Updated: Sep 29, 2021
You've probably heard the old truism about how time is the only non-renewable resource. Though this saying has the superficial air of most folk wisdom, it's literally true — your time on earth is finite, and you can't get it back once you spend it. That being said, it's very possible to create more time for yourself in a less literal way. We spend a great deal of our lives on autopilot, going about our daily tasks without much thought for how we're using the time. With some minor adjustments, we can free up substantial quantities of time for what we want to do, rather than what we need to do.
We've listed some suggestions below for freeing up additional time in your daily schedule. Many of these suggestions are common sense, and all of them are relatively simple to implement. But if you combine a few of these tactics, the time you'll save will add up. For example, imagine if you make a change that saves you 15 minutes a day, every day. Over the course of the year, you'll save 5,475 minutes — that's about 91 hours, which is more than twice the length of an average work week!
Which time-saving strategies are best for you will depend on the specifics of your life — your preferences, budget, existing commitments, and so forth. But most people are likely to find something on this list that applies to their daily routine.
1. Outsource your routine.
Many of the most time-consuming everyday tasks common to modern life can be handed off to someone else for a price, freeing you up to pursue other matters. (If you're wondering how much you should be willing to pay in return for some free time, try our Value-Of-Time Calculator, which will help you come up with a detailed and personalized answer for exactly this question.) Here are a few suggestions for ways to outsource parts of your routine conveniently:
Use a service like Taskrabbit to hire a helper for a one-off task, such as assembling a new piece of furniture, packing before moving house, or retrieving something from across town.
Hire local cleaning and laundry services.
2. Work more efficiently.
A whole lot of ink has been spilled on this subject already, naturally. But there's good reason for that. Since so much of our lives consist of working time, tweaking the way you spend this time and trimming the fat from your work routine can yield huge gains in your schedule. Some popular examples:
Work from home whenever possible — avoiding a commute can save hours. Designating Fridays or Mondays as work-from-home days is an increasingly popular practice.
Ask your boss to prioritize your work if you're facing a mess of conflicting simultaneous projects. Everyone's more efficient when they don't have to juggle. For instance, if you boss assigns you three big tasks in short succession, consider asking which of the three is the highest priority and which can wait until next week. This practice may help you establish more reasonable expectations and deadlines for your work, which in turn can make the whole process less hectic and distracting.
Delegate your work if you have subordinates. It's tempting to try to handle as much as possible yourself, but you'll turn out better work if you have the space to focus.
3. Make better use of your devices.
Most people spend hours every day using computers, smartphones, or tablets. Given the vast amounts of time we dump into these devices, it's possible to free up substantial amounts of time by applying shortcuts and time-saving tactics to your computer time. For instance:
Become a better typist, especially on your phone. Most people have some facility with a conventional keyboard these days, but still type very slowly on touchscreens. Many apps can help you train up your typing skills, such as TapTyping, Typeracer.com, or Typing.com.
Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Both Apple and PC computers have dozens of built-in keyboard commands that'll help you save time by simplifying processes that might otherwise take multiple steps to complete. You lose a second or two every time you switch from using the keyboard to using your mouse, so try to get good enough with keyboard commands that you can minimize this switching.
Many of individual pieces of software also feature time-saving key commands, so if you frequently work with a specific program, it's worth looking up a list of its key commands and memorizing some. For instance, Gmail features convenient keyboard commands that allow you to jump to the next email in your inbox, archive the email you’re looking at, and so forth.
4. Do away with distractions.
Retaining focus and avoiding procrastination is an excellent way to reduce the amount of time your work takes up on a given day. For many people in the modern workplace, that means finding ways to use computers and the Internet without succumbing to the host of distractions that these technologies offer. (Which can be easier said than done, given how many apps are deliberately designed to addict their users.) Some suggestions:
Use a social media blocker app, such as Anti-Social, Cold Turkey, or Self-Control during the workday to keep yourself off Facebook and so forth entirely. Many of these apps allow you to temporarily block access to any site you want, instead of just social media.
If totally ditching social media during your workday isn't an option but you still find yourself using it to procrastinate, try Space — it helps defuse such apps' addictiveness by forcing you to pause before opening them, rather than blocking them outright. This brief pause can help alleviate the addictiveness built into these apps.
Limit your access to email. Incessantly checking your inbox can break your focus just as thoroughly as Facebook and Twitter can. Try picking a few times during each workday that you designate for your email tasks.
Cut down on the number of meetings you take every day, or reduce their length. Meetings involving large numbers of people in particular tend to be wasteful and disorganized, so rely on them only when necessary.
Try out some common working-efficiency methods. The most obvious example of this sort of thing is the common practice of making daily to-do lists, but the field here is quite broad. One example we like at ClearerThinking is the Pomodoro Technique, an interval-based time management method.
5. Find ways to learn more quickly.
Internalizing new information or skills can be extremely time-consuming. If these sorts of tasks are frequent components of your life, consider possibilities for stepping up the pacing.
If you're learning from instructional videos — especially on YouTube — consider using the playback settings to increase the video speed. This sounds a little strange and produces some comedic effects in practice, but chances are good that you can hear and internalize the spoken word at a more rapid pace than you'd think, especially with some practice. For instance, this plugin for Chrome lets you speed up Vimeo videos, while this one lets you speed up any HTML 5 video, including Netflix documentaries.
Use audiobooks to learn during transit times, such as your commute. Accomplishing active work tasks while commuting can be a prohibitively harrowing experience, but simply absorbing information can be more manageable. Many audiobook apps let you speed up the sound to twice or even three times the original speed, and many people can absorb audio content at a much faster pace than they can read, meaning that audiobooks can be more efficient than reading even you’re not commuting. What's more, some public libraries offer audiobook rentals that you can take out remotely, allowing some savings on costs.
For learning more complex skills, consider hiring an instructor or coach for a few sessions when you get started. It's possible to teach yourself virtually anything, but an experienced guiding hand can save you a ton of trial and error.
6. Compress the compressible stuff.
Some daily tasks can simply be done more quickly than you'd think with a little creativity. For instance:
For exercise, try HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts. This broad category of fitness techniques focuses on performing bursts of intense activity between short periods of rest, and may deliver the benefits of much lengthier conventional workouts in a short timespan. (The downside is that HIIT workouts can be very intense, but for many adherents, that's a feature rather than a bug.)
If you're really pressed for time, try quick meal replacements instead of a sit-down breakfast or lunch — the options range from conventional protein meal bars to newer options like Soylent, Ensure, and Mealsquares.
Batch similar tasks together. For instance, if you've got three or four errands to run, try to tackle them all in one fell swoop rather than in separate trips. Another commonplace example is batch-preparing enough food for several days' worth of meals during one kitchen session.
Individually, most of these adjustments may seem fairly minor. But if you combine a few of them and stick to them, you can save hours every week — and over time, you can recover entire days from tedium and time-wasting distractions. Try a few out and see how it goes!