I’m a creature of habits. What I love about habits is that they save me decisions and allow me to quickly switch into automatic gear, and, as a result, be my most efficient self. When things around me change, I know I’ll have to set up new systems but that I’ll be able to rely on my habits to get through. I’ve listed in this article the habits that are saving me the most time and stress.
I write things down
Although I do have a rather good memory, I write all my meetings, appointments, and tasks down so as not to clutter my brain with information that I know would prevent me from falling asleep at night, or miss an important commitment and end up wasting everyone’s time. Plus, instead of wasting time thinking about what I need to do, I just do it.
I consolidate all my meetings, appointments, tasks, and activities into ONE place
I use Outlook as my diary and to-do list. Having all my professional and personal commitments, including commitments to myself, consolidated in one place allows me to see at one glance whether my workload is manageable, and if not, make quick decisions about how to streamline it.
I batch tasks of a similar nature, whether work or personal-related
I group tasks of a similar nature together and allocate a timeslot in my schedule to deal with them. For example, on the personal front, I have one hour every Saturday morning allocated to my “personal to-do’s” when I plan my meals, order food online, go through school communication, capture my expenses, schedule appointments, etc. I also have 30 minutes on the first Saturday of the month allocated to my “monthly accounting” when I download all my bank and credit card statements and reconcile them with my expenses. Etc.
I end up a task by taking stock of what I’ve left to do
It allows me to easily resume my work wherever I left it the previous time I was working on it, instead of putting my memory to the test and thinking about what I need to do.
I plan my day the night before, including my outfit
I always end my day by checking what the next day is supposed to be made of. It allows me to calmly decide whether I need to cancel or reschedule some tasks, have an idea of what outfit I should wear, whether I need to pack my computer, etc. It allows me to start and go through my days in a more efficient and relaxed manner.
I plan my meals for the week ahead
Obviously, meal planning takes a bit of time – although over the years I’ve developed an 8-week rolling meal plan that can take me as little as 2 minutes to open and print if I don’t need to make any changes to it. I also need to spend some time taking stock of the contents of my fridge and pantry to write my grocery list. But on the flip side, I limit the number of trips to the supermarket and reduce my shopping time. I put a meal on the table in less time because I don’t have to decide at the last minute what to cook and have all the ingredients on hand.
I cultivate consistency
As an example, I use the same filing structure and naming convention across various formats i.e. paper, digital, or email so that even if I can’t remember in which format I’ve filed a document, it doesn’t take me long to go through the various formats and find it. Another example? I have a work uniform and typically wear capri pants and a polo shirt (I have 4 of each that I can mix and match together) when I visit a client and a dress for networking events. Call me boring if you wish, but being consistent not only saves me time but also frees a lot of my brain for more important decisions.
I immediately put aside things that have outlived their purpose
I’ve learned over the years to trust my decisions, so when I come across something that I no longer use, need, or love, I put it immediately aside so it doesn’t distract me when I’m looking for the things I really need. I have a dedicated shelf in the cupboards of my study room dedicated to our castaways. When the shelf is full, I take necessary action, whether it’s giving away, donating, recycling, or selling. As a result, I never really need to plan a decluttering overhaul in my home.
Every item I own has a dedicated home
This is the only way to quickly find what you need when you need it. For example, I have a decorative bowl on the bookshelves in my study room where I always put my keys, glasses case, sunglasses, earphones, and any other items I typically take with me when I leave my home. I’ll add anything specific I need for the next day e.g. my parent’s pass for when I visit my son’s school, a form I need to bring to the post office, etc. Even if I pack my bag at the last minute, everything I need for that day will be in one place and I won’t have to go frantically around my home to gather what I need.
Every activity that’s important to me has a dedicated home in my schedule
I don’t go through my days and weeks randomly, no, I have dedicated timeslots in my schedule for all those activities that are important to me, whether driven by a professional target or a personal aspiration. Again, instead of spending time deciding what I need to do, I just do it. Over the years, I’ve learned to identify when I’m at my peak energy level and the things that make me waste time so that I can be strategic in the way I build my schedule and be as efficient as possible. Even people who think it’s impossible to put predictability into their schedule or worry that it’s too constricting end up being won over by such a system.
I aim to complete any task I start
I return things where they belong immediately after I’ve used them. It doesn’t take me long because, as mentioned in point 9, every item I own has a dedicated home. And when I buy something new, I get rid of the carrier bag, remove the tag, and find it a home as soon as I come back home. By adding just a few seconds or minutes to a task that I’ve already started, I won’t have to go back to it to finish it, with the risk of procrastinating in the meantime.
I end the day by tying up loose ends
If for any reason, I haven’t been able to complete a task right away, I spend 5 minutes before going to bed putting things in their proper place. Investing in those 5 minutes allows me to start the next day afresh instead of being distracted by the “chaos” around me and makes me more inclined to keep my home tidy in the long run.
I switch off all digital notifications
Like most people, I feel compelled to check my phone and emails as soon as I see or hear a notification. Studies show that every time you interrupt what you are doing, your brain needs about 25 minutes to return to your original task. So, I’ve turned off all the notifications from my emails and apps so that I can stay focused on the task at hand. Most people in my network know that they’ll have to call me if they need to reach me urgently.
I’ve made NO part of my vocabulary
I like to make people happy, and it took me a while to realise that when I was saying YES to someone or something, I was implicitly saying NO to someone else or something else. At the end of the day, time is finite so we have to make decisions on how we want to use it. And remember, it’s easier to take back a NO than a YES.
Most of those habits come naturally to me now most of the time but, trust me, they didn’t happen overnight. They are truly the results of years of practice, backsliding and picking up the pieces, and starting all over again. If a few habits in this list resonate with you, which I hope will be the case, start with one and focus on it until it becomes second nature to you – count about a month. Then move to another one.
What about you? I’m sure you already have plenty of good habits, whether you’re conscious of them or not. Give it some thought. I’d love to read in the comments below what they are and how they save you time.