21 Time Optimisation Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

People often ask me how I get so much done. To tell the truth, when I reschedule that one meeting for the fourth time or curse myself for yet another overpacked day or even worse, when my daughter tells me I’m working too much, I don’t feel like I’m good at time management.

Even the phrase ‘time management’ has always felt a bit strange to me as it suggests you can be completely in control of time and I just don’t think that’s true. When it comes to getting things done, I prefer the idea of time optimisation.

Time optimisation allows you to be in command of your time. It’s about deciding what’s important to you and increasing your efficiency to make the best and most effective use of the time available to you.

I started writing this article months ago after three people asked me for time management advice in the same week. Around the same time I started a no spend week inspired by my friend Nafisa Bakkar. She shared a line which jolted me: “you can buy anything but you can’t buy everything.”

Time, just like money, is a limited resource. Time, just like money, can be wasted or saved up. Time, just like money, can be spent on anything but not on everything. You have to choose.

In many ways that’s why it’s taken me so long to write this frequently requested article. Though I’ve had numerous people ask me to write this, it would be hypocritical not to start with a disclaimer: I’m still learning. I write this article to help myself, as much as I write it to help you. That being said, I‘m grateful to have come a long way in this area and to be able to help others.

5 years ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be this much in command of my time. I’ve found things that help and that allow me to prioritise my faith, be there for my husband, spend time with my young kids, work on my debut novel, cook, exercise, play guitar, keep up with volunteering and have somewhat of a social life, alongside hitting targets in a fast growing business!

These are my tips to help you choose how to spend your time and make the most of the time you spend. I’ve split these into 5 mindset tips and 16 practicals. Both are essential. Getting your head in the right place is more than half the battle, but it’s practical actions that buy you the freedom to work your mindset.

(If you’re looking for a short read, here’s a blog post on working from home effectively.)

“If the axe is dull and one does not sharpen its edge, then one must exert more strength. But wisdom has the advantage of giving success.” — Ecc 10:10

  1. Reflect on the Bigger Picture

Most of us will be in education until 21 then work until we’re 67. That’s about 15 years of learning, 46 years of work then 30 years of retirement. So why the rush?

Whatever pace you set has to be sustained and life is certainly a marathon, not a sprint.

Play the long game. Focus on figuring out your values and beliefs, they will guide you in the direction you want your life to take. If you have an overall vision for your life then when you go after your goals, wherever you land you’ll be better for it.

Reflection on your values and your beliefs is important for determining how you spend your time as well as identifying unhealthy thinking patterns. We all have underlying beliefs that are almost the lens through which we see the world.

A huge amount of time is wasted in misunderstandings caused by untrue underlying beliefs and the automatic negative thoughts they lead to. One of my biggest problems is though I’m constantly asked how I “do so much,” I constantly feel like I’m underachieving. I’m actually a chronic overachiever (level 700 UCAS points when my Law school required 360) and that unhealthy pattern of doing too much and feeling like I do too little, completely stifles my productivity. This problem stems from an underlying belief that I’m only valuable if I’m productive. Ironic, don’t you think?

One of the most useful approaches I’ve found for overcoming unhelpful underlying beliefs only takes a few minutes. When I feel anxiety rear its ugly head, I stop and write down the things stressing me out then pray about them and speak to my husband or a trusted friend for advice. Next I’ll reflect on what I wrote down and take stock of my anxiety by writing down the statement troubling me then asking:

Is this true?
this important?
Am I judging fairly?
Is this a wholesome line of thought?
Is this uplifting?
Is this a kind and compassionate way of thinking?
Is this beneficial?
Will this lead to anything commendable?

Finally I’ll write down my plan of action based on reflection and advice from others. This approach was inspired by a favourite bible scripture of mine (Philippians 4:4–9) and it never fails to get me in the right headspace to navigate the tricky dilemmas of life, motherhood and business that otherwise devour time.

