It's probably the most common lie of modern time management: "I wish I could find the time to get enough exercise/sleep/get organized."
It's true in a way, because most people mean it honestly when they say it. It's a lie because it disguises the truth behind the idea. Some things take time. Others—including the most important aspects of work-life balance—actually give you more time than they consume.
Let's calculate the return-on-investment of a few of the things you'd love to have more time for. Do they really pay off?
A lot of executives and entrepreneurs plan their exercise for the afternoon, often so they can cancel it if things get out of hand. But research by Sir Richard Branson found that 30 minutes of moderate exercise produced about two hours worth of focus and energy over an 8-hour workday. That's about 90 minutes extra accomplishment for 30 minutes spent. ROI: 300 percent.
Scheduling your workout in the morning makes this even better in two ways. You spend more of your day with the extra alertness from your workout, and you get it done before the chaos of daily life can encroach on your time.
Plan Your Day
It takes about 15 minutes to plan your day each morning, time you could be spending sipping coffee, nursing a hangover or checking in about last night's big game. If you instead spent that quarter-hour first thing in the morning optimizing your schedule and prepping your brain for the flow of the day, productivity research shows it adds up to one to two hours of extra work getting done. ROI: 300 to 700 percent.
If you're baffled by the array of tools, binders, planners, programs and apps available to help you do this, don't worry. None necessarily works better than another—it's what works best for your style that matters.
Get Enough Sleep
This one's a bit trickier. Getting more than seven hours of sleep doesn't help much, and getting more than nine significantly reduces how well you function over the course of the day. Anything less than five just ruins you. The "sweet spot" is getting seven hours instead of six, or six instead of five. In both cases, the improved concentration, focus and reaction time grants a 10 percent improvement in productivity. ROI: 67 percent in an 8-hour workday.
The most recent sleep research suggests an hour's nap in the afternoon works just as well as seven consecutive hours. You can't sleep in two chunks of 3.5 hours each, but you can take some time after lunch to eliminate any sleep deficit.
A Wall Street Journal report found that the average executive loses six weeks worth of time per year searching for information in messy offices and disorganized hard drives—that's approximately 12 percent of their time. Similar research found that three hours of every office worker's week is spent looking for things or replacing lost work. ROI: For an estimated one hour per week of maintenance to keep everything in its place, 300 to 380 percent.
The ROI will be lower at first, since it takes much more time to get organized than to stay organized. However, it will be even higher as you keep your organization in place. That one hour of maintenance drops to 30 minutes once organization becomes a habit.
What are some of your best examples of finding time by spending time?
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Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences.