How to find time for self-development if you’re always busy?

How to find time for self-development if you’re always busy?

To stay in demand on the labor market and simply to grow as a professional, you need to constantly improve yourself. But how to find time for self-development while spending most of your life in the office or in the road?

I’m going to share my experience with you. First, I’m going to tell you about the “productivity killers” and “time traps” that are often encountered not only by adults, but also by students when studying. But what is interesting: students know better how to deal with them. If they need to learn material in a hurry before an exam, they can prepare for it in just 1-2 nights with an absolute knowledge vacuum! The goal is set, the task is accomplished. So it’s not a lack of time, it’s something else.

Why the paradox becames: “I want to learn and develop, but I have no time”?

Many people today have a work schedule of 6 days a week, eight to ten hours. Another two or three hours are spent on a roads. On the only day off they have to catch up on their sleep, solve all the everyday problems. This people turns around like a “squirrel in a wheel” to get a piece of bread and a roof over their head. And it seems that there is no room for self-development.

I work as a business coach and I hear hundreds of such stories from my students. And here’s what I tell you: “You can find time for self-development. You just have to want to and learn how to prioritize”. If you are not a fan of excuses and really want to do self-development, then below I will tell you how to do it.

1. Clear focus and concentration and avoidance of “productivity killers”

Trying to improve our own efficiency and ability to concentrate, we read books on time management and productivity, install special applications. But before following this path, we need to understand what it is that prevents us from concentrating in the first place.

For example, it’s reading work messages and emails before the day even begins. Checking emails early in the morning, we overload our brains with tasks in advance, adding stress to ourselves, rushing to put out local “fires”, even though we might have more important and priority things planned. Or we just feel powerless, because we are unlikely to be able to solve problems until our colleagues get in touch.

Another “productivity killer” is notifications (messages, reminders, etc.). Many of us have a phone that is literally bursting, and it can’t help but be distracting.

Plus, no matter what some coaches and motivational speakers say, nature didn’t design us as “multitask robots”. No matter how hard we try to stay focused, notifications are always distracting, and it can be difficult to refocus on the task at hand (according to some reports, it takes about 23 minutes).

Finally, checking the phone becomes a kind of drug: when we do this, the body gets its dose of dopamine, the “good mood hormone”. Which means we rush back for more.

So, how to be? Try to follow these rules:

  1. If work allows it, at least from time to time (especially in the mornings) put the phone into air mode or set the “do not disturb” mode;
  2. Remove all unnecessary or not too important applications on phone, or turn off notifications in them;
  3. Don’t start the day by watching TV, reading the news, or reading your social media feeds. By consuming content, we are not getting closer to our dreams or goals, but only overloading our heads with unnecessary (in 95% cases) information, and getting frustrated and stressed, which leads to lower concentration and productivity.

2. Get rid of the “time traps”

Time traps are all those things that take away your productive time without giving anything in return! The most obvious time traps are TV, video games, social networks, and apps on your phone. But there are the non-obvious ones like driving to get something in your car.

If you get rid of the time traps, you’ll be surprised how much easier and organized your life has become, and the freed hours and even days can now be safely spent on implementing plans, self-actualization, pumping skills.

If you are starved for time for self-development, here is what I advise you to do:

  1. Sell the TV. If you have a laptop and a smartphone at home, you just don’t need it. Or just stop watching it, altogether;
  2. Uninstall all games. Both on your phone, on work and home computer. Do the same with entertainment apps and social networks. Read only what is good for you: smart books and useful blogs (like Optimist.pw);
  3. Stop going to the supermarket for groceries. It’s too time-consuming today. It is better to order home delivery of products. Yes, it will cost 4-5 bucks more, but you will free up a few hours of your life to take care of yourself;
  4. Learn how to buy time. It’s not as expensive as you think. Sometimes it’s easier to hire a cleaner once a month than to clean the house yourself or arrange for your neighbor’s teenager to walk your dog;
  5. Learn how to politely say “No”. Even to family and friends. Refuse to participate in activities that do not benefit you (drinking beer at bar, going to the events, cottage house with friends, going to the market, etc.)