2. Identify and Kill Time Wasting

Choose what you want to spend your time on, but examine your motives. Almost any activity can be healthy with the right approach, but most things can also be damaging. Doing something you feel forced to do, because of insecurity, or to make others like you is the biggest way to waste your time and energy.

For instance, I haven’t had a TV for over a decade because I used to waste a lot of time in front of the TV in my room. I don’t miss it. I prefer to be intentional about the shows I watch rather than see hours fly away whilst I watch whatever happens to be on. My rule for TV applies to most activities. Watching TV to relax as you enjoy it and choose to watch a particular film or series is healthy. Watching TV because it’s there, or so you can make small talk and show others how current you are, is unhealthy.

I love reading and think it’s one of the best ways to unwind, as well as a fantastic learning tool. Reading can also be unhealthy if you’re choosing books to have smart things to say or show how cultured you are. You can’t control other people’s thoughts or opinions of you and trying to do so is the biggest waste of time.

Identify any activities you do for the wrong reason then pause and use some of the time you’ve gained back to explore your insecurities through journaling, speaking to friends or finding a therapist, counsellor or coach (I recommend Rebecca Monique.)

3. Respond, Don’t React

Life happens. When the unexpected arises, it’s often better to slot it into your schedule rather than drop everything to attend to it. Not every surprise requires your immediate attention.

Running a growing business means I often get emails and calls demanding my immediate attention. Because we formulate and manufacture products at Afrocenchix, I’ve had more than one occasion where someone has run into the office shouting about a problem in the lab. I get an adrenaline rush and feel as though I need to react immediately, but I’ve learnt it’s more helpful to slow things down. Before acting I need to first identify whether I need to drop everything and run over to fix the problem or whether my response can wait.

On a smaller scale when I receive a rude email from a supplier, disappointing news about a new partnership or a moving confidential disclosure, it’s essential that I take command of my emotions and respond thoughtfully. I’m an emotional person and I used to react emotionally then spend a lot of time explaining myself or fixing things. Thanks to therapy and counselling, I’ve learnt the value of understanding my brain so I can respond, not react.

Cognition and emotion are processed in different parts of the brain. These various sections of the brain work together in all we do, according to a model known as distributive processing. The neocortex is responsible for processing language, ideas and abstract thought. Emotions are processed mainly in the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus, areas of the brain also needed for storing memories. Because of this, emotions are closely linked to our unique and individual experiences. So what makes one person angry may make another laugh.

Emotions aren’t a reliable guide by which to live our lives and that’s why it’s a great thing we have a neocortex with the decision making prefrontal cortex (PFC) at the front. This most complex part of our brain doesn’t finish forming till around 25 and helps us to make measured decisions. (So you have a great excuse for those youthful indiscretions.) The PFC helps with decision making, taking into account all of the information from our environment as well as our emotions.

When something happens, distributive processing often starts with amygdala based feelings then the neocortex processes environment cues, information from our memories and social context.

Sometimes we want to dial down our emotions as they can feel overwhelming, especially for overly emotional empath types like me! Having strong emotions can be a strength if we take command of them, by tuning into our PFC.

To engage the PFC when emotions run high, reframe situations. We can reframe by talking to ourselves in the third person or looking for the positives/seeing the challenge to overcome. It’s important to start off by listening to our emotions.

Emotions are valuable. They help us to have good judgement and make wise decisions. Emotions help us assign values to our decisions and cognitive logic helps us to think through the processes essential for our choices. Emotions are sensors that alert us of an important issue to address. They’re helpful, but they shouldn’t be given control.

So when you hear news of a crisis and feel fearful, slow it down. Reflect on what you’re thinking and how your body is reacting. Is your heart racing? Are you thinking, “this is awful, I need to do something?” That is useful information but you don’t need to immediately act in line with it. Slow things down and get more information.

There’s always some time between stimulus and action. This is where emotion & thought occurs. If you want to gain mastery over your schedule, the goal is to expand that time and take thoughtful action instead of reacting on autopilot.

