I couldn’t find any better phrase that describes the approach I’ve learned in the last year. It’s a simple piece of advice: Test your plans by reducing time.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the amount of our free time is stable and we’ll also be able to spend the same number of hours on things in the future.

Sooner or later, you’ll need to put most of your effort and attention in a specific direction. Eventually, you’ll push every insignificant activity in the background, and you may struggle to find even minutes to deal with the rest of your stuff. Starting of studies, new relationship, new job, starting a family – they are only examples of events that can change your priority. If you want to stick to your routines, you need to change the approach to performing tasks.

The assumption behind the main idea leads to another rule, which I named Plan for a fraction of your time and it goes as follows:

When you plan to do something, do it in a way to derive value from this activity, even if you’ll spend only 10%1 of the time you initially planned.

Take a look at the following examples:

  • Do you plan to learn a new language for 30 minutes each day? What if you have only 5?
  • Do you want to read a book for one hour? Imagine you have only 10 minutes.
  • Do you have an article idea and need a few hours? Imagine you have a few 15 minutes-long blocks of uninterrupted time.
  • Do you do a weekly review for 30 minutes? Is it possible to do it in 5 minutes?
  • Do you want to journal for 15 minutes? Try to sum up everything in 2 minutes.
  • You have a side project – imagine you work on it only for 15 minutes per day.

Do these activities still make sense for you if you spend less time on them? If not, try to optimize them and make them worthwhile even with limited time. It helps you focus on the essential part of every task.

It doesn’t mean that you should do everything in a hurry. Instead, you should prepare yourself to do your stuff even if you have not enough time.

If there is no chance to finish a one-off task in a short time, think about producing intermediary results that are still valuable. It would help if you could track where you are and what to do next. Sometimes It’s hard to find an uninterrupted one-hour-long block, but it’s possible to find a few ten minutes-long intervals during the day. It’s not a deep-work-like experience, but the environment isn’t always perfect, and it’s your job to find a way to do your best even if conditions are unfavorable.

You may think this is a problem with an organization. Could be. You can liberate some time by abandoning some self-imposed duties. However, if you find that your routines work well for you, it’s better to keep them small rather than drop them altogether.

This article is what I’d like to tell my younger self. Now it acts as a reminder for me. Maybe also for you?

  1. Specific value does not matter, but it should be lower than expected. ↩︎