10 tips saves just about 24 hours per week, 104.16 hours per month, or 1,248 hours per year. That’s about 52 days saved in one year alone. If you ever wondered what it would be like to just have a few more minutes to do something, imagine what you could do with 52 days per year by just making a few simple changes. So, what are you waiting for? Start to start.