When my amygdala panics and pumps my body full of anxiety provoking cortisol hormone, my medula alerts me to an issue, it would be foolish to follow the lead of those emotions into drastic action. Instead I stop. By pausing, praying and getting advice, I engage my prefrontal cortex. The PFC is the rational brain where decisions are best made. By identifying and accepting emotions, but not being led by them, I take the reins and choose to respond to situations in line with my values. When I take this mindful approach to everyday life, I end up with fewer conflicts to clear up and have more time to spend on the things that matter to me.

Understanding this a little can help us to use our emotions and cognition together to make good decisions which will save time in the long run. Slow down & step back, you’ll waste less time this way and enjoy the time you do have.

4. Stop Waiting to Find Time and Make Time

“I want to do X, I just need to find the time.” Familiar with this phrase?

I’m a top culprit of expecting time for tasks to magically appear, complete with all the resources I need for said task. I often put off simple things because I just don’t want to do them, or tasks that would make my life easier and more enjoyable because I don’t feel allowed to prioritise them. Truth is, we kid ourselves that we, “haven’t found the time” for something.

We can make time for anything, we just can’t make time for everything. It’s essential to choose what you want to make time for then take that time from your 24 hours and use it. Set aside the time for the things you value or the time you have will be spent on other things whilst you’re waiting to find it.

5. Create the Accountability Systems You Need, Even if You Have to Pay for Them

In my personal and professional life, accountability partners and groups have been invaluable. When I needed to fix the diastasis recti from my second pregnancy, seeing a physio kept me on top of my exercises. Setting goals with my transformational coach, Rebecca-Monique Williams, gave me an extra incentive to get my work done: I knew she’d ask for a progress update and I didn’t want to waste her time.

As a company founder, nobody chases me for work. Important tasks often slide when there’s no external push. So, to create accountability, I set up a Eisenhower Decision Matrix style Trello board for me and my co-founder. We go through the board weekly to help us set meaningful deadlines. If I’m procrastinating on a big task, I’ll tag her with updates so I know someone is expecting my work.

“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but wise, making the best use of your time” — Ephesians 5:15–16a

6. NEVER START YOUR DAY WITH EMAIL

When you start your day with email, you spend your time according to the priorities of others because you’ve neglected to set your own. Or worse, you try to cram all the things that someone else wants you to do onto an already packed todo list.

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Being a team player means being responsible with your time and not letting emails either take up too much time or direct how you spend your time once you close your inbox.

We only have so much time to give and attention to pay. Can any Tom, Dick & Harry get in touch with you and convince you to spend your time the way they want you to, with a few simple keyboard strokes? If so, then consider whether those who really need you are able to truly have your focus?

Inbox zero isn’t for everyone. I get flack for this and I’m okay with that. Yes there are 2488 unread emails in my inbox(es) but hey, my team knows how to reach me and my kids are happy.

I’d go as far as saying most emails are a waste of time.

I’m constantly behind on emails but it’s not possible to be on top of everything and when it comes to Afrocenchix, I choose to be on top of supporting my team, meeting customer needs and bringing in money to keep the business serving our community.

I’ve missed a few emails I wish I’d responded to sooner but reasonable people are gracious and unreasonable people shouldn’t be shaping your agenda anyway.

People are mostly reasonable when you set the expectation that you won’t be quick to reply to all communications. I publically state that I will likely not respond to emails and it’s better to communicate with me in another way. I also let people know that it’s better to email my team inbox that has several people checking it a day, than my inbox which I check 2–3 times a day for around 15mins at most.

Caveat: there are times when you have to be on top of your inbox. When raising investment, at the end of your financial year or during a crisis it is crucial that you’re on top of emails. To start or scale a business, or to survive a crisis requires extra communication — buy in from investors, suppliers, partners and your team. But eventually your focus has to switch.

There comes a point when you have to stop presenting what you are planning to do, and actually do it. The same approach to emails can’t apply in times of growth as it does at times of planting.

