10 Ways to Find More Time (or at least use what you’ve got to the max!)

by Alli Polin on February 4, 2014

break free of the time trap

Raise your hand if you’ve asked yourself at least once, “Where did the time go?”  Hands up?  Thought so. Part of the challenge is that you’re afraid that if you’re not running as hard as you can on your hamster wheel, all the other hamsters, I mean humans, will start to look at you funny.  Isn’t it time to look at them in the eye and show them your magical skill of using your 24/7 to the fullest?

“To the fullest?” you’re thinking (or maybe it’s laughing).  “I can’t cram in one more thing!”  I promise you, you can BE a leader, parent, friend, partner, PTA President and more but you can’t DO it all at the same time.  As Ani DiFranco would say, “You are 32 flavors and then some.”

Take a cue from Ani and imagine an ice-cream sundae with every flavor under the sun in the same dish; all of your favorites are in the mix and some of your not-so-favorties too. Grab your virtual spoon and prepare to dig in, you have 24 hours to eat!  Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a bite of each flavor but chances are you’ll eat mostly from the top and the deliciousness at the bottom will become a melted mess that gets little of your attention.  Honestly, your stomach is only so big and even though you think you can squeeze it all in, your pants will eventually beg to differ.

Not so different from your life, huh?  Cramming only goes so far before you’re mind and your sanity feel like they’re going to burst.

How can you stop cramming and enjoy more flavors in your life?  Start here:

1.  Be Present Where You Are

Time passes whether we want it to or not but when your body is in the room, and your mind is somewhere else, you’re missing out two-fold – you’re not fully in either place! Mindfulness is more than a buzzword, in practice, it will help you have deeper relationships with the people who matter. Time may fly but it won’t slip by when you’re deeply engaged with the people and ideas in the room with you.

2.  Block Off Your Calendar

Imagine: Your colleague wants to meet with you, looks at your calendar, and books 30 minutes in an open slot.  Seems reasonable, right?  The challenge is if every free minute becomes packed with back to back meetings when will you get to focus on your work, take a breath or think strategically?  Block regular sacred time on your schedule for you to engage on what matters most and not only fight fires, attend conference calls or do the conference room shuffle. 

3. Stop Double Booking

As an executive, it was rare that I wasn’t double booked.  Double booked meant I was popping in an out and inevitably, being half present, meant double the meetings – more time was needed to fill me in on what I missed when I stepped out. Make it a rule to avoid double booking at all costs.  Let people know you want to give them your full time and attention.

4.  Let Go of the Guilt

Do you always choose work over your child’s sports game, going to the doctor or getting your car to the shop?  Life, like time, moves on.  The longer you let things go, the more fixated and guilty you become about all that you’re not doing!  Stop feeling guilty that you have a life and instead be a role model for choosing to honor your relationships, health and personal commitments.  

5.  Use Agendas

Whether it’s a 1×1, a team meeting or a school committee, agendas keep things on target and moving.  It doesn’t mean that burning topics can’t be addressed, it does mean that getting sidetracked is much less likely to happen.  Confirm up front the intention for the meeting, the goals you want to accomplish and leave room for some new additions or swapping out of topics if possible.  Agendas, when used as a guide, aren’t rigid but a smart approach to ensure you’re covering what matters most. 

6.  Close the Windows

I often have 10 tabs open on my screen at any given time including email, Twitter and Facebook.  When I really need to focus and get things done, it means closing the windows.  No checking email every five minutes and triaging every email or tweet as they come in the queue. Simply closing the windows will stop you from noticing as the number count of incoming messages as it increases and will enable you to stay focused on the task at hand. 

7.  Give Multi-tasking the Boot

It feels good to rock and roll and get as many things crossed off the list as possible each day but multi-tasking isn’t the way to do it.  Despite what you think, it’s impossible to read, type, listen, ask questions and eat lunch all at the same time. Working sequentially will enable you to get things done faster and with more impact.  Give it a try!

8.  Delegate

If you have the attitude that nobody can do things as well as you, you have a problem.  Enough with the argument that it will take more time to teach someone else how to do it.  Unless you want to be the only one that can do anything, start teaching and start delegating.  Not only will delegation free up your time but also will enable others to stretch their skills and knowledge in the process; win-win!

9.  Take Vacation

Get out of there!  Take a break!  No matter how it feels, the world will not stop spinning without your presence.  Vacation will give you a chance to take a breath and reconnect with YOU.  When was the last time your agenda was to wake up, eat, read a book and chill out?  If you forget how to relax, it’s time to learn again.  The time you invest in yourself to ensure you’re energized, excited and at your best is equally important to the time you invest in your team. 

10.  Live your values. 

Every day after school my kids know that there’s no TV or playtime until they do their homework.  I have a friend that makes his monthly 1×1 meetings sacred no matter how busy he gets.  Priorities, values and commitments help us decide where to spend our time.  Know your non-negotiables and stick to them.  When you live your values, you’re better able to say NO to last-minute requests that don’t align and YES to the things that will make the biggest difference. 

