About two months ago, I was thinking of the goals I had that I wanted to accomplish as well as all of the projects that I wanted to complete. There just wasn't enough time. It occurred to me that there several immediate steps that I could take to gain a few hours every day.
Wake Up Earlier
I love to sleep. Let me repeat that, I absolutely, positively love to sleep. I used to sleep till 7:00 AM--a respectable time to get up. Now I get up at 5:00 AM every day.
If we do the math, I gain an extra two hours every single day over getting up at 7:00 AM. This means I get an extra 14 hours of free time per week, 2.5 days every month, and 30 days every year!
Let me repeat that: By getting up at 5:00 AM, I get an extra month of time each year! What would you do with that extra time?
Although you may say that the same argument can be made for staying up later, I find that there is a victory over self by getting up at 5:00 AM. I also find that things are much quieter at 5:00 AM rather than 11:00 PM. What's more, those who stay up later almost always choose to sleep in thus eliminating the extra time they would have otherwise gained. In other words, getting up consistently at a specific time wins hands down over staying up later.
Here's the strategy to waking up: Just stand up and start your day. If you even consider going back to bed, you're toast. That's because you'll end up justifying everything in your half-asleep head. If you stand up and start some process, such as reading email or whatever, you won't have any problems.
It's in the Bag
How much time to you spend going to lunch, waiting in line/for the server, eating, etc.? 30 minutes? 1 hour? How would you like that time back? If you pack your own lunch, you can easily save up to one hour of your time per work day.
It's also a great way to lose weight. If you pack your lunch properly you'll be able to plan your diet rather than leaving it up to the whims your stomach when you order a meal.
Stagger Your Routine
Whether we realize it or not, we are all very much like lemmings or sheep. We just follow the normal routines. We all leave for work at pretty much the same time; we all go to lunch at the same time; we all come home at the same time. Why do you think there's so much traffic and congestion on the freeway? Why do you think restaurants are so busy?
If you are able, change the time that you do things. For example, I typically get to work a little bit earlier. I try to avoid being in traffic on the hour marks--the same works for going home. Because you're coming in earlier you should have a little bit more leeway to leave a touch earlier. This technique saves me about 15-30 minutes every day, depending up traffic.
Here's another tip: When you're in your vehicle, are you listening to music or the radio? What about all of that reading you wanted to accomplish? Why not listen to books on tape/CD? Often times I'll listen to them twice so that I can absorb the material a little bit better.
This last tip has the ability--more so even than waking up--to help you accomplish those things that you need to accomplish. Unless followed, it has the ability to take away the time you've gained by applying the other ideas. It has to do with focusing on your goals and projects.
The Internet is a wonderful tool and an incredible time waster. How many times do you find yourself being drawn away to this site or that? Often times, while my computer is processing something, I find myself going to various sites--Yahoo News, Google News, among others.
Rather than doing this, why not tackle another small project while your computer is busy? I've recently started bringing my laptop to work so that I can have a dedicated computer on the side while my primary workstation is involved in whatever. It's nice to have a machine on the side where I can be reading CodeBetter or LosTechies.
Sometimes you'll find valid things that you'll want to investigate in the course of your research on the Internet. Write it down. Come back to it later--stayed focused on the task at hand.
I typically allocate about 30-45 minutes per day to reading various technical blogs at the beginning of the day. You might say that this is a waste of time. You'd be wrong. It's because of the amount of reading that I have done that I discovered the ALT.NET movement, SOLID principles, Inversion of Control and Dependency Injection, NHibernate, and various other invaluable development principles.
What I'm saying is that you need to stay focused on the task at hand. If that task involves research on the web, that's fine. It's when you click on that link going to a page about Bennifer 2.0 or Angelina Jolie's new baby that you are wasting time.
The above techniques are situationally specific and may or may not apply to you. The principles, however, are universal--that of mastering self and thinking about the routine in your life. For more in-depth discussion on these principles I recommend absorbing--not just reading--The 7 Habits.
For me, all of the above has combined to create, on average, about four more hours each day. In other words, my year is 14 months long compared to my previous routine. I get an extra two months every single year! What do I do with all of my extra time? I write blog posts.