7. Schedule your Priorities

I find it invaluable to create a daily to do list segmented into “must do” “would like to do” and “if I have time.” I got this idea from the Wonder Mum daily game plan and I love it so much that I made a version for my team. I also made a printable version for you!

A page from the Time Optimisation Planner

I use my various to do lists to make my daily plan. First I schedule the “must do” tasks in the earliest available slots around meetings. I’ve learnt that I have to schedule deep work for it to happen or my day to day becomes meetings, admin and shallow work. I always ensure I have 2–3 hour blocks available for deep work at least 3 days in the week. Shallow work doesn’t excite or inspire me. What does is creating value through working hard on a project or gaining mastery in an area.

8. Create a General Timetable for Each Season

I’ve learnt that a 7 Habits of Effective People style schedule for a few months at a time is super helpful to give structure to my weeks.

By mapping out an ideal week, from a holistic work & personal perspective, I gain better command of my time. I have to change this regularly because life with young children is ever shifting. Before the pandemic lockdown, I was dropping my daughter to preschool at 9am then travelling to the office with my son to start our workday at 10am until I had to leave to collect her at 3pm, and my work had to be scheduled around that. Now my day looks very different and I have to adapt. A new season in line calls from a new ideal schedule.

9. Stack Tasks

Doing things in the right order is a great way to maximise you time. Take cooking a meal with 6 main steps.

Chop veg — 15 mins

Make sauce — 25 mins

Reduce sauce — 30 mins

Prepare salad — 10 mins

Boil pasta — 20 mins

Bake garlic bread — 20 mins

= 2 hours

If you do them in this order, it will take you 2 hours plus several frustrating moments spent waiting around hungry. If you start by boiling the pasta and putting the bread in the oven, then start reducing the sauce whilst chopping veg to add gradually, you half your cooking time. You can even make a phone call whilst you cook to further maximise your time.

Boil pasta, Bake garlic bread, Prepare salad — 20 mins

Make sauce — 25 mins

Reduce sauce & chop veg — 15 mins

= 1 hour

This kind of time saving can seem trite if it’s just a matter of making sure you chop fruit whilst the cake mix is in the blender and wash up whilst the cakes are baking, but at scale this can save months of time waiting for raw material suppliers to agree to terms, checking contracts or finding star employees. We’ve already quietly begun recruitment for the people that Afrocenchix will need to hire in 2 years time, because starting that work when we need the person will cause unnecessary delay.

10. Group Similar Decisions

My husband has 2 main suits. A black one and a grey one. He got this streamlined wardrobe idea from Obama. Why have just 2 suit options? Because it reduces decisional fatigue.

Each day we have to get dressed and eat. These decisions drain our decision making energy. They also creep into the rest of our time because they take up not just the 5 or 10 minutes to make the decision, but also add another activity to switch to/from. Research shows that switching between activities kills focus and wastes time. When our attention residue is with the last task, we’re less focused on the task in hand so it takes more time.

Choosing clothes requires consideration of the weather, our activities and our style. I prefer to do this once a week rather than spend time on this each day. To do so I start by checking my diary and drawing a sun or rain cloud next to the days, I then consider my meetings and activities to choose clothes for the whole week and hang out each outfit in my wardrobe.

At a minimum I recommend you check the weather in the evening and put clothes out for the next day. Make low stakes decisions in the evening when already tired, that way you free your mind for bigger decisions the next day.

Having gone through the Kon Mari process over the last couple of years, I’ve reduced my clothes down to almost a capsule wardrobe. This means even in the weeks where I’m not organised enough to lay out my clothes, it still doesn’t take me long to get dressed. Most of my clothes match each other and I have fewer items to choose from.

Want to cut down clutter in your schedule? It helps to limit what you have and limit what you buy. Since giving away items our family doesn’t need, we waste less time looking for stuff, clothing or otherwise.