3. Make the most of your first waking hours

Protect your morning time from any encroachment. It is in the first three hours after waking up that we manage to be most creative, focused, productive, and energetic. Here’s what you can do:

  1. The first few minutes of the morning should be spent on a pleasant ritual not related to work. Its purpose is to help you get in the right frame of mind. You can meditate, go for a walk, make yourself a healthy breakfast, read something inspiring, write down your goals, or just stretch. Don’t spend too much time on this, the most important thing is that you feel 100% ready (physically and mentally) for new accomplishments;
  2. Spare yourself the need to make small unimportant decisions in the morning: what to eat, what to wear, what exercise to do. Do not waste mental energy on this – stick to a routine;
  3. In the remaining 2-2.5 hours, work hard. Below we’ll tell you exactly how.

4. Divide your tasks into subtasks

Many of us think of ourselves as being incapable of completing things because of “laziness, lack of motivation and willpower”. But the real reason is much simpler. For example, in your list of tasks you might put “write an article for the blog” or “make a new website”. Both of these tasks are too labor-intensive: they can take from 3 to 30 hours to complete!

Experts suggest better divide your tasks into subtasks, because “it’s better for eating the elephant in pieces”. That is, breaking down each large task into a series of small, specific and doable tasks. Ideally, each micro-task should take no more than an hour to complete.

With this approach, “write an article for a blog” turns into: “decide on the topic”, “outline the structure of the text”, “prepare a draft”, “come up with three options for the title”, and so on. By doing each of these tasks, you’ll gain more and more confidence. And taking a few small steps is always easier than one big step.

5. Learn how to set priorities

Don’t forget the “Pareto Principle”, according to which 20 percent of your efforts yield 80 percent of your results. Do not strive to complete all of the tasks on your list. Simply choose the three most important ones and make them your priority. Complete them one by one, with no distractions until you’re done.

That way you can get more done each day than before. Again, the most important ones should be done during the most productive morning hours.

To decide on your top three priorities, just ask yourself:

  • Which three tasks definitely can’t wait until tomorrow?
  • Which three tasks will be enough even if I do nothing else?
  • Which three tasks will have the biggest impact on my life?

If there are still more than three tasks, go backwards: eliminate the ones that will affect you the least. Then prioritize the remaining three.

6. Set time limits for tasks

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It sounds like this: “Our work always takes all our time”.

In other words, no matter how much time you give yourself to do something, rest assured that it will take all that time (and not an hour or a minute less). So if you want to get more done, set yourself tighter time limits, internal deadlines, which will stimulate you to work not only qualitatively, but also quickly.

7. Use the “Tomato method”

Francesco Cirillo, the entrepreneur and business coach who invented it, used a kitchen timer in the form of a tomato. He would start the timer and work until a beep sounded, then take a short break, then do it all over again. In this way, intervals of maximum productivity and concentration alternated with breaks, during which it was possible to rest and recover (similar to exercising in the gym).

Cirillo usually used the “25-minute work-five-minute break” scheme, but you can vary the intervals based on your tasks. That said, you should really rest during your breaks, not check email, social media, or otherwise distract yourself. Instead, you can warm up or at least stand up and stretch.

8. Group the tasks

According to research, on average we spend 28% of our workday reading and responding to emails. Yet, as mentioned earlier, being distracted by emails and messages makes it difficult for us to get back to the task at hand. One study found that we check emails and messages on average once every six minutes!

Instead of leaving the mail window open all day (84% of employees do this), it’s better to schedule 1-3 time slots specifically for checking emails and messages. Many will argue that this is not always possible. Like their job doesn’t allow for that. But is this really true?

If you think this is impossible, I have some questions for you:

  1. Have you tried checking email less frequently?
  2. Has it resulted in any negative consequences?
  3. Are you really required to respond to emails and messages within minutes or seconds?

If you haven’t tried it, start now and see what happens. Alternatively, you can set up notifications on your phone so that you see only the sender’s name and the subject of the e-mail without being distracted by its content. That way you won’t have to worry about missing a message from your boss or an important client.

What to do if all these things don’t work?

If you have tried all the ways described in the article, but you still don’t have enough time for self-development, or you can’t concentrate and bring things to completion, then ask yourself: “Are you really striving for this?”.

Maybe you’re afraid of something, or have an internal resistance? If so, try to figure out what’s behind it.

Maybe your body and mind are trying to tell you something. Then listen to them, dig deep inside yourself and figure out what the problem is. Without that, alas, even the most effective time-management tools won’t help you find more time.


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