What did I miss?  What will you add to the list?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz February 4, 2014 at 7:17 am

Great ideas on how to recapture and use our time in more meaningful ways, Alli. An add to your list may be to take 2 15 minute breaks during the day. Walk away, clear your mind, and then re-engage. It is amazing how refreshed we can fill just be taking a break, walking around, and then engaging again. Appreciate your ideas! Jon


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Excellent additions, Jon! I used to sneak away down to the bottom of my building to Starbucks and got more out of walking to the elevator, leaving the office for a moment than I did from the caffeine jolt!

Many thanks!


Lalita Raman February 4, 2014 at 7:19 am

Each and every point relevant and beautifully expressed. You have captured the essence to find more time eloquently.

I love your post Alli.


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Thank you. Lalita! I always value your feedback.


Cynthia Bazin February 4, 2014 at 8:13 am

Great post Alli! As always, you are such a superstar! Thank you for always reminding us of great things to focus on! Have an amazing day my friend!


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Thanks for bringing your positive energy over here, Cynthia! It’s funny, I know what to do but I still fall into so many of these traps. Take intention (and a strong will sometimes) to find the time that we most need.


Joy Guthrie February 4, 2014 at 8:34 am

Great post Alli! Also really like Jon’s suggestion to add breaks into the day just to clear your head. We had a similar conversation with a customer yesterday in an attempt to turn around dysfunctional meetings (may just pass along your post).


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Everyone, at one time or another, feels underwater and wishing that they could control time. Despite the fact we can’t add more hours, time IS in our control. I agree with you too, Jon’s suggestion is an important one. Clear your mind, take a break, and come back with renewed focus and efficiency. Great! Count me in!

Thanks so much, Joy!


Carl February 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

Another great post Alli – it really is all about creating priorities and setting boundaries.

Best regards,


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Boundaries are so important! I’m reminded by my kids every day that if I don’t stand strong with my boundaries, others will cross them. Whether it’s bedtime or availability for meetings, saying what we can do and sticking to it is key!

Always appreciate your feedback and support, Carl! Thanks!


Terri Klass February 4, 2014 at 10:43 am

It is so difficult to stay in the moment and not become distracted with other forces coming at us. I read a study recently that said multi-tasking was a very ineffective way to work and in fact, when we listened to music with lyrics while we worked, we made more errors and it took longer.

I think being mindful of what our bodies and souls need each day is essential. We need to nourish ourselves to revitalize and recharge. If all we do is go, go, go, we get burned out. That is the true risk of not taking time for us.

Thanks Alli for a great post!


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm

What a great study to share about the music with lyrics! I believe it! Since I now work from my home office I’ve tried putting music on in the background but I learned very quickly I prefer to work in silence – I can feel the difference in focus and productivity!

You say it so well: We need to nourish ourselves to revitalize and recharge. YES! It’s not only about efficiency but also about creating the mental space to do and be our best.

Love your insights and appreciate that you share them here!


Katie February 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Thank you! I needed to hear this today. Particularly the point about closing windows (she writes, as she guiltily decides to keep facebook open…just for another minute…)


Alli Polin February 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Ha! I hear you, Katie! I’m the same way with Twitter. Thanks so much for commenting. Glad to know I’m not alone 🙂


Lolly Daskal February 4, 2014 at 7:55 pm


We are all guilty of working non stop. Saying yes when we really mean no and the list goes on…..

But I believe we make more time by BEING very strict with what we commit to…

And we commit to things that are utmost important, utmost significant. the utmost meaningful.

If we stick to that regiment we can gain some more hours in our day, more time in week and even more moments in our months.

Lolly Daskal
Lead From Within


Alli Polin February 6, 2014 at 6:41 am


You’re right. When we commit to everything we no longer have room in our lives when that super important thing or person or moment comes along. Truth is, we don’t need to do “it all” just what matters most.

Always appreciate your insights and support, Lolly! Thank you!


Karin Hurt February 5, 2014 at 10:20 am

I also find it vital to use every spare minute productively. For example, last night I spent 1.5 hours on the runway. They told us we could take out our computers if we wanted to. I looked around, everyone else was sleeping, chatting (which could have been productive, I admit… but the conversations I could hear were not inspiring), I wrote a blog post, responded to emails and called my family. I wrote a post on this a while back…http://letsgrowleaders.com/2013/03/06/waiting-wisdom/


Alli Polin February 6, 2014 at 6:44 am

What a great question you asked in your post, Karin! “Can you wait better?” YES!

When I flew recently from Australia to Thailand my kids kept asking why I was the only one that kept my light on… Are you kidding? Hours and hours of time without my phone ringing or incoming emails? No better time to actually get some work done.

Thanks for sharing your story too! Perfect point. Use the time we have!


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