Throughout most of my career, I’ve juggled a full-time job as a consultant and an entrepreneur. And it’s tough! You have to make the time to do everything and still find some energy for achieving personal goals.
But one thing that I’ve learned over the years is this: if something gives you joy and you consider it your top priority, then you have to get creative with finding the time—and the resources—to make it a part of your daily life.
I’ve identified these five core areas that have helped me along the way. Try them out and see if they work for you, too!
1. Make the most of your commute time.
Whether it’s taking the bus, train, driving or walking back home, the time really adds up. Sometimes, your daily round-trip commute can be several hours! Why waste it by getting upset with traffic, listening to the news and the stream of commercials that interrupt them, or checking your watch every few minutes?
Pick a podcast to get your brain re-energized, learn a new skill, hear real-life examples of starting a new venture or making a dream come true or simply discover new things to think about. No time to read? Listen to audiobooks on your commute.
2. Take a well-deserved break.
When you get back home, don’t just keep on working. You’ll get exhausted, and your brain will start slowing down to the point that you’ll find even simple tasks take much longer to complete. Taking a break will actually help improve your memory and will give your brain the rest it deserves.
What’s in it for the brain? When we start a task and then interrupt it with a break, for example, this creates a task-specific tension that can improve cognitive function.
Even though we’re stepping away from our work, the tension we feel of still having to continue working keeps the task at the forefront of your mind; this means that the brain is still focused on it and can easily access the information and can also remember it better.
How can you use this to your advantage? Choose an activity that is not related to your work: make dinner, run errands, play a board game with a family member or roommate, get your guitar out and practice a new tune for an hour, or spend time with someone you love.
3. Use your evenings to get strategic.
So maybe your energy levels are too low in the evening to start working on something that requires your full focus. That doesn’t mean you should waste this time sitting in front of the TV. Instead, contemplate the big picture of how you plan to take your life to the next level.
Get strategic with your goals. Get specific with where you want to be in 6 months’ time or a year regarding your personal development or career. Think about what you’ll need in terms of resources, time and logistics to make that happen.
Brainstorm who you might want to get advice from: a mentor, subject matter expert, a friend or an acquaintance who’s already gone through the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
Come up with a concrete plan. Take a notebook and outline your next steps: what needs to happen in the next 3 months? What does that look like on a monthly basis? What do you need to do each week? Which activity should you be focusing on daily? Be sure to schedule in whatever you need to do that will get you closer to your goal.
Make a promise to yourself to start today. Even if your goal is really big, and if it may take a year or even five to get there, there is always a time and place to begin. Make that time today by taking the smallest step in the right direction.
If you want to start a blog, set it up (try WordPress for free). If you want to become an entrepreneur, get a feel for what it’s like to be one. If you need more time in your day to be productive and get more things done, read the book The Miracle Morning to fully take advantage of the early hours in the day.
4. Dedicate an hour each evening to building your future.
It may not seem like much, but every hour you set aside to work on what’s important to you can add up big time.
1. Set expectations: Let others know that they shouldn’t interrupt you with their requests, questions or ideas on doing something else.
2. Set your phone to airplane mode: You will avoid getting distracted with calls, text messages, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You get the idea.
3. Avoid browsing the Internet: Close all tabs on your computer that are not related to what you want to do. That goes for news sites and anything else that may tempt you to read more.
4. Make it a ritual: Pick a location where you won’t be bothered: a quiet corner at home, a coffee shop or your local library. Get a cup of tea or small coffee if you aren’t sensitive to caffeine in the evenings. You can also set aside snacks (fruits or a square or two of a good dark chocolate), queue up some uplifting or relaxing music, have your headphones ready, or if you don’t need music, bring along silicone ear plugs so that you can focus in silence.
5. Get down to it: Read as much as you can on how to become successful in your field. Identify the people who are industry leaders, find out if they have a blog you can follow, check out their LinkedIn or similar professional profile, and make note of what they’re reading and who they’re interacting with.
Always keep a dedicated notebook where you will write down what you learn and keep track of your ideas. Brainstorm your next steps and what you need to focus on tomorrow to move on to the next step of your journey.
5. Get enough sleep to reset your brain and start fresh in the morning.
Sleep scientists believe that enough sleep helps us learn and memorize better, and also gives our brain time to get rid of unnecessary clutter and waste. They also warn us that chronic sleep deprivation can reduce our cognitive abilities, impact our concentration, and even reduce our IQ. Get into the habit of preparing your body and mind for sleep at the same time each evening with the following habits:
1. Set a bedtime alarm to go off 30 minutes before going to sleep.
2. Stay away from electronics (your computer and TV screen) at this time.
3. Go out for a short walk after dinner for about 20-30 minutes to boost digestion and give your brain some extra oxygen.
4. Do something relaxing right before bedtime: read a book, listen to music, or just close your eyes and breathe deeply for 10 counts before you brush your teeth and get ready for bed.
It is possible to work on your personal goals after a full day’s work. It takes discipline and intentionality, but it is possible. Apply the five tips above to jumpstart your post-work productivity.