Hacking Your 24-Hour Day

clockOn January 1st, I outlined my goals for 2009 in a blog post titled, “Make concrete goals, not sweeping resolutions.” Inspired by a few articles I came across during the latter half of 2008, I created 7 tasks to complete throughout the year. It’s almost the end of March, and while my goals are progressing – I will write a post about that in a few weeks – I sometimes find it difficult to make time for these 7 projects.

That’s always been an issue with me – time. In high school, procrastination and I, we were close friends. During my second semester of college, I spread myself so thin that one night, I had a panic attack (luckily my first and only). I realized at that point that I needed to cut back on a few activities and reevaluate how I manage time. Since then, I have always been fascinated with how people choose to fill/use their days.

Some people are virtuosos at juggling many different projects simultaneously. Entire books, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explore the getting-things-done philosophy, and blogs-upon-blogs offer various tips and tricks on productivity, optimization, efficiency and the like. Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, and Jay White are some great places to get started.

So recently I started thinking about where I could improve my time management. Because I am out of the country about 5 months in a given year, I am most interested in optimizing my stateside time. If you find yourself looking for extra time to get something done, then try out this simple, two-step exercise.

1. Start by breaking down your 24-hour day
I used the following 5 categories, as I like to keep my metrics simple. Too many numbers and I begin to lose focus. Feel free to use your own categories.

  • Sleep
  • Work
  • Bathroom Time
  • Exercise
  • Food

2. Allocate your 24 hours, look at the remaining time
Obviously these categories will not take the same amount of time every day – after all, we aren’t drones – but I tried to allocate my hours as accurately as possible for an average day.

  • Sleep – 8 hours
  • Work – 9 hours (everything that takes place in the office, including 1 hour of commuting)
  • Bathroom Time – 30 minutes (at home)
  • Exercise – 1.5 hours
  • Food – 1 hour

Total allocated hours = 20 hours
Total unallocated hours = 4 hours

Well, there you have it. I just discovered that given my current lifestyle, I have 4 hours of getting-things-done time every day. That’s a lot! Granted, these numbers are not exact, and neither are my categories, but hopefully, by deconstructing your 24-hour day through this exercise, you will discover how precious those unallocated hours are. Remove your daily obligations, and you are presented with personal time – just like that. In my life right now, I find myself using these hours to chip away at my 7 resolutions and to have fun and relax with friends. How do you use yours?

Is this exercise helpful? How would you have done it differently?

9 thoughts on “Hacking Your 24-Hour Day”

  1. Alan, very interested and useful post. I have found myself thinking more about what I’m not experiencing and how I waste time doing, well, nothing. This is motivation for me atleast to start utilizing all the University has to offer for me and in change I will be able to figure out what kind of person I really am. Hope all is well, keep the posts coming.

  2. I need to do this quantitative exercise. Is it possible to go on a negative then have to make up for it the following day? I feel that I constantly chasing time with my blogging and my daughter (shoots, did i just categorize them both?)

  3. Dude, this was an inspiring post. I find myself constantly thinking about how time seems to be progressively speeding up and I feel like my days are flying by, when in reality I am wasting probably 75% of my free time (which is a lot considering I’m unemployed). On the computer especially, I find myself trying to prioritize what sites and blogs I should devote my valuable time to reading (I read slow). Breaking down your activities by hours is a great way of slowing everything down and figuring out just what you should be able to do in a given day.

  4. i think my problem with this would be that the 4 hours is not really enough for the stuff that i would want to do outside of the things you said you would do with your time. so say you give food 1 hour.. what if it goes up to 2, and that day you wanted to also rock climb, took you to another 2.5 hours.. and talk to a friend on the phone.. write on someones blog.. read.. go dance.. read for pleasure.. relax and watch tv.. you know theres so much that i feel if you make it into numbers and for some reason those numbers dont add up then its more reason for stress. i feel rather.. concentration is key. like concentrate on what you’re doing at that minute and just do that.. it will make everything more efficient. ( i cant do this, lately i feel i have ADHD) if you can, thatd be awesome :)- see u took away 15 mins from my time!!!

    1. @Aron Glad you found the post helpful. I miss your company, let’s get back to Israel soon, yea?

      @jen If I had a daughter, I would most certainly add “daughter time” as a category!

      @Mark I’m right there with you. I can’t tell you how much time I spend on unnecessary sites and blogs and emails and what not. It’s a constant struggle between tangential Internet surfing and productivity. Hope D.C. is treating you well!

      @ceyla I hope the 15 minutes I took up was worth it :). You’re right – some of us have schedules where the numbers may not generate enough ‘free time’ in a given day. That’s OK. The exercise is about understanding how one can prioritize his or her time by breaking down the day into categories. Concentration, as you mentioned, is definitely the most important part about turning the exercise into a productive result.

  5. My categories would include: Sleep, Eat, Exercise, Work, Bathroom, Miscellaneous, and the most important….Walking Wilson and rubbing his tummy! I would also add an additional 10 minutes for the daily amount of time Matzi “growls at her daddy”!

  6. Google Reader. I get my news and commentary from blogs, and with GR I don’t have to waste my time surfing and getting myself distracted.

    Also, I combine food and reading. On a weeknight, home alone, there is no point to eat and stare at a wall. Get a good magazine or find some articles online, make your food, and then enjoy it while expanding your mind. Alternatively, I catch up on my Hulu shows while eating.

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