The same approach helps me with meal planning. After a long day of work, I don’t want to spend 10 mins deciding what to eat for supper then an hour shopping for ingredients for one meal. Plus when I shop hungry, I waste money throwing extra snacks into the basket ! Instead, I make a meal plan and schedule veg boxes/grocery shops to arrive at the appropriate points in the week. For our family of 4 that’s a few Abel & Cole boxes on a Monday morning then on Thursday or Friday a grocery delivery (or meal box like Gousto in a busy week).

I generally meal plan on a Sunday after doing diaries with my husband and take into account any evenings we are out/busy/have guests. I’ll also batch cook and freeze lunches for the week. I used to eat leftovers from the day before, but then I got bored and started spending time and money buying snacks to spice up my diet. Now I look forward to the novelty of the “lunchtime only” meals in my freezer.

My wonderful younger sister loves cooking and often comes over to batch cook for me then takes some of the food home, which means bonding time for us both, less time cooking for me and less money spent for us both.

11. Double Up

If you want to get more done with your time, double up on activities. If you’re in a long queue at the supermarket you can use that time to read a book, make a phone call or listen to a lecture. Micro moments add up. If you’re baking, you can wash a utensil between steps instead of just washing your hands.

The biggest time win for me over the past few years is using meal time breaks. As a mum of two, I don’t get to eat uninterrupted anyway so I use my meal times to catch up with my family or have lunchtime meetings. Everyone has to eat so if you’re struggling to schedule something, make it a meal.

12. Automate

A quick way to gain more time is to make a list of anything you spend time on that can be set up once then checked on periodically. For the last few years I’ve subscribed to fruit, veg & protein boxes; lentils; black eyed beans; dates; handwash, dishwasher tablets; washing up liquid; washing machine tablets; toothbrushes for the kids; eyebrow tint and toilet roll, to name just a few!

My time is more pressed than ever since becoming a mother and I don’t want to spend time thinking about toilet paper. I check the price of my subscriptions quarterly/annually and amend if necessary. It takes some time to initially set up the subscriptions and some tweaking to get the frequency right, but then you save a bunch of time.

Side note: I got the quantities wrong last year on toilet roll and a few other items so whilst I haven’t bought any this year, we still have 25 rolls left! A hidden benefit of subscribing to the basics that you’ll always need is that your household is covered with extra to share if a global disaster hits.

Subscribing also helps your favourite brands. We recently launched the Afrocenchix Sub Club. Not only does this help our customers save time and money when getting their afro & curly hair products (something that is usually outrageously difficult and time consuming) but it also allows us to forecast demand better and make our manufacturing efforts more sustainable. Knowing who will order what before it happens saves our team time. Win, win.

13. Plan & Audit

To properly optimise my time, I need to end each day by writing a plan for the next one. A simple life hack but it’s difficult to get into the discipline. I’ve found it only happens if I set a recurring alarm. Regular planning sets you up for daily success in spending time in line with your priorities. Planning also makes it easier to track how you spend your time.

Caption partay

Regularly review what you spend time on. I take 10–20 mins on a Friday afternoon to read over my schedule for the week before and look at my to do lists. It’s helpful to reflect and ask yourself, did you achieve what you set out to? How do you feel about that? What didn’t you do that you want to prioritise next week? You can then make a rough plan for the following week and properly switch off from work.

Before creating a general plan for my time each year, I first run an audit and generate a time budget. When I first did this I discovered I was stressed because I there are only 24 hours in a day… but I was trying to spend 32.

We use our time better when we sketch out a plan the year, month, week & day. I also reflect on my days, quarters and years, and adjust my plans accordingly.

Thinking holistically helps. When planning I set goals and work toward them in small steps and this has worked for me. Set goals, but don’t make goals your everything. A direction of travel or theme is often more useful.

Captionnnn

I’ve started conducting time audits annually as well as working through a reflection and planning activity. This helps me to take an honest look at my life, identify any time wasters and ensure I’m spending my time on the right things. I find doing a time audit a useful activity, but done properly it takes hours. An annual audit is more than enough to stay on top of your time.

Over the Christmas break I used the Year Compass Exercise for reflection and started setting my themes for 2020 while reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography for inspiration

14. Pursue Completion

A huge mistake I used to make frequently (and have to check myself on now) is doing 50% of 6 things. It’s better to do 100% of 3 things and have something to show for your work. Yes we need variety so doing several things is great, but doing too much is a productivity killer.

Completed projects give you a dopamine hit which keeps you motivated and productive. Having countless unfinished projects will crowd your mind and cause you to waste more time. Pick fewer goals and actually achieve them.

To maximise your chance of completing things, it’s better to keep the tasks on your daily plan few. Use blocks of deep work to create things of value with your time.

Determine your desired output at the start of your day and push through mental blocks with breaks or switching to another activity before coming back to your core project. Remember it takes about 25 minutes to get into flow so if you quit before that, you haven’t really given yourself a chance to win. If you’re stuck: take a break, grab some water, cut the task into chunks and come back to it.

15. SLEEP

Unpopular opinion time. All nighters are a sign of a disorganised life and lead to a disorganised mind. It’s clinically proven that we need an 8 hour sleep window for good sleep hygiene. If you skip sleep your work will slide. If you’re tired and drained you will achieve less in your time than if healthy and energised.

Struggling to sleep? Keep your room cool, dark and clean and try to sleep and rise around the same time every day (even on the weekends) for peak brain performance.

If you stay up to spend 4 hours doing something you could have done in 1 hour well rested, then you, my friend, have played yourself. Look after yourself, you’ll get more from your time and enjoy it too.

Caveat — for creative work, the old adage “write drunk, edit sober” applies. My “drunkenness” is tiredness and inspiration often appears for me when I’m restless and unable to sleep. A pen and a pad by the bedside help to empty my mind of ideas and I think it’s worth staying up a bit to jot those down, even if it means making my sleep window a little smaller (let’s be real, I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old so I’m operating with a technicoloured-stained-glass-sleep-window at best.)

16. Schedule Self Maintenance

Burnout is costly. Take every effort to avoid it.

If you don’t maintain your health and wellbeing, you’ll get sick more often and lose all command of your time. Self care is essential and that means doing the things that are important for you.

When we make time for regular self care, we tell ourselves we matter and that sets an excellent foundation for productivity as motivation comes from that intrinsic feeling of value and ability to contribute/explore our curiosity.

I’m awful at prioritising self care and my business partner, husband and friends are always telling me to make time for myself. I love to help others so it’s hard to make time for me. It’s helped me to learn that I have more energy to love others when I look after myself first. To love my kids and be a good mum, I need to love myself and meet my own needs. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

A wise friend of mine once said self care requires SPICES: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Creative, Emotional & Social needs all needs to be met for us to be healthy and happy.

Whether you spend your time on painting your nails, achieving the perfect shape up, presenting food beautifully before you eat it or perfecting your chord progressions, do what you enjoy and don’t waste time letting others make you feel guilty about it.

17. Play to your Strengths and Outsource Weaknesses

When it comes to my faith, marriage, kids, close friendships & business I’m mostly on top of my schedule. I’m learning to take my health, fitness, social life, nutrition & creative writing as seriously too… but housework and personal admin are a struggle.

I have eczema and cleaning leads to flair ups — even when I wear special gloves and only use gentle products. I like to live in a clean house so it makes sense for me to save time by paying cleaners to do in 3 hours what I could barely do if I spent a whole day cleaning.

Managing my schedule and personal admin is hard for me because I have dyspraxia . I’ve learned to schedule well by necessity but I don’t enjoy it and it takes me a long time. Because of my dyspraxia, in a busy week I’ll be late for or miss at least 1 appointment which can be damaging to relationships as well as productivity. So as a solution I’ve begun a list of tasks I can delegate to our wonderful PA in training.

Yes seek to grow in your weaknesses, but don’t let them take over your schedule.

18. Remember, You Get What You Inspect, Not What You Expect.

Do your research. So much time is wasted by waiting for what you expect to come to fruition. Is it annoying to confirm that your 5pm meeting is still happening? Maybe, but less annoying than turning up to find it was cancelled or you had the time/date/location wrong.

Double confirm appointments and take a book, snack, water & chargers with you in case you or the person you’re meeting gets held up. Don’t let circumstance turn your life into satire. Take command of your time by inspecting your expectations, preparing for the things you can’t control and controlling what you can.

19. Move Till Someone Tells You To Stop

Groupthink slows us down. Ever seen an unexpected queue, asked people why they’re queuing and found that no one seems to know? If you’re reading this article then you’re not the type to let time slip you by unchecked. Most people don’t care about wasted moments queuing up just because nobody bothered to check if the door was open. You’re the type to save time by walking past the queue and checking. Keep doing that.

Just as pennies add up to pounds, minutes add up to hours. 10 mins waiting in a queue for nothing, 15 mins in a pointless meeting and 35 mins taking a longer route around because it looked like there was a crowd, could have been a whole hour saved by moving forward and asking questions. A whole hour which could instead be spent learning a language, reading a fifth of a book or having a quality chat with an old friend.

Saving fragments of time by being proactive allows you to create blocks of time for things you’d rather be doing.

20. Routine of 15 — Maintenance for the Win

There are some tasks that I will never enjoy. But I can bear doing them for 15 minutes a day, Fly Lady style.

My tax return, the laundry and filling in forms are tasks I hate. If I set a timer and do a little bit each day, I can keep on top of things. Putting unpleasant tasks off just creates a bigger and worse task I have to handle.

I learnt a lesson I’ll never forget when I was fined by HMRC for late filing of my tax return back in 2013. (I wrote an apologetic letter and they actually gave me the money back with interest, but that’s a story for another day.) The pain of the fine led me to take action, I created a spreadsheet and looked into getting an accountant.

Now I simply maintain that spreadsheet for finances and share it with my accountant so that my tax return is always a doddle, because I chip away at it all year. Most unpleasant tasks can and should be broken down into bearable ones. Either 15 mins a week of entering spending into a spreadsheet, or the discipline to track spending & file all receipts as you go can make your life that much easier.

This approach applies to most routine but important tasks. Don’t wait for an expensive lesson like I did…

Don’t be the person who didn’t make time for exercise, then pulled a muscle and lost even more time getting back to good health. 15 minutes of admin, laundry or exercise is often enough responsible life maintenance. Choose what has to go from your schedule or you’ll have to miss things you don’t want to. If you don’t take breaks to look after your body, it will take breaks for you and ruin your fun.

21. Think Through How you Help People to Maximise your Impact

I’m the overly helpful type. Because I always want to help people, and I get daily requests, my schedule can get out of hand. I’ve learnt that asking “can I help?” isn’t enough. Now I also ask:

  1. Is this the best use of my time right now?
  2. Can I signpost them to someone more useful for them?
  3. Is this in line with my values and current interests?

It’s better to cheerfully give to others than to be pulled into helping someone to your detriment. Giving freely is refreshing. Being taken advantage of is not. Value your time and share it with others to see it multiply.

Those are my tips. I hope they help you to transform your schedule and spend more of your time on things you value.

Here’s a blog post on working from home effectively.

Deep Work by Cal Newport — an invaluable resource on how to create lasting value through time spent on focused, demanding tasks.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey — one of the top time optimisation books out there and a classic for good reason.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink — time optimisation is severely limited without an understanding of motivation. This gives a good overview of the research and explains why autonomy, mastery and purpose are so important.

Give & Take by Adam Grant — a strange one but super helpful for creating meaningful change and recognising the types of relationships that hinder or help success.

Mum of 2 & Afrocenchix Co-Founder. Into ethics, sci-fi, food, tech & books

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